4641 Yates Road
Bensalem, PA 19020
August 16, 2005
The Honorable Michael G. Fitzpatrick
One Oxford Valley, Suite 800
Langhorne, PA 19047
Dear Congressman Fitzpatrick,
In speaking with your assistant, Edna, earlier today, I found that you had not been informed that all Amtrak service in Bucks County is to be unilaterally terminated by Amtrak in October. For nearly eight years now, Amtrak has served Newark and New York City-bound commuters with conveniently scheduled direct trains between Bensalem and Manhattan’s Penn Station, linking the two cities in as little as one hour of travel time (62 minutes per fastest scheduled train, sometimes executed in 59). Bensalem Mayor Joseph DiGirolamo also first learned today of the scheduled termination of Amtrak service to his township, from a letter I sent to his office over the weekend. I am concerned that Amtrak is attempting to cancel Bucks County service (which, because of the location of the train station a mile from the Philadelphia border, also serves Northeast Philadelphia) without consulting local government representatives and transportation planning boards.
In two correspondences from Amtrak’s official customer relations office, copies of which I herewith enclose, Amtrak states, “… we will abandon this stop … in October,” and “The decision has already been made.” To the best of my knowledge, I may at this point be the only person outside Amtrak who has been so informed. Online schedules still indicate continued service for the next year. Calls to 1-800-USA-RAIL, Amtrak’s general service number, elicit the same information. When I specifically ask reservation agents about “rumors” of the abandonment of Bensalem’s trains, they still consistently consult their supervisors and come back to the phone saying, “Nobody has heard anything about a cancellation here.”
I believe there may be some very good reasons to, at minimum, stop the haste and covertness of the Amtrak shutdown, and that is why I am writing to you now. I honestly believe that the station should probably be saved and supported – and not just because I commute there, but because it can be fixed to serve Bucks and Bensalem far better than it does today. In that light, and in response to Edna’s suggestion that I provide you with a copy of the letter Mayor DiGirolamo received from me today, I also herewith enclose that letter.
Amtrak cites low ridership as the reason for abandoning the station. I would argue that ridership can likely be boosted perhaps tenfold or more within a very few years, if the following four actions are taken:
1) Publicize the 1-hour New York commute in Philadelphia, New York, and points between. (Simple rack brochures would do.)
2) Improve shelter, seating, and sanitary facilities (currently absent!) on the New York-bound side of Bensalem’s station.
3) Restore train service at least to the level it operated at for more than seven years, until service was cut back by half this past spring (causing instant loss of riders).
4) Change the name of the station from “Cornwells Heights” to “Bensalem” or “Bucks Bensalem” so that it is clear where the station is. (“Cornwells Heights” is an historical name for a part of Bensalem, but cannot be found on modern maps.) [You can’t ride a train if you can’t find it!]
The citizens of Lower Bucks and Northeast Philadelphia are almost totally unaware that they could take jobs in Newark and New York City (as I do) if they wanted to. New Yorkers are even more ignorant that they could have a great, affordable home in the ‘burbs and keep their Manhattan jobs. The station has been flying under the radar for eight years, and that is why ridership has not skyrocketed as would have been expected.
I believe Amtrak is abandoning the station in haste, and for all the wrong reasons – and trying to fly under everyone’s radar in order to do it. In my estimation, the most important first step in salvaging the station is to prevent Amtrak from publicly announcing its shutdown, which it may do any day now. Even if the announcement is later reversed, it could stunt ridership growth for years by giving the perception that Amtrak could pull out at any time. I would hope you might be able to help keep Amtrak from “pulling the trigger,” so to speak, at least until cooler heads (including heads of local government and planning agencies) can prevail.
I would like to speak with you further about these issues in the near future. I will be meeting with Mayor DiGirolamo at 10 a.m. on Monday. I am at this point quite interested in attending your Saturday morning open office hours this week, but if you feel some other scheduled time might be more appropriate, I am at your service.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Richard L. Booth