Transit Briefs: SRPRA, SCVTA, WMATA

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
SRPRA has selected AECOM to develop a plan to restore intercity passenger rail service from Reading to Philadelphia, Pa. (SRPRA Rendering)

SRPRA has selected AECOM to develop a plan to restore intercity passenger rail service from Reading to Philadelphia, Pa. (SRPRA Rendering)

Schuylkill River Passenger Rail Authority (SRPRA) in Pennsylvania selects a consultant to prepare a Reading-Philadelphia service development plan. Also, Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (SCVTA) closes on a $23.8-million land purchase near Diridon Station in San Jose, Calif.; and Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) eliminates the $2 SmarTrip fare payment card fee for seniors.


SRPRA has chosen AECOM to develop a plan for proposed intercity passenger rail service from Reading to Philadelphia with stops in Pottstown and Phoenixville, Pa., according to a Dec. 18 report by WFMZ-TV 69. The service would be operated by Amtrak.

SRPRA Executive Director Tom Frawley told the media outlet that the rail authority has 10 business days to negotiate contract terms with AECOM.

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) earlier this month accepted SRPRA’s application to participate in the Corridor Identification and Development (Corridor ID) Program and receive a $500,000 grant to advance the return of passenger rail.

Passenger rail served the Reading-Philadelphia-New York Corridor for more than 100 years, until service to Reading ended in 1981. SRPRA was incorporated in June 2022 by the Pennsylvania counties of Berks, Montgomery, and Chester to re-establish the corridor. It is governed by a nine-person Board, consisting of three members from each county.

The Corridor ID Program is not a study; it encompasses the pre-construction development of selected corridors, which includes planning, environmental review, preliminary engineering, and other corridor development activities. “Selection of the SRPRA for the Corridor ID Program makes it likely that the FRA will continue to support the advancement of the Reading to Philadelphia Intercity Passenger Rail project,” SRPRA reported Dec. 9. It also allows the rail authority to begin negotiations with Amtrak and host railroad Norfolk Southern.

According to SRPRA, its Corridor ID Program grant complements approximately $1 million already committed to the passenger rail project by Berks, Montgomery and Chester counties and a $250,000 state grant awarded to Montgomery County. A further $750,000 in congressionally mandated funding previously awarded to Berks County will help fund work on the service development plan.

The Corridor ID Program grant “is just one piece of a three-step program,” Frawley said, according to WFMZ-TV 69. The first step is the service development plan, covering project scope, schedule and cost estimate; the second step “would use the service development plan to identify the schedule of work, the capital project inventory, and a plan to specify what would have to be done to institute service”; and step three would be the preliminary engineering and design phase, the media outlet reported.


Real estate fund manager and developer Urban Catalyst on Dec. 18 reported facilitating the $23.8 million sale of an approved apartment development site in San Jose to SCVTA.

The deal, which closed Dec. 15, is said to pave the way for the buyer and a group of local government and transit agencies (“Partner Agencies”) to help redevelop the area around Diridon Station, which is used by SCVTA light rail, Caltrain commuter rail, ACE regional/commuter rail, and Amtrak intercity passenger rail services (see map, above). The bus plaza at the station is served by SCVTA buses, Amtrak Thruway, Greyhound, Megabus, Monterey-Salinas Transit, and Santa Cruz METRO (Highway 17 Express).

On behalf of a trust affiliated with the late local architect Thang Do, Urban Catalyst said it negotiated and executed a purchase-and-sale agreement with SCVTA for 1.2 acres spanning two adjacent parcels at 32 and 60 Stockton Avenue. The site sits between a Whole Foods market and the SAP Center, a San Jose events venue, and is a short walk from Diridon Station and Downtown San Jose’s western edge. Urban Catalyst represented the Do-affiliated trust when it acquired the site in two separate transactions for $15.1 million in 2021 and last year.

According to Urban Catalyst, SCVTA and the city “need the site for a planned widening of train tracks from the station to just north of West Santa Clara Street.” The San Jose City Council on Oct. 17, 2023, unanimously approved purchasing the apartment development site on behalf of SCVTA. “A week later, the sale cleared one of its last major obstacles when the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, another Partner Agency, approved [SC]VTA’s request for funds to acquire the property and finance planning work related to redesigning Diridon Station,” Urban Catalyst reported. “The Partner Agencies aim to rebuild and expand the station in anticipation of electrified Caltrain, BART, and high-speed rail coming to San Jose.”

“We weren’t planning on facilitating this sale; we planned on building [the 20-story, 472-unit] Apollo [apartment development that was approved in November 2022],” Urban Catalyst CEO Erik Hayden said. “Yet after being approached by the city and other Partner Agencies about potentially selling the property to them, Urban Catalyst worked with various local government and transit agencies to find a good solution.”

Urban Catalyst said it expected the site’s existing tenants, a car wash and a billboard, will remain in place for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, the city and/or SCVTA staff will consider interim land uses for the property.

Separately, SCVTA on Dec. 1 announced a partnership with MidPen Housing to lease property next to the Capitol Light Rail Station on the Green Line in San Jose. The company plans to develop 203 affordable apartments for families and individuals who earn 60% of the Area Median Income and below on a portion of the 10-acre property located at Capitol Expressway and Narvaez Avenue. The property is currently a Park & Ride lot next to the station, which is also served by bus routes 37 and 70.


WMATA’s Board of Directors has approved eliminating the $2 fee on Senior SmarTrip® cards, according to the transit authority. Beginning Jan. 16, 2024, Senior SmarTrip cards will be issued at no cost to customers ages 65 and older in an aim to expand access and affordability to WMATA’s rapid transit and bus services and regional bus services that accept the card. The Senior SmarTrip program will now join all other WMATA reduced-fare programs in offering SmarTrip cards at no additional cost.

“The elimination of the $2 fee removes the need for a third-party payment collection, which is currently a barrier to participation for social service agencies and other organizations to distribute the card,” WMATA reported. “Because of this change, we are working to expand the number of distribution outlets in the new year. A list of locations where Senior SmarTrip cards are available will continue to be updated.”

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