Derailing of the proposed downtown Wilmington trolley could provide impetus for a more innovative and productive mass-transit system serving not only the city but also much of northern New Castle County, according to a state legislator who has long advocated having the area join several others around the world committed to monorail transportation.

"We now have an opportunity to surround the trolley with a larger vision," David Ennis told Delaforum.

Acknowledging that his advocacy of building such a system has been met with a grandiose display of skepticism, he counters that the idea "isn't as much pie-in-the-sky as a lot of people think." It is becoming less so all the time, he added.

He said he is heartened by a recent development which went unreported by the media and largely unnoticed by the public. On successive occasions seven and nine carloads of passengers took advantage of an experimental arrangement and traveled by rail from New York and Washington to Dover Downs to attend automobile races.

While those were single events of especial interest to devotees of that sport, Ennis said the experience also has bolstered the resolve of mid-state advocates of re-establishing the long dormant passenger railroad link between Dover and Wilmington to serve an increasing number of commuters going both ways. Simultaneous with that is an effort by the Norfolk Southern Railroad to have the Newark rail station, which serves the Newark-Philadelphia commuter line, shifted a short distance to the east to where the Delaware Spur meets the Amtrak main line.

The Delaware Spur, which long-time Delawarean's remember as the Pennsylvania Railroad's old Delmarva line, runs between there and Harrington, Del., and Salisbury, Md., with a link to the Sussex County seacoast. Norfolk Southern uses it mainly to haul coal to Conectiv's Indian River power station. Coupling relocation of the Newark station with addition of a connection between the north-south line and tracks to Wilmington -- the existing connector points only toward Baltimore -- would provide the necessary steel path linking Dover and Wilmington.

A separate but relatable development, Ennis said, is agreement by the Wilmington Area Planning Council to conduct a feasibility study into some kind of commuter rail service for employers in the Delaware Route 141 highway corridor. The council is about to put out a request for proposals to conduct such a study, which grew out of the Tyler McConnell Bridge advisory committee process.

With the idea of laying a trolley track along Market Street to link the Christina Riverfront with Rodney Square having lost economic and political favor, the project was removed earlier year from Delaware Department of Transportation's long-range capital program and has since been officially scrapped. DelDOT on Nov. 6 announced that its study came up with higher capital cost and lower passenger revenue projections than originally estimated.

Ennis noted that leaves a $6 million federal planning grant for the trolley approved last year and an additional $4 million in this fiscal year's budget with no place to go except back to Washington. The Delaware legislator suggests that money could be applied as seed money to look into creating an integrated city-county transit loop.

He said his advocacy of a monorail as the transportation mode for such a system should not be a stumbling block. That has been used in several places in this country and abroad and others are looking into it. He emphasized that he is not talking about a Disney World-style tourist conveyance but practical 'people movers' that could run both overhead and at ground level. For the most part they would use existing rights of way.

Initial investment is high, Ennis acknowledged, but he said the payoff is cost-effective in the long run. The more people -- especially but not only commuters -- enticed out of their cars, the less the need for new highways. Although some bureaucratic sleight of hand 'solved' the imminent air-pollution crisis this year, air quality deadlines are looming as soon as 2005, he noted. "What happens when you tell people they can't use their backyard barbeques?" he said.

He said his still believes his original idea of building a monorail to connect a new Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority commuter rail station in the Edgemoor area -- which Ennis represents in the General Assembly -- to the Du Pont Co. Experimental Station, roughly along the route of the Northern Delaware Greenway,  is a valid place to start. "I see that as a pilot project that would demonstrate the viability of a larger system," he said.

P.N.C. Corp.'s intention to relocate some 2,000 to 3,000 jobs from Pennsylvania to its massive new buildings in the  Bellevue Corporate Center, not to mention the long heralded Astra Zeneca expansion are just a couple of examples of the market potential of what could be the first phase of a monorail system, Ennis said.

With obvious advantages for transporting their workers, Ennis hopes to convince those and the area's other major employers that private investment into a system such as he proposes makes economic good sense.

Having advocated making provision of the monorail on the parallel Tyler McConnell Bridge, he said that limiting the system to the initial arc would prevent its realizing full potential. A second phase would take it by way of Prices Corner to the commuter rail station on the Newark-Philadelphia line at Delaware Park.

Ennis said his thinking has been expanded to include envisioning an eastern arc, which would take the monorail by way of the New Castle County Airport into Wilmington and thence along the Amtrak right of way to its original starting point at Edgemoor.

City interests, meanwhile, could pursue DelDOT's proposal to substitute either an ersatz trolley -- a bus built to look something like a trolley but not running on rubber tires and not on rails -- or a conventional bus liking the train station at the Christina with the uptown business district and traveling as far as the Miller Road Shopping Center, where there would be a monorail station.

With that line, the monorail and the Dover-Wilmington and Newark-Philadelphia rail lines connected at several points, the area would have an efficient and attractive alternative to highways and roads for a large majority of its commuters.

Posted on November 14, 2001

2001. All rights reserved.

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