Premium Transit Feasibility Study and Alignment Alternatives: Part 1

Executive Summary

Project Purpose:

The Harrisburg-Hershey-Lebanon Corridor Study was commissioned by the Modern Transit Partnership and financed with funding provided by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and a group of interested stakeholders in the Hershey area. The purpose of the study was to build upon earlier transit studies done for the South-central Pennsylvania Region and the Capital Red Rose Corridor by advancing a preliminary feasibility study to:

• evaluate alternative alignments and preliminarily assess the feasibility of introducing premium public transportation service in the Harrisburg-HersheyLebanon Corridor

• demonstrate leadership and vision by developing strategies and projects that address both current transportation challenges and projected mobility needs • emphasize a comprehensive mobility perspective rather than a focus on individual modes of travel, and

• identify practical solutions that include both short-term actions and long term strategies to enhance mobility and stimulate economic development.

Preliminary Feasibility – Overall Findings:

1. Commuter rail service is both operationally and physically feasible in the Corridor, but significant engineering, operational and financial challenges will have to be addressed.

2. A Maximum Bus Plan, that incorporates many features of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and provides a significantly higher level of service than residents are currently familiar with, can provide near-term transit improvements at substantially less cost than the rail alternative and with minimal community disruption.

3. The most feasible approach to introducing commuter rail in the HarrisburgHershey-Lebanon Corridor would be to construct a new passenger track along the Norfolk Southern (NS) main line throughout the Corridor; but doing so in a manner that does not interfere with the efficient movement of freight traffic by NS.

4. The rail alternative will require institutional cooperation and support among state, county and municipal governments; and between the public sector and Norfolk Southern.

Commuter Rail Alternative:

Recognizing that Norfolk Southern’s Reading-Harrisburg main line is one of their most heavily travelled freight routes, the cooperation of NS will be essential to introducing rail passenger service on the line. Careful attention will have to be given to minimizing potential clearance conflicts between freight and passenger operations on adjacent tracks, and through passenger platform areas.

Most, but not all, of the NS mainline right-of-way can support the introduction of a new third track that would be prioritized for passenger use but made available to NS for freight use during non-commuter time periods. Of the 45 existing structures on the line, 21 require modifications or relocation of the existing NS lines and 11 require partial or full replacement.

• The preferred operating plan would provide 13 round trips along the entire length of the corridor on weekdays, and eight round trips on weekends and holidays. Special runs could be operated to expand capacity and alleviate traffic congestion for special events at Hershey area venues and in downtown Harrisburg. Shuttle service would be required between the rail stops and select major generators.

• Applying a demand forecast model recommended by FTA for use in studies of this type yielded “order of magnitude” average weekday rail ridership estimates of 1,375 at startup and 1,700 by 2030. The FTA model was calibrated based on 2000 Census travel habits and therefore does not reflect shifts in mode choice experienced during the spike in fuel costs over the past few years. Other factors that are not totally addressed by the FTA model include: impacts of transit oriented development (TOD), the collective magnitude of the major generators in the Hershey area, the impact of increasing congestion on parallel roadways, and the synergy that could be created through the introduction of multiple rail services in the area. Therefore, the 2030 ridership estimate is likely understated and the extent of the underestimation would have to be determined through more rigorous demand modeling techniques and special studies of the potential rail demand associated specifically with the Hershey area generators.

Commuter Rail Plan Facts (2008)

Route Length 26.8 miles

30-75 minutes Off- Peak Service Frequency 80-120 minutes

Weekday Round Trips 13

Trip Time Between End Points 55-60 minutes

Average Speed Between Endpoints 29 mph

Typical Weekday Boardings (2008/2030) 1,375*/1,700*

Average Fare (2008) $2.77

Capital Costs (2008) $267 million

Annual Operating Expense (2008) $17.3 million**

Annual Revenue (2008) $1.0 million

Farebox Recovery Ratio 5.8%

* The modeling techniques used for this preliminary feasibility study may not fully account for the potential rail ridership associated with the multiple major generators in the Hershey area. A separate study would be required to more accurately determine the additional rail trip potential.

** Annual Operating Expense includes $890,400 for feeder bus service and $912,000 for an infrastructure renewal fund.

Maximum Bus Alternative:

• Signal preemption/prioritization, bus priority lanes, and other traffic engineering techniques that emphasize efficient flow of people rather than vehicles will be required to afford the Maximum Bus Plan a competitive advantage that leads to transit becoming the natural choice of more travelers along the Corridor.

