One of the frustrating things about "public comment" meetings is that officials aren't allowed to respond or answer your questions. So, after SEPTA's meeting last night on extending high-speed rail to King of Prussia, I put a few of the audience questions to SEPTA project director Byron Comati. Here are the Q's and A's, paraphrased for brevity.
Q: If SEPTA is so desperately underfunded, how is it paying for these reports and consultants and meetings?
A: SEPTA studied this KOP Rail idea before – most recently in 2003, in conjunction with the Schuylkill Valley Rail project that is now "dead in the water." Because both projects failed to move forward, SEPTA didn't use up all of the federal earmarks from that 2003 study. So the leftovers are being used now.
Q: What would an elevated train through DeKalb Pike would look like?
A: It will not look like the old El in Philadelphia. The trains would be much "slimmer, more aquiline." They would be quieter, since they run on an electrified third rail. The would sit atop a single central support beam, instead of the larger arch-type supports in Philadelphia.
When the "locally preferred" routes have been narrowed down a little more, SEPTA will build 3-D models of the top options. Constituents will be able to see not just the design, but also how the train would move and what it would look like from various vantage points.
Q: Didn't a previous map show a possible route directly through the mall?
A: The mall would not approve a station in the center. They are planning an expansion themselves and will use that space between the two wings to fill in with more retail stores. But they are supportive of a mall-adjacent station.
Q: What if the project planning is finished and the funding never comes through?
A: We already have one capital project sitting on the shelf -- the rail extension from Elwyn to Wawa in Delaware County. If we can't get the funding, we can't build. But we would continue to lobby and look for public-private funding structures or other creative funding mechanisms. Ridership on the King of Prussia bus lines is already high enough to support a rail route, so he is hopeful that good planning will attract good funding.
Your chance to weigh in
Last night's meeting drew about 150 people, but it wasn't the only chance to make your opinions heard. The scoping report, Purpose & Need statement and other materials are posted on the project website, kingofprussiarail.com. The map above shows the 12 route options that are being considered.
Want rail service? Don't want rail service? Have a preference for where stations go, or suggestions for longer-longer-term planning? SEPTA is taking public input until Aug. 14, through the website, by phone, by fax, by email or in person.
This is a long process – at least 10 years, not counting probable funding delays -- but the earlier you make your opinions known, the more influence your comments will have on the trajectory of all these scoping studies and environmental reports.