The Delaware River Port Authority took another step toward reopening a long-abandoned PATCO stop beneath Franklin Square in Philadelphia with a $2 million contract to plan what's needed to bring the station back to working order.

The DRPA board of commissioners approved the contract with Burns Engineering Inc. at its monthly meeting Wednesday.

"This will be telling us what we need to do, what the design would be, the basis for a construction contract if we decide to go forward," said John Hanson, the DRPA's chief executive officer.

The contract with Burns, a Philadelphia company, covers two years.

The PATCO stop, near Sixth and Race Streets, opened in 1936 but never drew enough passengers to stay active consistently since then. It was last reopened in 1976 as part of the city's Bicentennial plans but closed again in 1979. The DRPA has discussed using the stop since 2002 and began dedicating real money to it last year.

While the bistate authority has said reopening Franklin Square Station is a priority, there's not yet certainty it will happen, Hanson said. The board will review the design work and decide whether to go forward. A 2016 grant application estimated that the station would serve 1,300 passengers a day.  

"There's been a lot of building and a lot of growth both on the Camden side and the Philadelphia side," Hanson said.

There's an expectation, he said, that up to 50 percent of Camden workers will commute from Philadelphia, so the Franklin Square Station could be a key link between home and work. The expectation of that growing demand for PATCO service also is prompting the DRPA to study ways to optimize the rail service's capacity, Hanson said.

The DRPA has been estimating that it will cost between $27 million and $28 million to bring the station to working order. Opening the station would entail an additional $800,000 in annual expenses.

Since the station was last operational, safety and accessibility requirements have changed, Hanson said, and those will need to be taken into account in the coming review. The design will lay out what structural, mechanical, and electrical improvements are needed, as well as how to make the station accessible to people with disabilities. If the board decides to go forward, the station could reopen in 2022, Hanson said.