Monday, February 22, 2010

Delaware transit: There's a lot riding on future of rail service in Newark

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The rail stop adjacent to the former Chrysler plant is one of the site's most significant assets -- but the trains could cease stopping there if one of several proposed Newark, Del., station locations gains the support of transportation officials, The News Journal reports.

Next month, the Delaware Department of Transportation is expected to release a study identifying the best place to build a new train station to support increased rail service in Newark. The station would support traffic from SEPTA and Amtrak, but officials also are hoping it would be on the route of expanded service by Maryland's MARC commuter rail system and part of a new passenger route connecting Wilmington and Dover.

"This is a very important project, and it's one we think is the future of Delaware and one that people are passionate about," said Stephen Kingsberry, executive director of the Delaware Transit Corporation.

One of the options under consideration by the state is building a new station on the Chrysler site, which the University of Delaware recently purchased with plans for a research and technology park. Kingsberry would not name the other Newark locations being considered, but Newark Mayor Vance Funk said one is along Library Avenue (Del. 72).

City and university leaders want the station to be built on the 272-acre Chrysler site.

"The state is trying to get better rail service from the north and south," UD President Patrick Harker said. "You can almost go from Richmond, Va., to Boston at a low cost -- one of the two missing pieces is Perryville, Md., to Newark. There's a lot of interest in Amtrak and commuter rail because it's a very low-cost means of transportation."

Kingsberry said the stop at the Chrysler site lacks a station that meets modern standards for safety and capacity. He said the parking area and surrounding roads also would need upgrading.

"There's only one track going into Newark currently, and we need to add at least another track so you could add more trains," Kingsberry said.

The Transit Corporation is pursuing an extension of MARC service and the funding to begin passenger service between Wilmington and Dover.

Although the study is expected to determine the best location for the station, Kingsberry said, the state's budget problems make it hard to give a timetable for construction.

The U.S. Army is expected to have a major research presence at the redeveloped Chrysler site, and UD officials also are developing master's degree programs for employees at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Aberdeen, Md. If Maryland and Delaware work out an agreement to extend MARC service from its current end point in Perryville, Md., to Newark, personnel from Aberdeen Proving Ground could travel back and forth by train.

Funk said city leaders would like to see the rail stop stay put. He said relocating the station to Del. 72 would create traffic challenges because the route to get there winds through residential areas.

Increased service by Amtrak, SEPTA and other providers would be an important advantage in attracting tenants to the Chrysler site and to other parts of the city, said Vidadi Yusibov, executive director of the Fraunhofer USA Center for Molecular Biotechnology. The Fraunhofer center is located at UD's Delaware Technology Park on the southeastern edge of Newark, but Yusibov said the company often has to meet outside contacts in Wilmington because more trains stop there.

"You're dealing with a category of people who count the minutes in their schedules," Yusibov said. "For them, [the question of] 'Do I have to fly' and 'Does someone have to meet me at the airport?' or 'Can I fly to BWI and take the train to campus?' means a lot."

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