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Deal would take trains out of Chambersburg

July 28, 1997

By LISA GRAYBEAL

Staff Writer, Chambersburg

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - If plans stay on track, motorists will be able to travel freely from one end of Chambersburg to the other by this time next year without being stopped by a train.

After six years of negotiations, borough and chamber of commerce officials said they're encouraged by a recent update from U.S. Rep. Bud Shuster that an agreement is imminent between two railroad companies and the state Department of Transportation to permanently remove the daily trains out of Chambersburg.

"There's nothing that's going to stop the project. It's going to happen," said a spokesperson in Shuster's Washington, D.C., office.

CSX Transportation Corp. owns the ground-level line which cuts Chambersburg in half from east to west at nine separate rail-highway crossings, including U.S. 11 and 30.

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The train tracks cut across South Main Street, through Water Street at the intersections with West South, West Catherine, West Liberty, West Washington and West Queen streets before dividing Lincoln Way West, West King and Commerce streets. The Water Street segment runs directly through Southgate Shopping Center.

North of town, the tracks cross Siloam and Salem Roads.

"For years we've felt plagued by at-grade crossings in Chambersburg," said Borough Manager Eric Oyer.

Averaging two trains from each direction per day - carrying mostly coal, chemicals and merchandise - the chances of cutting off emergency vehicles runs high, Oyer said.

Though there have been few accidents at the train crossings over the years, traffic has been known to back up for several blocks in each direction, and frustrated motorists have reported being stopped for as long as 12 minutes.

"The east-west flow of the community is literally severed. Anything that has to rely on the east-west flow is hampered," said Chamber President Dave Sciamanna.

Road maintenance at the crossings, which is the railroad's responsibility, has also been an ongoing problem that's often wrongfully blamed on the borough, Oyer said.

"It's often difficult for them to get the crossings fixed in a timely manner," he added.

The pending agreement between CSX and Conrail, soon to be merged with Norfolk Southern, calls for rerouting the CSX trains outside of the borough or to switch them from that line to the elevated line owned by Conrail on the east side of town.

The proposal is to build a connection at the Chambers-5 Business Park, located between U.S. 11 and Wayne Avenue, which would join the two railroads. From there, trains could switch from the CSX line to the Conrail line through town, and then switch back again just north of Letterkenny Army Depot.

Improvements to more than 100 miles of track, including removing the crossings within the borough, are part of a $14.4 million project under the 1991 Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act.

The final agreement has been delayed in part by the merger of Conrail with Norfolk Southern, a deal expected to take effect in Spring 1998, Sciamanna said.

Borough records dating back to the 1960s show efforts by Chambersburg officials to get rid of the trains through town even then, Sciamanna said.

Rerouting the trains opens the door for other possibilities within the borough, including the development of rails-to-trails, a concept that converts old rail lines to recreational use, Oyer said.

The borough received a matching state grant to conduct a feasibility study for that purpose.

"It also opens up other opportunities to improve the downtown, making it a more pleasant atmosphere and strengthening the core of the community," he said.

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