When Berks County, Pa., bought the Colebrookdale Railroad line in 2009 there were some positive known facts … and now it’s apparent there were some unknowns as well.
Berks County wanted to do what was best for the local economy, and the 9-mile freight line has been relatively good for business. A passenger service, which takes passengers through woodlands and over historic bridges, also has been holding it’s own. However, there is a cost to do business, and for the Colebrookdale Railroad line that cost is $25 million.
The Berks County Redevelopment Authority, which now oversees the track, needs the money to upgrade infrastructure and maintain the aging bridges. Currently the rail and bridges cannot handle 286,000-lb railcars, so much of the money would be used to get the track up to industry standards. When the county purchased the line 10 years ago, the fact that it was not up to code was not known, and now freight customers are backing off using the rail. Kenneth Pick, executive director of the redevelopment authority, says recently two customers decided not to use the line because it did not meet the 286,000-lb standard.
The second unknown was the intense weather the region has been experiencing over the last year or so. Flooding events have affected the track to the point where maintenance is badly needed.
The county would like to see a marketing plan for the railroad, and there is some doubt that the infrastructure upgrades can be fully funded. Berks County Commissioner Kevin Barnhardt says he supports the railroad, but the reason the line was handed over to the Redevelopment Authority was so that the county would not have to make such difficult decisions. He says the figures are “beyond shocking.”
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