LI Loco wrote:Reading and Berks County are a mere 39 miles beyond Allentown. Reading has a population of 80,000, making it Pennsylvania's 5th largest city, and Berks has a population of 385,000. It is the state's largest county outside the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh metropolitan areas. Given its size and the attraction of the Reading outlets, it might make a more attractive terminal than Allentown.
As for going beyond to Harrisburg, the driving distance is 63 miles and the population is much smaller. It may not be justified.
Just as a point of clarification, Harrisburg was the 5th largest metro area in Pennsylvania measured by urbanized area population in the 2000 Census, with about 362,000 people. (Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton, and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, in that order, were the top four.) Reading was the 7th largest metro area in PA by urbanized area population, with about 240,000 people. (Lancaster ranks 6th, at about 323,000, and FWIW York ranked 8th at just under 200,000.)
From an ideal (i.e. pure passenger benefit and no rail freight issues or rail right-of-way issues) perspective, I think a New York-Lehigh Valley-Reading-Harrisburg route makes a good deal of sense. There's already been a lot of good discussion about the New York and Lehigh Valley (aka ABE) connection both in this thread and on the NJT board, so I don't need to add more. As for the western half of this corridor, the Lehigh Valley is a growing job center. Harrisburg is the state capital and a transportation center, and I know it is the primary job center in central PA. Reading is also a decent-sized center job center. Though the need for passenger rail services between the ABE area and Harrisburg (or possibly Lancaster or York - more thoughts on that below) isn't as high as those between the ABE area and NYC/north Jersey, rail alternatives are fairly viable now and will become a lot more viable a couple decades from now. An arguably better question is where the western "regional" segment would terminate. It doesn't necessarily have to terminate in Harrisburg (though that makes the most sense). It could terminate in either Lancaster (where it would connect with the existing Keystone Corridor and provide a Harrisburg to Lehigh Valley connection via Lancaster) or in York. Stopping in York would provide benefits for York-Lancaster travelers in addition to York-New York and York-Philadelphia travelers.
Related to the end of the last paragraph, as for the idea of extending the corridor beyond Harrisburg, I think that also makes sense, but IMO it wouldn't be west towards Pittsburgh, it would be south towards Baltimore/Washington. Baltimore is a mere 75 miles from Harrisburg (and 50 miles from York) and Washington is about 115 miles from Harrisburg via Baltimore. By contrast, Harrisburg is about 205 miles from Pittsburgh, and there is significantly less population between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh than there is between Harrisburg and Baltimore/Washington. Now a NYC/Baltimore route via the Lehigh Valley and either Harrisburg and/or Lancaster wouldn't serve passengers traveling the entire length (except for overflow when conventional NE Corridor trains are at capacity), but it WOULD serve a significant number of passengers going between Harrisburg/Lancaster/York and NYC and also Harrisburg/Lancaster/York and Baltimore/Washington. Basically you'd be connecting two viable shorter distance corridors together.
Finally and unfortunately, as a practical manner it may be difficult for Norfolk Southern to allow passenger rail operations west of Allentown, or more specifically west of Reading, if a route followed the Reading/Lebanon/Harrisburg corridor. (Lebanon is a small city with about 60,000 people in its urbanized area about halfway and directly between Reading and Harrisburg.) This section of NS corridor is their primary east-west mainline, and it is experiencing significant increases in traffic (specifically intermodal traffic). Perhaps more importantly, it has some significant right-of-way concerns along part of the corridor, including in-city running and multiple street crossings in the city of Lebanon. NS and PennDOT would need to be pretty creative if intermediate distance passenger rail service were to take place between Harrisburg, Lebanon, and Reading. (As a final note, I'll mention there is a significant amount of intercity bus service already provided by Capitol Trailways between Harrisburg and Reading, so there probably would be some demand there if rail service ever did occur. I'll also note the Harrisburg-based Capital Area Transit has identified the York-Harrisburg-Lebanon corridor as their preferred corridor for CorridorTWO commuter rail service.)