READING, Pa. — The Schuylkill River Passenger Rail Authority, which held its inaugural meeting earlier this month, is handling the necessary start-up work for the group.
Monday afternoon’s virtual meeting focused primarily on presentations from two companies being considered for the vital consulting role.
Brian O’Leary, director of the Chester County Planning Commission and member of the authority, explained the need.
“We know we need help with the process on the technical side, but also an understanding of the process on the federal level, which we’re not really experts on,” O’Leary said.
“And then the other part that we potentially need help with is the administrative side,” he said. “Right now the administration is really run by each of the counties helping out here and there, and other people in the authority helping out as needed.”
“And that certainly helps us get through this process well,” O’Leary continued. “But it will ultimately be a challenge; it’s kind of a many-headed beast.”
The authority is a joint venture between Berks, Montgomery and Chester counties, and is tasked with the long-term goal of restoring passenger rail service from Reading to Philadelphia.
Creation on the SRPRA is not a guarantee that passenger rail will return between the Reading-Philadelphia corridor, but it is a necessary step in a long process of research and planning.
The authority heard presentations from John Roberts Smith, president of Transportation for America, and Alex Metcalf, president of Transportation Economics & Management Systems Inc.
“Transportation for America is a national alliance of elected local and state leaders to ensure that our voices are heard,” Smith said, “not just in state capitols, but here in the nation’s capital when it comes to politics.”
“My job is divided between creating policy for members of Congress to consider and implementing that policy in the real world,” he said.
“Transportation for America serves as policy adviser to the Southern Rail Commission, which is the nation’s oldest passenger railroad commission,” Smith continued, “and I think the Federal Rail Administration would tell you that they are the strongest voice impactful when it comes to passenger rail on Capitol Hill for the past four years.
Smith said he could be instrumental in securing federal funding for Capitol Hill.
“For funding, what’s important is that you want your voice to be heard when the law is written — not after,” Smith said. “And you want your voice to be heard in the room as the directors and their staff define the criteria for you to apply.”
“We’re helping you articulate the vision in a way that will resonate with this administration,” Smith promised.
Metcalf said he came to the US in 1986 after serving as chief economist for British Rail in the UK.
“In terms of working in America, we’ve now surveyed over 100 passenger rail corridors across the country, and we’ve actually assisted in the implementation of passenger service restoration in eight cases,” Metcalf said. . “Of the ones you probably know best would be Boston in Portland.”
“Obviously we see the Reading-Philadelphia Northeast corridor as a major opportunity and therefore we are very excited,” he said. “When we were called and asked to help with your new process, we looked at your process and basically identified what we thought were three areas where we could help you.”
“The first area is the ongoing management and support of the subcommittees, because the process of implementing a passenger rail system is very complex,” Metcalf said.
“The second is a concern that we might need to identify when we need an executive director, and one of the things that we know we can help with is making that decision and helping you select someone. ‘one,” he continued.
“The third thing is what we call a plan study preparation, which would basically lay out all aspects of the entire system implementation process, giving you timelines, milestones and action plans. “, he explained, “so that for the next five years, you would have a plan that basically tells you what’s next and what you need to organize for, what you need to do to make the implementation as smooth and organized as possible.
The authority said selecting a consultant is very important and agreed to hold a closed-door executive meeting next week to discuss the two candidates further.
The next scheduled authority meeting will be held virtually at 3 p.m. on August 22.