The Russians Invented It —- The Germans Were First To Use It

Bringing Light Rail Back to the Lehigh Valley. Introduction to Light Rail: Believe it, or not, there was a time when you could board a trolley in Easton, ride it to Allentown, jump on the Liberty Bell Line, and take it straight to Philadelphia. There were no headaches from traffic jams along route 22, and anyone could do it, young and old alike. This was in the day of the electric trolley, which led to the modern evolution of light rail. The term light rail was coined in 1972 by the U.S. Urban Mass Transit Association to describe new streetcar transformations which were taking place in Europe and the United States.(1) The Lehigh Valley used to have the older equivalent of light rail, an extensive trolley system, but unfortunately it faded away in the 1950?s. Obituary: Trolleys of the Lehigh Valley: The first trolley system in the Lehigh Valley was born in Easton in the beginning of the winter season, December 10th, 1892. A true pioneer, she was the third trolley system in the United States, next to Richmond and Scranton.(1) The Lehigh Valley trolley practiced much giving during her lifetime, dedicating herself to moving the citizens of the Lehigh Valley. A brilliant task manager, she hardly ever got off track. The trolley provided cheap, quick, and relatively clean transportation from Allentown to Easton and beyond. She is survived by many latter siblings, Portland, Camden, and Pittsburgh, to name a few. Unfortunately, in her older years, the trolley started losing her patrons to the popularization of the automobile, and at the age of 61, her life was tragically cut short. The Lehigh Valley trolley died in Allentown on June 6th, 1953.(2) Her funeral was held at Bethlehem Steel in the summer of 1953. Current Problems in the Lehigh Valley: Let’s face it, there is no such thing as a perfect place. Every area has its own little problems; however, the Lehigh Valley has more than just a few “little” problems. Let’s name a few. Trash laws have created stockpiles of garbage on the streets in Allentown, there are dilapidated houses in Easton, and daily traffic-jams along route 22 in Bethlehem. The LANTA bus system is terrible. Senior citizens and young adults are not mobile; they need to be driven to go to the mall, to see the doctor, or get a haircut. Driving in the valley is expensive and a pain. We are all paying more than twice as much for gas as we were a few years ago and the future isn’t looking pretty. To sum it up, we have a lot of problems here in the Lehigh Valley. To fix some of these problems, here have been some posed solutions: Interstate 78 (I-78): I-78 was completed years ago and was expected to solve the traffic problems on route 22. Well, look at route 22 today during rush hour, it’s a mess! As predicted in prophetic fashion by Bob Freeman’s article “Light Rail and the Lehigh Valley” in 1981, I-78 did not fix the traffic problem on route 22. Nothing has changed, and people have been frustrated driving this route for over 25 years! LANTA buses: To transport citizens of the valley, the LANTA bus system was created, however it is incredibly inefficient. In a lot of cases, the bus comes only once an hour. The schedules and maps are interwoven, proving difficult to read (check out the LANTA schedule at LANTA’s failure to provide quick, cheap, and simple transportation has made it difficult for local citizens to get around. The system is slow, and people almost always prefer to drive over taking the LANTA bus. It may take two hours to get from Bethlehem to the Whitehall mall, whereas a person can potentially drive this route in 20 minutes. Proposed widening of Route 22: Lately a group called the Route 22 Coalition has been pushing for a plan to widen the traffic-jam infested highway. Their plan would involve spending $900 million dollars to build the expansion.(4) This would take countless years, and ironically, back up traffic even more during construction periods. It is clear that all of these plans have failed. A new plan may alleviate all of the problems mentioned previously. The Resurrection of the Trolley: Bringing Light Rail Back Re-establishing light rail in the Lehigh Valley would eliminate many problems and create a local renaissance. Investors from other areas would be summoned to spend money in the valley. Property values would increase, and dilapidated buildings would be fixed. Jobs would be created, and billions of dollars of money would pour into the area. This has happened to cities such as Portland, Oregon. As of January, 2006, local investment in light rail in Portland totaled $512 million. This stimulated $3.8 billion in new real estate investment alone!(5) Besides encouraging local investment, a train would allow flexibility, and people would be able to get a train every ten minutes, (as it was in the old days in Easton),(2) compared to the current half hour or hour wait of LANTA buses. Once aboard, citizens could travel the 18 miles between Allentown and Easton in twenty to twenty-five minutes.