• Recognizing that existing development and limited highway rights-of-way represent real constraints on economically implementing capital improvements aimed at creating higher bus speeds, emphasis should be placed on offering both on-board and on-street amenities that are highly valued by regular commuters.

• Separate branding can help differentiate the premium bus service, with its higher levels of convenience and service, from conventional local transit service with which people are currently familiar. • Transit stops must be strategically located to achieve an appropriate balance between the desire to maximize access to the service and the importance of providing attractive travel times for longer distance travelers. Seventeen stops (plus local stops in downtown Harrisburg) have been identified to serve all major markets and most major generators. Shuttle service may be required to connect certain major generators to the premium bus service.

• Estimated ridership for the Maximum Bus Plan was derived using an adaptation of the FTA model to reflect the level and frequency of service for the bus plan, the proposed stopping pattern, and study area demographics.

• The Maximum Bus alternative is the most feasible near term solution due to its more modest operating cost and the fact that major capital projects are not required. While the cost is much lower than rail, the Plan would still require a significant financial commitment. In return for that commitment, the HarrisburgHershey-Lebanon Corridor would benefit from a premium level of transit service and amenities than are currently unparalleled in Dauphin or Lebanon County.

• Since it is common practice to start new transit services at a more modest level and eventually build up to the maximum levels shown in plans that cover an extended planning horizon, a “Startup” bus option has also been developed. Although the Startup Plan scales back service levels and costs somewhat, all other attributes of the service would be the same as the Maximum Bus plan, and the resulting service would still represent a very high level of public transit service in the Corridor. The Startup Plan would supply approximately 27% fewer vehicle hours of service and is projected to attract approximately 19% fewer riders than the Maximum Bus Plan.

Maximum Bus Plan and Startup Bus Option Facts

Maximum Bus Plan Startup Option Route Length 33.0 miles 33.0 miles

Leb-Hbg 20 minutes Leb-Hbg 20 minutes

Hershey-Hbg 10 minutes Hershey-Hbg 20 minutes

Off- Peak Service Frequency 30 minutes 30 minutes

Weekday Round Trips 35 Leb, 50 Hershey 35 Leb-Hershey-Hbg

Trip Time Between End Points 83 minutes 83 minutes

Average Speed Between Endpoints 23 mph 23 mph

Typical Weekday Boardings (2008/2030) 1,750/2,050 1,425/1,625

Average Fare (2008) $2.00 $2.00

Capital Costs (2008) $8.5 million $6.8 million Annual Operating Expense (2008) $4.32 million $3.1 million

Annual Revenue (2008) $.95 million $.72 million

Farebox Recovery Ratio 21.8% 23.20%

Peak Period Service Frequency

Next Steps:

• The Modern Transit Partnership should consult with local elected officials and key stakeholders to assess the level of interest in and commitment to pursuing both short-term and longer-term public transportation improvements for the Harrisburg-Hershey-Lebanon Corridor.

• One approach could be to advance the Maximum Bus Plan as a means of providing near-term improvements while longer-term strategies are formulated and refined. An advantage of this approach is that the transit riding habit along the Corridor could be bolstered, helping to strengthen the case for investment in rail service and lessen the attendant financial risks of the larger rail investment. If this step is taken, more detailed operations planning would need to occur to refine various aspects of the Maximum Bus Plan

• Recognizing that the “order-of-magnitude” demand forecasts developed as part of this study may not fully take into account the potential rail ridership that could be generated by the assortment of major generators in the Hershey area, it would be beneficial to conduct a more in-depth analysis of that topic to help inform the decision-making process regarding possible next steps. Another suggested topic for focused study is to assess the potential for transit-oriented development at the postal service site on Market Street in Harrisburg (the proposed terminus for the Harrisburg-Hershey-Lebanon rail service).

If there is sufficient interest in pursuing the rail alternative, a more detailed Corridor study would be required to refine the engineering analyses, demand estimates, and other findings of the preliminary feasibility study to a level that would address the competitive performance requirements of the “Federal Transit Administration New Starts” program and satisfy basic requirements for funding eligibility.

A thorough economic viability assessment to include capital investment and funding sources, direct and indirect benefits of project implementation, and prospects for generating reliable and adequate sources of funding for ongoing operating expenses should be a key element of future project development efforts for the rail alternative.