SOMERSET COUNTY—A passenger train stop in Rockwood would have a "profound positive impact" on the borough and the region, according to the final report on a train station feasibility study.
"The negative impacts of the station on the surrounding area are expected to be limited," consultant Michael Baker Jr. Inc. wrote in the report, which is available on the Somerset County website.
The train station does not have the necessary funding to become reality, however. So the next step is for funding partners to meet in a strategy session for ways to raise $3.6 million, the estimated cost of the project, according to the report.
County officials plan to call a meeting in the next three weeks, planning commission Executive Director Brad Zearfoss said Friday.
The stop would make use of Amtrak's Capitol Limited service, which passes through Rockwood between Washington, D.C., and Chicago. The report suggests building the station near the Rockwood Mill Shoppes & Opera House along Main Street. Currently, trains pass through Rockwood twice daily but do not stop.
Borough council members have voiced concerns about the project. Those concerns include the cost of annual maintenance and the potential for noise, traffic and crime.
"Finding funding for the train station will be more of an uphill battle if Rockwood Borough is not on board with us," Commissioner John Vatavuk said.
The project started in the 1990s. County stakeholders met with Amtrak officials about a train stop in Rockwood. Amtrak was not convinced. The idea was put on the back burner. Then a 2009 capital improvements feasibility study in Pennsylvania by Amtrak identified a stop in Rockwood as a potential moneymaker.
The Rockwood station would generate $123,000 in new ticket revenues annually, including $56,000 in profit, according to Amtrak's study.
Momentum for the project picked up after the report, and in 2010 several groups reached out and renewed the discussions with Amtrak. Amtrak told them they needed to provide their own feasibility study before discussions could continue.
The Rockwood train station feasibility study was commissioned by the Somerset County Planning Commission. It took four funding partners — Somerset County, the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies, the Somerset County Rails-to-Trails Association and the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau — to come up with the $60,000 needed for the study.
The project will benefit the entire county, Commissioner Pamela Tokar-Ickes said. She said all the stakeholders, including the borough, will work through the concerns and the details to make it happen.
Commissioner Joe Betta remembered when he was 18 and his friend dropped him off to get on the train in Rockwood to go to Parris Island, S.C. It was 1956.
"I didn't have to go to Johnstown or Pittsburgh," he said.
The last passenger train stopped in Rockwood in 1971. To keep the train station project moving forward it will take the support of the people who live in Rockwood, he said.
"They are going to hear the trains stop," he said. "They are going to hear the trains take off, and they are the ones who are going to reap the most economic benefits from a station."
He said he will not be able to support the project without the borough's full support.
"Be it ignorance, negligence or downright stupidity, until 'The People of Rockwood' muster the courage to unite behind one common effort to provide 'The People of Somerset County' the comforts and economic benefits of an operational train station that we all once enjoyed, I have no desire or inclination to waste any more of 'The People's' time, money or effort pursuing something that 'The People of Rockwood' choose not to have," Betta wrote in a statement Friday.
The report attempted to address Rockwood residents' concerns.
"I cannot speak for the other council members (but) what I understand is the biggest objection is a need for clarification of the funding for maintenance," said newly appointed borough council member John Hess. Hess was appointed in July to fill a vacant seat.
"Their concern is that the borough will be saddled with paying for the maintenance. Finding money for maintenance is a constant challenge," he said.
According to the report, it will cost between $13,000 and $20,000 a year to operate and maintain the station.
"It is anticipated that Amtrak or Somerset County will be responsible for the annual operating and maintenance costs," the report states.
Hess said he is in favor of a train station personally. As sales director at Seven Springs Mountain Resort, Hess said the train stop will be another way to get people to the business and the surrounding community.
"However, it needs to be done so that everybody is comfortable in moving forward," he said.