(3) There would be no more getting stuck in traffic jams, driving your kids or parents to the mall. This easy mode of transportation would foster independence, allowing senior citizens and young adults to move about the valley with ease. Another perk is it would save you money! Let’s Talk Money: The addition of local light rail will keep your wallet fat. Let’s see how it will do this. First of all, by taking the train, your car would not endure as much wear and tear, and therefore not demand as many tune-ups. Tune-ups are expensive and big bucks would be saved! Another benefit to taking a train would be cutting back on your cars mileage. A car’s miles dramatically effects selling price, and when you decide to sell it, you will notice a much higher return compared to a car that travels thirty-five miles a day. Lastly, you won’t be paying as much at the pump! Considering that it is about an eighteen mile stretch between Allentown and Easton, and many cars get around eighteen miles to the gallon, one may approximate that the cost of traveling round trip from Allentown to Easton is two gallons of gas, or about $5. A light rail system could easily beat this price, and during times of oil crisis, the price would fluctuate to a lesser degree. World oil supplies are thinning, and the price of oil will rise. It would be wise to bring in light rail, a versatilesystem that could run off electricity generated by nuclear, hydro, solar, coal power, and more. It is apparent that a light rail system in the Lehigh valley will save you money in the long run, but what is the short term cost to build a rail service? To start off, an eighteen mile track stretching from Allentown to Easton could cost less than $20 million per mile, as it has in cities such as Baltimore and Camden.(1) The total project could come in at less than $360 million. I know that this might seem outrageous at first glance, but compare that with the $900 million plan to widen route 22. A light rail system would be $540 million cheaper! And remember, that’s a whole rail system, not just a few lanes! The creation of a light rail system would benefit the Lehigh Valley to an enormous degree, and may be fairly simple, considering there are abandoned lines from previous systems. Let’s take a look at some possible options for a light rail system. Planning a Light Rail System: A new light rail system would utilize existing and/or abandoned rail paths along the Lehigh River from Allentown to Easton. Construction of a new rail service could be cheap because of the existence of old rail paths. On the north side of the river, there are abandoned paths left over from the Central Railroad of New Jersey, and on the south side there are open areas where the old trolley tracks used to be. Freight lines run on both sides of the river and could be integrated with a passenger service. For this to work, freight would run during times of low passenger traffic, and the commuter rail would run during times of high traffic, such as rush hour. The integration method would probably be the cheapest way of bringing about light rail. To assess a more detailed plan of action, a firm would be hired. Many cities have had success with European firms; however, the entire process could also be done domestically. Baltimore hired a U.S. division of Asea, Brown, and Boveri, a Swiss company, and was able to create a light rail service for less than $20 million per mile.(1) It is possible that a new light rail system in the valley could cost even less than this. It is fundamentally important that a new rail system would be easy to get to, and that the hubs are located within walking distances of major populations. A feeder system of buses, or even trains could be created to take passengers to the main hubs, but it would make much more sense to put the stations within walking distance for the average person. It is important to make sure that this transportation is accessible for the elderly, because in the upcoming years the older population is expected to boom. The system should be created with three things in mind: simplicity, speed, and cost-effectiveness. A light rail system could be created to fit all three, and would lead to years of prosper for the valley. Conclusion: Although no holy-grail, bringing Light Rail back to the Lehigh Valley would have a substantial positive impact on citizens’ lives, the local budget, the job market, transportation, and housing. Light rail is cost effective, and the investment of a light rail passenger system would bring billions of dollars into the region. Citizens throughout the Lehigh Valley should take light rail into consideration. For citizens that want to get involved in this issue today, take a look at the next section entitled, “How to take Action.” (())








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