Exploring the economic benefits of walkable, sustainable development along the Keystone Corridor with PennDOT

Coatesville, PA is home to a station on the Amtrak Keystone Line. Photo by the Chester County Planning Commission via Flickr.

The 104-mile long Keystone Rail Line that runs from Philadelphia to Harrisburg, PA, has played a significant role in shaping the towns around its 12 stations. Now, new investments in the line are creating opportunities for development along the corridor.

In 2006, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) and Amtrak completed a $145.5 million infrastructure improvement program to increase train frequency and service reliability along the Keystone Corridor. These improvements have the potential to attract new development – and new economic growth – to the areas around stations along the rail line.

On December 4, 2012, PennDOT invited a delegation of LOCUS members that included CEOs and senior executives from leading real estate firms in the northeast region to Coatesville, PA, to discuss best practices for leveraging transit-oriented development (TOD) to revitalize communities. Coatesville was an appropriate backdrop for the meeting because the city shares challenges in attracting new residents and businesses with other cities on the Keystone line. PennDOT and Coatesville leaders hope to address these challenges by investing in rail infrastructure.

David Sciocchetti, the Development Advisor for the Chester County Economic Development Council, acknowledged that investment in rail infrastructure isn’t the only tool needed to restore vibrancy in cities like Coatesville. His comments, which began the daylong meeting, emphasized that the best way to attract riders along the line is to plan for the entire area around stations, rather than just the station itself.

Consultant Rick Robyak, who is working with PennDOT to redevelop the stations on the Keystone line, also echoed the need to use a holistic approach in developing property around the stations. He encouraged meeting attendees to identify how municipalities and PennDOT could work with the private sector to produce the greatest return on the public’s investment. According to Robyak, PennDOT wants to give the private sector the opportunity to guide the redevelopment project in such a way that it creates economic opportunity for both the city and the developer.

The morning’s presentations were followed by an afternoon tour of the current Coatesville Amtrak station. The train station is located at the edge of the city’s commercial district, but lacks adequate pedestrian connections to the commercial core. The current station will likely be repurposed for an alternative use because it does not meet standards set by Amtrak or the American with Disabilities Act. Facilitators from the Coatesville Redevelopment Authority pointed out a possible site for a new station currently considered “blighted” under property codes. Despite the challenges to relocating the Coatesville station and redeveloping others along the line, the LOCUS delegation agreed that more walkable, sustainable development would be a key part of any plan to boost the local economy.

Overall, PennDOT and Coatesville leaders’ commitment to working with the private sector to see strong rail culture return to areas along the Keystone Corridor will undoubtedly help achieve their vision of bringing much-needed economic revitalization to the corridor.

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