GET STATION ON THE RIGHT TRACK - LancasterOnline: Editorials

GET STATION ON THE RIGHT TRACK

Lancaster Mayor Rick Gray, a member of the Lancaster County Transportation Coordinating Committee, is upset that after all the work and all the money and all the time spent on the train station, so little seems to have been accomplished. So are we.

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Posted: Sunday, October 9, 2011 12:01 am | Updated: 11:51 am, Thu Sep 12, 2013.

Because the Lancaster Amtrak station renovation is nearly finished, it's time to ask: What did we get for $14.2 million?

Air conditioning - but not in the concourse where riders wait for trains.

Parking - but nowhere near enough for the level of ridership on Amtrak's Keystone Line.

Interior work - but not for the parts of the station actually open to the public.

As recent stories in the Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era have noted, none of the money - tax money, let's remember - has been used to repair peeling paint and cracked ceilings inside the McGovern Avenue station's public areas.

How much is all that going to cost? Nearly another million.

Lancaster Mayor Rick Gray, a member of the Lancaster County Transportation Coordinating Committee, is upset that after all the work and all the money and all the time spent on the train station, so little seems to have been accomplished. So are we.

All you have to do is to look at the newly renovated Elizabethtown Amtrak station - a project that cost $9.3 million - to see what the Lancaster station work should have accomplished.

The Lancaster renovation plans date to 1998. The original cost of the project was $8.3 million. But as the job went on, county transportation officials said last week, more problems were uncovered in the aging building. And then Amtrak threw the county a curve by tripling the amount it intended to charge for electrical work at the station.

Under pressure, Amtrak knocked down the outrageous figure, but the total for the renovations soared to $14.2 million - for a job that looks like it benefited Amtrak far more than the riders. (How do the station's elegant new meeting rooms help Joe and Jane Passenger? Will the nicer working area for Amtrak's employees do anything to enhance the ridership experience?)

Exterior changes are more useful for riders; the driveway will be realigned with Duke Street to help traffic flow, and new taxi and Trailways bus facilities will be available. And there are supposed to be new restrooms (better than the old ones, we hope) and a new coffee shop inside.

Too bad the interior still looks so shabby.

Transportation officials seem to be blaming the original project specifications for the oversights. And one said last week that when the job started, the station's interior wasn't so bad.

But the station has been deteriorating for years, inside and out.

True, heavier use of the building has accelerated the problem. More than half a million passengers used the Lancaster station in the last fiscal year, double the ridership in 1998. The McGovern Avenue station is the third busiest in Pennsylvania.

That kind of ridership growth wasn't foreseen when the renovations first started, which may explain why the parking expansion will add only about 60 spaces, far too few to meet the demand - which now spills out into the neighborhoods around the station.

Even if unforeseen circumstances complicated the renovation project, it still looks as though taxpayers haven't gotten much bang after shelling out 14.2 million bucks.

County transportation officials said last week that the last of the interior renovations could be started in April, at a cost of an extra $800,000 to $900,000. And a new study - yes, another one - will be getting under way to determine parking needs. That's nice, but shouldn't that have been done a long time ago?

And why was the $14.2 million project engineered mostly for the benefit of Amtrak and not for the benefit of Amtrak's customers?

County transportation leaders need to get this job done right. Amtrak, which is reaping the benefits of growth on the Keystone Line and of the redone station, needs to get on board.

Don't let the train station get derailed.

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