READING, Pa. – The Schuylkill River Passenger Rail Authority, which held its inaugural meeting earlier this month, is getting busy with the necessary start-up work of the group.
Monday afternoon’s virtual meeting primarily focused on presentations from two firms being considered for the vital role of consultant.
Brian O’Leary, director of the Chester County Planning Commission and authority member, explained the need.
“We know we need some help with the process from the technical side, but also from an understanding of the process at the federal level, which we are not really experts in,” 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 being handled by each of the counties throwing in some help here and there, and other authority members helping as need be.”
“And that’s certainly getting us through this process well,” O’Leary continued. “But it will eventually be a challenge; it’s kind of a multi-headed beast.”
The authority is a joint venture among Berks, Montgomery and Chester counties, and is tasked with the long-term goal of restoring passenger rail service from Reading to Philadelphia.
The 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, chairman of Transportation for America, and from Alex Metcalf, president of Transportation Economics & Management Systems Inc.
“Transportation for America is a national alliance of elected local and state leaders to see that our voices are heard,” Smith said, “not only in state capitals but here in the nation’s capital when it comes to policy.”
“My work is divided between creating policy for consideration by members of Congress and in the implementation of that policy out in the real world,” he said.
“Transportation for America serves as policy adviser to the Southern Rail Commission, which is the oldest passenger rail commission in the country,” Smith continued, “and I think the Federal Rail Administration would tell you that they’re the most impactful voice when it comes to passenger rail on Capitol Hill for the past four years.”
Smith said he can be instrumental in obtaining federal funding on Capitol Hill.
“For funding, what is important is that you want your voice in the room as the law is being written — not after,” Smith said. “And you want your voice in the room as administrators and their staff are defining the criteria for you to apply.”
“We help you articulate the vision in a way that will resonate with this administration,” Smith promised.
Metcalf said he came to the U.S. in 1986 after serving as the chief economist for British Rail in the United Kingdom.
“In terms of the work in America, we have now studied over since 100 passenger rail corridors around the country, and we have actually helped in the implementation of the restoration of passenger services in eight cases,” Metcalf said. “Of the one you probably know best would be Boston to Portland.”
“Clearly, we regard the Reading-Philadelphia Northeast corridor as a major opportunity, and as a result we are very enthusiastic,” he said. “When we were called up and asked for input to your new process, we looked at your process and essentially, we identified what we thought were three areas where we could help.”
“The first area is ongoing management and subcommittee support, because the process for implementing a passenger rail system is very complex,” Metcalf said.
“The second one is a concern that we might need to identify when we need an executive director, and one of the things we know we can help you with is making that decision and helping you select someone,” he continued.
“The third thing is what we call a preparation of the blueprint study, which essentially would lay out all of the aspects of the whole process for implementing the system, giving you timelines, milestones and action plans,” he explained, “so that for the next five years you would have a plan that essentially tells you what’s going to come next and what you have to get organized for, what you must do in order to make the implementation as smooth and as organized as possible.”
The authority said the selection of a consultant is very important and agreed to hold a closed-door executive session next week to further discuss the two candidates.
The next scheduled meeting of the authority will be conducted virtually at 3 p.m. Aug. 22.