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Amtrak station plans delayed again; platform, bridge, Emaus extension pushed into 2020s

By Dan Miller

Posted 1/10/18

Construction of the new Amtrak train station in Middletown was supposed to start this year.

Forget that.

Now, construction of the station and platform along West Main Street is not slated to …

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Amtrak station plans delayed again; platform, bridge, Emaus extension pushed into 2020s


Construction of the new Amtrak train station in Middletown was supposed to start this year.

Forget that.

Now, construction of the station and platform along West Main Street is not slated to begin until sometime in 2020, with the station ready to open to the public sometime in 2021 or 2022. That’s according to Rich Kirkpatrick, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, who spoke to the Press & Journal on Friday.

This isn’t the first time that the train station project has been delayed, as anyone who has followed the project for any length of time can attest. Plans to move the station from Mill Street to its new home on West Main Street were first announced by PennDOT on Dec. 6, 2010.

Pressed for an answer on why the deadlines keep slipping, Kirkpatrick said there is “no uncertainty” regarding funding of the train station. The cost to build the station and platform is estimated at $24.4 million.

“We should note that this project is very different than rehabilitating an existing station, because we had to go through the process of identifying a new station location, then we had to acquire the needed property (a process not completed until 2013), design the station and necessary track work, do site preparation, and coordination with three different railroads” including Amtrak, Norfolk Southern, and the Middletown & Hummelstown Railroad, Kirkpatrick said.

The $24.4 million to build the station doesn’t include other related costs, such as $2.6 million for site preparation and $10.8 million for the relocation of railroad track necessary to move the station from its site along Mill Street.

The $24.4 million for the station and platform, and the $2.6 million for site preparation, are being funded by PennDOT and by the Federal Transit Administration, Kirkpatrick said.

The major factor behind the shifting construction timetable is getting the tracks moved, which depends on Norfolk Southern railroad and Amtrak.

A center platform is to be constructed between Amtrak’s two tracks. There is not enough room to construct the platform at the new site, Kirkpatrick said. The tracks will need to be spread farther apart, so that the platform can be built. However, shifting Amtrak’s southern track will be too close to Norfolk Southern’s track, resulting in the need for Norfolk Southern to shift its track.

Approximately one mile of track must be shifted south by each railroad, Kirkpatrick said.

Norfolk Southern was to start an estimated $6.5 million worth of track relocation work in 2017. That’s been pushed back to sometime this year, according to PennDOT.

Amtrak was to start its $4.3 million worth of track work in late 2018. That’s now been pushed back to 2019, Kirkpatrick said.

The combined $10.8 million in track relocation work is being funded by PennDOT.

“All construction schedules are contingent upon the availability of the Amtrak and Norfolk Southern workforces,” Kirkpatrick told the Press & Journal in an email. “Coordination with the railroads is a complicated process that we are working our way through and we are confident we can meet the 2021-22 opening goal.”

“I’m disappointed that the project is not moving ahead faster than what it was initially thought to be,” said Middletown Borough Council President Damon Suglia. However, Suglia said he knows that the train station isn’t just any project.

“We all know nothing happens overnight with the logistics of such a large project. A lot of this has to do with PennDOT’s hands being tied counting on Amtrak and Norfolk Southern to complete their projects.”

The borough eagerly awaits completion of the train station, because of the significant impact it is expected to have on the downtown, Suglia added.

“Once the project is completed it will alleviate a lot of the parking and traffic issues that we currently have downtown, and we will hopefully see a boost to local businesses with the addition of such a large modernized facility bringing more commuters to Middletown.”

PennDOT’s last big announcement concerning the train station came in January 2017, when the state agency identified a team of private companies, known as Keystone Connections, as the prospective private developer expected to build the train station and maintain it thereafter.

Sometime this winter PennDOT plans to release a final Request for Proposals to Keystone Connections, in order for the team to respond with a final plan for how it proposes to develop the station.

PennDOT has received a preliminary plan from Keystone Connections, but the department cannot comment on what is in the plan until Keystone Connections responds to the final RFP, Kirkpatrick said.

“Details will be released after the proposal (from Keystone Connections) is evaluated and scored” as part of PennDOT’s public-private partnership (P3) process, Kirkpatrick said.

The department hopes to announce these details in June, he added.

Keystone Connections consists of Cedarwood Development Inc., Star America Capital Advisor LLC, Raudenbush Engineering Inc., JEM Group LLC, U.S. Facilities Inc., and Walker Parking Consultants/Engineers Inc., according to a PennDOT press release from January 2017.

Keystone Connections is to have wide latitude in commercial development of the train station site, as long as the plan includes providing a minimum of 400 parking spaces.

The site could include “anything from retail establishments to a hotel,” PennDOT Deputy Secretary for multimodal transportation Toby Fauver told the Press & Journal during a visit to the train station tract in late 2016.

That was before the start of two new hotels in the area, one on Harrisburg International Airport scheduled to open in August, and another hotel along Route 230 next to the Linden Centre shopping center that is to open in the spring.

Funding for the train station project also includes extending Emaus Street to West Main Street, and building a pedestrian bridge over West Main Street to connect the train station to Penn State Harrisburg.

Plans to move the Amtrak train station from its current location on Mill Street first surfaced in January 2009, when PennDOT announced that the Middletown station and other stations had to be brought into compliance with requirements of the federal Americans With Disabilities Act.

Because of how the station is configured, officials said that the only viable option would be to move the station.

In May 2009, PennDOT told Middletown residents at a public meeting in the borough that a study was underway that would lead toward coming up with a new location for the station.

On Dec. 6, 2010, PennDOT announced that the station would be moved to the current proposed site on West Main Street, where the former A.P. Green warehouse had been torn down.