April 17, 2002

Fox Point Association intends to press forward with its effort to re-establish a commuter railroad station at Edgemoor despite a strong rebuff from Delaware's top transportation official.

Secretary of Transportation Nathan Hayward told a meeting of New Castle County Council's land use committee on Apr. 16 that congestion along Amtrak's Northeast Corridor line and the quasi-public railroad company's dire financial position effectively rule out pursuing the project any time in the foreseeable future.

He even rejected the idea of having Delaware Transit Corp., a unit of Delaware Department of Transportation, participate in a feasibility study which Wilmington Area Metropolitan Planning Council has agreed to undertake.. "I don't want to spend a dime on [a study] because I already know the answer," he declared.

Although taken aback by the apparent finality of Hayward's position, Christopher Koyste, president of Fox Point Association, declared at previously scheduled meeting of that civic association the same evening: "Just because he's saying 'no' right now doesn't mean it's a 'no'. His saying that just means we have more work to do."

Koyste said that he was disappointed that the secretary "chose not to attend" a recent association-hosted symposium on the project. Had he done so, Koyste added, Hayward would have seen the amount of support the project has among Delaware's congressional delegation, state legislators, county government and at the working level of the transit agency. The by-invitation dinner session was held at Rockwood Mansion and, according to Koyste, all but two of 20 attenders "were in firm support."

"We have support. The momentum is there," said John Yaschur, a member of the association involved in furthering the project.

In his comments to the Council committee, Hayward said he is supportive of so-called 'multi-modal' transportation and public transit, but described an Edgemoor rail station as politically and economically impractical. "It is not a DelDOT issue; it's an Amtrak issue. I don't think Amtrak officials would countenance it," he said.

For about a year, Fox Point Association has advocated re-establishing the Edgemoor stop on Southeast Pennsylvania Transportation Authority's R-2 commuter line. In addition to the Wilmington station, that line serves Claymont, Newark and a new station, known as Fair Play, adjacent to the Delaware Park racetrack and slot machine establishment. Delaware Transit subsidizes rail service within Delaware. Septa leases track rights from Amtrak.

In separate contexts at the Council committee meeting, Hayward said Fair Play has exceeded patronage projections and requires expanded parking accommodations and that Delaware Transit plans to make improvements to parking, traffic flow and the station itself.

There was a station at Edgemoor until the early 1980s, when it gave way to the building of an interchange with Interstate 495. The association has advocated putting a new station across from the largely empty Merchants Square shopping center. It maintains that could be an incentive for revitalizing the center, possibly at a mixed-use venue of offices and shops.

Hayward said he doubted that effect would necessarily follow. "Mr. [Frank] Acierno's focus, his energy and interest simply isn't there," he said. Acierno owns Merchants Square.

Putting another stop between Wilmington and Philadelphia would result in  further congestion on the Northeast Corridor line, Hayward maintained. Moreover, he added, providing additional track capacity would be cost-prohibitive, given Amtrak's financial situation. "Amtrak doesn't even have enough money to put towels in the restrooms in its stations," he quipped.

Koyste and Yaschur later countered that federal money is available for public transit projects and national policy is directed toward encouraging them. "There is 'funding' for these projects and they're happening all over the country," Koyste said.

Northern Delaware and the broader Delaware River Valley have an especial interest in encouraging use of rail, rather than motor, traffic because of its precarious status under the federal Clean Air Act. Hayward's position, he said, is short-sighted in view of the fact DelDOT stands to loose federal highway dollars if the area's atmosphere continues to fail to meet federal standards.

The association agreed to undertake an effort to build support among public officials while the planning council's study is being conducted.

"We're not talking about building it next year. It's going to be at least three or four years away," Koyste said.

2002. All rights reserved.

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