Eleven years after suggestions surfaced to build a new Paoli train station in Amtrak’s former Paoli rail yard, the official public debut of the design process for the Paoli Intermodal Transportation Center [ITC] was held Wednesday at the Tredyffrin Township Municipal Building.
SEPTA’s Paoli train station is the busiest station on the Paoli/Thorndale line west of Philadelphia and serves Amtrak’s Keystone Corridor as well as five SEPTA bus routes and several privately owned shuttles, but today the station is a small, outdated, one-level structure at the far edge of an inaccessible parking lot.
Wednesday, SEPTA unveiled the beginning of its two-year design process to build a new, accessible station, the Paoli ITC.
“A lot of [the design focus] is on access to and from the station,” said Bob Lund, SEPTA’s senior director of capital construction. “Right now, traffic when the trains come in and out is very difficult.”
The goal of the project is to design a new station with modern, safe and efficient amenities, including ADA accessibility, improved pedestrian and bicycle circulation, improved pick-up and drop-off areas, additional commuter parking, area roadway improvements and increased ridership on SEPTA, Amtrak and the privately owned shuttles.
Redeveloping a Superfund site
The Paoli ITC will be built in Amtrak’s former Paoli rail yard, which was declared a Superfund site in 1984 when PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) were discovered there. It was not remediated until 2005. In 2001 the Tredyffrin and Willistown townships adopted the Paoli Community Master Plan, which recommended the rail yard be redeveloped to include a new train station with improved multimodal access.
Now, 11 years later, SEPTA has begun the design process to do just that.
The former rail yard and current project study area lies along the same rail corridor, west of North Valley Road and between West Central Ave and West Lancaster Ave. Each of the three design alternatives SEPTA presented Wednesday propose a different location within this rail yard space.
“I don’t want to push any one option,” Lund said. “This is to hear what the community wants.”
Though the master plan calling for a new Paoli station is now 11 years old, Lund said it was still taken into consideration and that the ITC option located near Greenwood Ave was included based on recommendations in the master plan.
The Greenwood Ave alternative is still relevant, “but it may or may not be the best option,” Lund said and explained that it is an expensive option with a large impact on Matthews Paoli Ford, one of the area’s key businesses.
Pat Streeter, who lives in nearby Daylesford described the current station as “a wreck.”
“We need to really clean it up and make it more accessible,” she said.
Streeter wants to see improved traffic flow and a better connection to Paoli businesses, which she said should benefit from improvements and increased SEPTA and Amtrak ridership.
“Parking is a huge [problem] in Paoli,” she said. “That’s why we have so many dead shops.”
Erich Smith, also of Daylesford, agreed that the new station needs to improve on current traffic flow problems.
“I drive by it all the time, and it’s a terrible bottleneck,” Smith said of the current station. “It’s very dangerous.”
Smith said he hopes SEPTA will avoid any “modernistic designs” for the new station and that the ITC will focus on bicycle and pedestrian needs as well.
“I think there’s a lot of pent up demand for bicycle routes and access and ability to use your bicycle to get form one place to another,” he said.
Lund said bicycle and pedestrian improvements are being taken into consideration but that those aspects are being led by the Tredyffrin Township, which is conducting multiple roadway improvements in conjunction with the Paoli ITC development.
Another longtime concern of the community is the steep, narrow North Valley Road Bridge, which rises immediately west of the current Paoli station and immediately east of the current study area.
Lund said that the bridge is PennDOT’s responsibility but that one of the design alternatives, the Darby Road extension option, would work closely with PennDOT to address the structure.
Paoli ITC timeline
SEPTA expects the design phase to take approximately two years and to wrap up in mid-2014. Lund said the design team hopes to chose one of the three location options and to move forward with that design by the end of this year.
SEPTA does not have funding in place for construction, so it is unclear when construction might begin.
“We felt it was important since we had the funding [for design] to move forward,” Lund said.
As the different design phases advance, SEPTA plans to hold additional public outreach meetings.
Smith said he is disappointed that the design phase alone will take two years.
“I’ve heard vague things for a long time,” Smith said. “I think they’re being as specific as they can be at this point… It’s too bad we can’t move faster.”
Thorndale line projects
The Paoli ITC is just one of several SEPTA projects on the Thorndale line west of Philadelphia.
In 2010 SEPTA completed the $22.7 million Wayne Station Improvement Project, which brought new high-level platforms, ADA compliant ramps, refurbished passenger facilities, building restoration, landscaping and improved signage, lighting and public address system.
The same night as the Paoli ITC open house, the Lower Merion Township held a community meeting to discuss upgrades to the Ardmore Station, an endeavor that township is leading.
New high-level platforms are in design phase for Villanova and Exton stations, but neither of those stations have full construction funding in place. Villanova Station does have construction funding for a new pedestrian tunnel, one phase of the project that Lund said will help with high pedestrian foot traffic from both the station itself and Villanova University.
Lund said Amtrak also has several improvement projects in design phase, and said that while he cannot speak on behalf of Amtrak, SEPTA and Amtrak do hold regular, almost monthly meetings to ensure that there are no project conflicts.
Some of those Amtrak projects include efforts in partnership with PennDOT to relocate a track interlocking from its location immediately west of the North Valley Road Bridge to a new spot east of the current Paoli station and to relocate the current electrical substation from the Paoli rail yard to a new location south of the tracks.
Amtrak is also planning to replace the power lines that hang over the tracks and the poles that support them from the new Paoli electric substation to the vicinity of the Philadelphia Zoo.