Our next stop, Lancaster's eyesore
By Chip Smedley, Staff Writer email@example.com
A major corporation looking to cut costs decided to relocate a large portion of its support operations from the urban Northeast.
It conducted a yearlong search and, because it serves clients spread across the nation, could have moved anywhere. It chose Lancaster County.
After the decision was announced, Lancaster County Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Tom Baldrige asked leaders of the corporation what it was about Lancaster that attracted them.
They cited affordable living conditions, strong communities where workers could live, and access to major roads. An easily accessible train station was also very important.
"But you have to know," Baldrige was told, "we had to look beyond the current condition of your station."
Baldrige, who related this anecdote on the condition that the company not be identified, was alarmed. "What it made me realize," he said, "is we have to step up our local efforts to fight for a train station we can be proud of.
"This is more important than whether the station is attractive or not. This station is a key aspect for economic growth in the city and county."
Amtrak statistics show 559,364 riders used the Lancaster station in 2012, an average daily ridership of 1,528 passengers. They generated annual ticket revenues of $11,131,307 for Amtrak.
In a 2011 report, the Chamber asserted that the train station "is a significant asset to the county and is poised to play an even more important role in the future. As the second most active train station in Pennsylvania, it serves as a major contributor to economic and tourism success in Lancaster County. The need to ensure its vibrant future is essential."
Lancaster County Planning Commission Executive Director James Cowhey concurred.
"That rail corridor is an economic driver and can make a major ... impact in the economy of this area," he said. Once the station project is completed, he added, "We are going to see some pretty neat stuff happen in the next 15 to 20 years."
Baldrige considers himself the eternal optimist -- but says the situation at the train station has tested his limits.
He has closely followed the process and in October 2011 the Chamber, along with the Economic Development Company of Lancaster County and the James Street Improvement District, all issued statements decrying the fact that while $14.2 million of public money was spent on the renovation project, none of it was earmarked to improve the crumbling interior in the parts of the station used by the public.
The statements also called for the finishing work -- called the Capstone Project by Amtrak -- to be completed as quickly as possible.
But Amtrak's recent announcement that it does not yet have money to install a heating/ventilation/air conditioning system in the concourse confounds Baldrige, who agrees that government bureaucracy presents the major obstacle in completing the project.
"Part of my frustration is that when I now hear they don't have money to put HVAC in the concourse, I think of the systems, the bureaucracy and the process that has literally cost this project millions more than necessary," Baldrige said.
"This is the way they do business? It's simply maddening."n