train A study starts in 2024 to resume passenger rail service from Wilmington (shown in this photo) or Newark to downstate Delaware. (David Wilson photo from Wikimedia Commons)

DelDOT to study restoring passenger rail service downstate

Ken MammarellaGovernment, Headlines

train A study starts in 2024 to resume passenger rail service from Wilmington (shown in this photo) or Newark to downstate Delaware. (David Wilson photo from Wikimedia Commons)

A study starts in 2024 to resume passenger train service from Wilmington, seen here, or Newark to downstate Delaware. (David Wilson photo from Wikimedia Commons)

A Delaware Department of Transportation unit has received a federal grant of up to $500,000 to study bringing back passenger rail service to the Delmarva Peninsula.

The Diamond State Line will provide rail service south from Wilmington or Newark through Dover to Harrington, and then continue southbound along one of two potential routes, based on the presence of existing railroad rights-of-way or other corridor opportunities,” said C.R. McLeod, director of community relations for DelDOT.

The first step is assessing the two corridors. The Federal Rail Administration grant also calls for considering a no-build alternative, and the area already has old train lines.

The first corridor extends through Seaford, with service to Salisbury, Maryland.

The second corridor would branch at Harrington and run east to Milford, and then south to Georgetown, with service to Berlin, Maryland.

Neither would directly serve Delaware beaches.

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Station stops in between Wilmington and Salisbury or Berlin are tentatively envisioned at towns and activity centers along the corridors, but specific station locations will be identified in Step 1 once the route alternative(s) are determined,” he added.

The Delaware Transit Corp. expects work on the train proposal to run Feb. 1, 2024 through Sept. 1, 2024.

“A strong case for providing intercity rail service across this region is based upon the existing and expected socioeconomic conditions,” he said.

The population downstate is growing fast, particularly for retirees in Sussex. In 2020, 20% of Delawareans were 65 and older, up from 14% in 2010.

The peninsula is turning from an agricultural economy, with areas of industrial activity, into one where the jobs are in professional services, retail, hospitality and healthcare.

Train service also could boost economic development.

“The US Census data also reveals that Areas of Persistent Poverty, Historically Disadvantaged Communities, rural populations and tribal lands also have clusters of concentration along the proposed Diamond State Line,” he said. “Census tracts on the western side of Sussex County, around Seaford, have rates of poverty over 20%, and not surprisingly these tracts correspond to the Areas of Persistent Poverty and the Historically Disadvantaged Communities.”

Rail service in the past

The Pennsylvania Railroad, which then owned the main lines in Delaware, terminated passenger service in 1957, he said.

For six months in 1965, the Pennsylvania Railroad ran a passenger train called the Blue Diamond on a trial basis, but it did not attract sufficient business.

That might have been because the schedule wasn’t that friendly. According to a forum, a train left Delmar at 5:50 p.m., arriving in Philadelphia at 10:10 p.m., via Wilmington. A train left Philadelphia at 12:50 a.m., reaching Delmar at 4:25 a.m.

Intermediate stops were at Clayton, Dover, Harrington, Bridgeville and Seaford.

There has also been irregular train service to Dover for NASCAR races and to Harrington for the Delaware State Fair, but none of it successful enough to revive train service downstate.

About 20 downstate communities lie on freight lines: Smyrna/Clayton, Dover, Camden/Wyoming, Viola, Felton, Harrington, Greenwood, Bridgeville, Seaford, Laurel, Delmar, Houston, Milford, Ellendale, Georgetown, Millsboro, Dagsboro, Frankford and Selbyville.

The train study will include staff members from the DTC and DelDOT passenger and freight rail teams, plus individuals from several state departments (including the governor’s office, finance, grant management, contracts and safety), plus people representing local governments, the Wilmington Area Planning Council, the Dover/Kent County Metropolitan Planning Organization and and third-party consultants.

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