$14.2 million for train station upgrades results in safety concerns

TEMP ORARY November 12, 2011 0

Plans to restore the Lancaster Train Station’s former aesthetic glory have been in the works since 1998, but the struggle for funding prevented work from beginning until 2009. Since the announcement of the renovations, the station’s popularity has increased, and citizens of the county are excited to see the final product. Recent revelations brought this excitement to a halt, however.

“The Lancaster Train Station could be a true asset and a valuable tool in the promotion of community and economic development,” states the official position statement from the Board of Directors of the Economic Development Company of Lancaster County. “Instead, the facility has a dreadful appearance, obsolete public facilities and lacks modern enhancements to provide for safe and effective transport of travelers and visitors to Lancaster. The Lancaster community cannot afford to present such a bad impression to the tourists and businesspeople we hope to attract here.”

The station lacks an updated appearance even after the investment of $14.2 million for improvements.

Parties involved in the renovations are being pressed for answers– why are extra parking spaces and a new exterior paint job being made priorities when the dilapidation of the station’s interior is of equal, if not greater concern? A leaking roof and consequently stained and damaged ceiling tiles and walls cause safety concerns, and provide no comfort to patrons.

Carelessness and assumptions are partially to blame. According to the Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era, “Some officials just assumed that a project of this magnitude would include improvements to the interior and never questioned whether they would be done.” Further, an official who wished to remain anonymous stated how the initial public proposals included improvements to the building’s interior, but when the construction contracts were signed, “all mention of interior work [had been] removed from the final documents.”

“My first thought when I entered the station was that it looked sketchy,” first-year Elizabethtown College student and frequent train commuter Robyn Baldwin said.“If I had the option of avoiding the Lancaster Train Station altogether when I’m traveling, I would.”

This is exactly the kind of reaction the renovations were supposed to prevent. The 81-year-old train station is historical, and “has been referred to as a potential ‘jewel’ in our community,” John Reed and Robert Shoemaker, chair and president respectively of Lancaster Alliance said, in a memo to culpable parties. They go on to demand a reevaluation of the project to achieve what they call “100% completion.”

The problem now is where the money for the remainder of the repairs will come from, and how quickly the work can be accomplished. If amendments to the contract with the current contractors are not finalized before December, the project could take another year, estimates Terry Kauffman, president of the Lancaster County Transportation Authority.

This is not acceptable for the public, who pushed blame onto Amtrak and Pennsylvania Department of Transportation authorities, as well as members of the County Board of Commissioners. PennDOT has already committed to using its own resources to see that the train station is further improved to the public standard. Amtrak is also eager to diffuse the uprising of anger from commuters and citizens of the county who wish their home to be better represented to travelers, but Amtrak has not laid out a plan of action in detail.

The Lancaster Train Station’s recent problems do not end with the disappointing renovations. On Wednesday, Nov. 2, commuters arrived at the station for an early train to find themselves locked outside. No one opened the station that morning. The infuriated customers took matters into their own hands and broke open a padlocked door to gain entry so that they would not miss their train. Amtrak expressed that they were “very sorry” for this inconvenience.

The problems surrounding the Lancaster Train Station’s operation and renovation are numerous and concerning– especially when Elizabethtown residents consider that renovations to their own train station were approved in late October. However, the Elizabethtown renovations are under the control and supervision of the Borough Council, and are being implemented by a different workforce – that of Rogele Inc. of Harrisburg, Pa. Elizabethtown residents so far have no reason to believe that these repairs and changes will be handled irresponsibly, as they were in Lancaster.

Lancaster, however, is still in the midst of turmoil as authority figures attempt to sort out what went wrong, and how they can fix these current issues without asking for more money from taxpayers.

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