Montco plans to convert more of rail line for recreation

Montgomery County officials are planning to convert more of the old Newtown Branch rail line to a recreational trail through Lower Moreland, Bryn Athyn and Upper Moreland, and down through Rockledge.

The $1.6 million, 3.8-mile addition will triple the length of the Pennypack Trail, extending it north and south of its current path through Lorimer Park.

The gravel trail, designed for walkers, runners and recreational bikers, is scheduled for completion by the summer of 2015, said Michael Stokes, assistant director of the county planning commission.

The southern section, with a 143-foot bridge over a tributary of the Pennypack Creek, will connect to existing trails in Rockledge Borough Park. Work there is to start in summer and be completed by fall.

The northern section will extend to Byberry Road near Masons Mill Park. It will include pedestrian crossings of SEPTA's West Trenton rail line and Route 63.

The rail on the dormant SEPTA rail line, which used to carry trains 15 miles between Fox Chase and Newtown, will be removed and sold, with SEPTA and the county splitting about $80,000 in salvage value.

SEPTA has leased the right-of-way to the county but retains ownership so that rail service could be restored in the future, although there are no plans to do so, said SEPTA spokeswoman Jerri Williams.

SEPTA "temporarily" suspended service on the Newtown Branch in early 1983 because of a fatal crash, low ridership, and poor maintenance of the diesel trains that operated on the unelectrified line.

In the ensuing 31 years, trees have sprouted between the tracks, bridges have collapsed, and housing developments have grown up along the corridor. In 2009, Montgomery County converted 1.8 miles of the rail line into a trail along the edge of Lorimer Park.