Save Cornwells Heights
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Thursday, September 1, 2005
This morning I had the honor and the privilege of attending and briefly speaking at a breakfast meeting of the Bucks County Transportation Management Association in Newtown. Hosted by Bensalem’s Mayor DiGirolamo and featuring guest speaker Congressman Michael Fitzpatrick of Bucks County, the discussion repeatedly returned to the theme of the importance of keeping Amtrak service actually in Bucks County, not only for the sake of existing commuters, but, with perhaps even more long-term importance, for the sake of serving as a catalyst to the future economic development of Lower Bucks and Northeast Philadelphia.
Once in mid-meeting, and again at its conclusion, Mayor DiGirolamo requested that all of the approximately 80 civic and business leaders present at the breakfast write to Mr. David Gunn, the president and CEO of Amtrak, protesting Amtrak’s currently planned abandonment of the Cornwells Heights station stop in Bensalem, and pointing out to him that it is only for lack of even minimal promotion and support from Amtrak that the Cornwells Heights station’s ridership has not grown dramatically since Amtrak service began there in 1997.
The web address of this very website, www.savecornwellsheights.com, was given out to all in attendance, and I will soon be preparing a portion of this site to give a concise issue-by-issue summary of the many reasons it is very wrong to close the station, and very right to promote it well. Ridership will grow rapidly when both New Yorkers and Bucks/Philadelphians realize that working in New York from homes within 30 minutes of the finest offerings of the great city of Philadelphia is not only practical, but also a great way to live.
I have met with reporter Brian Scheid of the Bucks County Courier Times twice this week, first on Monday to initially help explain the Cornwells Heights emergency situation, and again when he visited the boarding of the 8:11 train at Cornwells Heights yesterday. He indicates that the Courier Times is very interested in covering the Amtrak pullout story, as well as our resistance to same.
Thank you, Brian, and thanks to the Bucks County Courier Times for breaking and covering this story. We intend to deliver your readers a happy ending ASAP.
It has been called to my attention that, especially for those who know the ropes and live nearby, commuting through Trenton is not a bad option at all. For many in Bucks County, Trenton will remain a better commuting hub than Cornwells Heights, even if only for simple geographical reasons. Trenton is closer to most parts of Bucks County than the Cornwells Heights station is, and, barring the development of a new Delaware River Rift Valley, will ever remain so. Not having actually practiced commuting through Trenton myself, I may have already portrayed the conditions there to be more difficult for commuting than they actually are. Hyperbole, when promoting a cause, can backfire and cloud the issues, so I do here now state that I will make a very serious effort to understand and portray the tradeoffs between Trenton commuting and Cornwells Heights commuting in such a way that it will not be seen as an “us against them” situation.
Bucks County will be best served if its residents understand well their commuting options and associated choice of residency. As a first rule of thumb, given that gas prices are accelerating upwards, if it takes you less gas to commute from your house to New York through Trenton than through Cornwells Heights, that may well be the better commuting hub for you. Cornwells Heights, by that criterion, may be the better choice for Lower Bucks residents from about Levittown south, and also for points west of the station out into Montgomery County, and also for portions of New Jersey near the Delaware bridges (especially Betsy Ross and Tacony-Palmyra), and also for all of Northeast Philadelphia. And gas is only one of the considerations. Frequency and availability of service is another. Trenton will most likely always have more trains to and from New York than will Cornwells Heights – even if Cornwells ridership grows ten-fold, and more and more trains stop in Bensalem. If the gas cost test is not clearly determinate of commuting hub preference, the fact that monthly New Jersey Transit passes to New York City from Trenton (currently $320, plus implied $90 parking = $410) cost less than equivalent Amtrak passes from Cornwells Heights ($555) may help make the decision.
I have heard from one very intelligent, capable, and helpful Bucks County commuter who assures me that he can make it from his home, slightly north of the Oxford Valley Mall, to standing on Trenton’s train platform in 17 minutes. He makes it home in 20. This is actually better than I had thought it could have been from that location, and I stand corrected. Those times may also have something to do with the particular hours he chooses to make the commute, so don’t necessarily assume that Oxford Valley commute times are always at that mark. Veteran commuters always know the best tricks, and your travel times may differ, as mine did, the first few times I tested the Trenton run.
All this said, I still believe that it would cost me nearly $2,000 and 8,000 more miles of highway driving each year if I am to be forced to drive to Trenton in order to commute to New York. The $2000 figure is based on a complete “hidden cost” analysis which includes having to replace my car more often and pay for more maintenance in the meantime. The main Trenton commuter garage for monthly pass holders is almost exactly 17 miles north of the intersection of Bensalem’s section of Street Road with Interstate 95. The Cornwells Heights park-and-ride is almost exactly 1 mile south. (17-1) * 2 = 32. 32 * 5 = 160. 160 * 52 = 8320. Discounting vacation days and holidays, I really really am still looking at 8,000 miles of extra driving every year.
If you live in Yardley, by all means use Trenton. If you live near where I do, consider the Cornwells Heights park-and-ride in Bensalem.
In the next few days, there will be an editorial shift in focus in the way new news is presented on this site. If you thought you read an article once before, consider going back and looking at it again. I will be embedding many more textual “hyperlinks,” which is to say, making various words and phrases that you may have seen before in inert form “clickable,” so that it is easier to drill down to core issues from broader statements and ideas. My response to Amtrak’s quotation about promoting its rail service – the quotation having appeared in yesterday morning’s Bucks County Courier Times – will most likely remain on this main web page for a good while, but with more and more clickable words and phrases so that it is easier to see the fundamentals of the arguments put forth therein.
In other words, please come back and click on anything that looks new. Most web browsers are set up to highlight links that have never been clicked-upon differently from links which have been previously viewed.
Anyone who wants to communicate with me directly, regarding the issues raised and discussed on this website, is welcomed and encouraged to do so by writing to me, Rick Booth, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Washington’s Amtrak Bureaucracy Says
to Bucks County’s Cornwells Heights Station…
“We promote our service. We don’t advertise Union Station in Washington, D.C., and people use that.”
My response to Amtrak’s cavalier statement of the day is…
Begging to differ, how does Amtrak consider itself to be “promoting its service” by not sending a single promotional supply – like schedules – to the Cornwells Heights station for the past two years? The station manager there doesn’t even know when your trains will stop, and the word “Amtrak” cannot be found anywhere at that station on either side of the tracks!
Further begging to differ, how does Amtrak consider itself to be “promoting its service” by placing its only Northeast Corridor schedules in New York’s Penn Station that list Cornwells Heights as a stop… in the Acela waiting area and in the exclusive Club Acela? Every publicly available Northeast Corridor train schedule in New York City’s Penn Station, aside from the ones in the Acela lockdown zones, says the Northeast Corridor stops at Trenton – because you have let New Jersey Transit print all the Northeast Corridor schedules for us ordinary Manhattan commuters, and Cornwells Heights is not in New Jersey!
And finally, how is it that the only map I can find at Penn Station showing commuting routes out of New York City shows a black, meandering, stationless rail line connecting Trenton to Philadelphia? Could it have something to do with the fact that it is distributed by New Jersey Transit?
Not to belabor the point, Amtrak, but we’re absolutely, positively not in New Jersey. We’re not even on the one map that shows the Northeast Corridor crossing the Delaware into Pennsylvania from New Jersey.
Now seriously, Amtrak, how did you think New York urbanites were ever going to discover the pleasures of suburbia and those 800 free empty parking spaces that were specifically built for them at your station, sitting there completely unused since 1997, 62 minutes from the heart of Manhattan aboard your very own trains? There’s a rat race for Northeast Corridor parking and access all the way from Princeton Junction down to Trenton. None of them know that if they would just relax for about 11 more minutes on their Amtrak train instead of running off at Trenton to get to their cars in the two seven-story parking garages there, they would discover Northeast Corridor Commuting Heaven at Cornwells Heights. I am literally wheels-down sitting in my own home, petting the dog and raiding the fridge, before most of the Trenton commuters have reached the Trenton city limits (which virtually all of them do, especially considering that two thirds of them drove in there from Bucks County, Pennsylvania!).
Begging your pardon, Amtrak, but does your Union Station in Washington, D.C. run up against these sorts of problems, too?
Right now, I’m pretty busy saving the best New York City commuting location south of Princeton Junction from extinction. Once I’m able to get over the hump with saving Cornwells Heights, I’d be glad to help out you guys down there in Washington, too!
-- Rick Booth, 4-year veteran Pennsylvania-to-New York City Amtrak commuter
P.S. Today, I’m putting my money where my mouth is: $50 to the first person to find another Northeast Corridor Amtrak station that can’t even give away free parking to, say, 500 or more commuters. (I’m trying to be sporting here. We have 800, but I don’t want to set the bar too high.) $10 to every single person who is first to put me in touch with a station manager at a stop serviced by Amtrak trains, where they haven’t received any Amtrak schedules for two or more years. (This is not limited to the Northeast Corridor. Amtrak lists over 800 stations around the country on their website. Surely a few more of them have gotten lost in the shuffle. I doubt that I’m going to be out much more than a few hundred dollars, but you never know.)
P.P.S. This site is not just about Cornwells Heights. It’s about bringing Amtrak back on track in general. If they treat their finest hidden gem this badly, I can only imagine the nonsense that goes on around the rest of the country. I’m sure Amtrak wastes tons of money needlessly (considering the lost revenue of covertly running a station on the Northeast Corridor for eight years), and they really do need to be reformed and saved from themselves, but they may need continued public support and a change in management in order to realize the dream. Amtrak runs wonderful trains, which is just the thing we need right now, with gas prices going through the roof. I am energetically pro-Amtrak-service. I am energetically anti-Amtrak-service-resource-management-stupidity. I’ll be glad to help them out as best I can, when I go to Washington.
Dear reader, as a temporary measure to get the word out today in particular, and to help you understand better what has led to this enormous wronging of Bucks County, please visit the following archive links to the four previous days of updates to this site.
Thank you for visiting, and come again soon. I’ll be roasting Amtrak as hard and as fast as I can, up to the point that they realize I’m on their side.
-- Rick Booth