Pact backs access to Schuylkill park

Mayor Street is expected to sign an agreement today that guarantees residents street-level access to Schuylkill River Park at Locust and Race Streets and brings a sometimes-contentious dispute with CSX Transportation close to a conclusion.

The transportation company, which fought the street crossings, has also agreed to facilitate construction of a pedestrian overpass of its railroad tracks along the eastern riverbank near Spruce Street and to cease parking garbage trains along those tracks, a practice that many residents found particularly offensive.

Park advocates and city officials said concluding the deal with CSX allowed attention to focus on developing the park and its bicycle trail south past Locust to South Street and beyond.

"I think we got an excellent deal," said Sarah Clark Stuart, co-coordinator of Free Schuykill River Park, a citizens group. "It preserves the access we always had and creates additional access with the pedestrian overpass. It eliminates the [rail] cars causing the biggest olfactory problem for the park. And it shows that the park and the railroad can coexist and do what is good for the park, the railroad and the city."

Robert T. Sullivan, CSX spokesman in Philadelphia, said the company was "pleased the issue has been resolved with terms that are acceptable to all parties."

Sullivan said the agreement, reached in broad outline late last year, would result in a safer park.

"It's a win-win," he said. "It did take a while, but it's not an issue that is easy to deal with."

A spokesman for Street said successfully concluding negotiations was significant in the effort to continue revitalization of the riverfront. "It's very important to us to create public access to the park and river," said Joe Grace.

Once it is signed by Street, the agreement will fall under the jurisdiction of Judge Bruce W. Kauffman of U.S. District Court.

CSX filed suit in federal court in January 2005, seeking to block access to the park at Locust and Race. At the time, park users simply crossed the tracks at those streets - and if a train was parked, as often happened, they occasionally climbed over or under it.

The city argued that CSX should install gates at those streets, preventing entrance if a train was passing or parked. But the company, citing safety concerns, said the city should construct an overpass.

Residents and park users have also been riled by the routing of garbage trains along the riverside tracks, sometimes parking the cars there for hours.

The agreement the mayor is expected to sign today affirms a CSX commitment to alter operations and, with some track construction farther north, eliminate the garbage-train problem.

Michael Eichert, chief deputy city solicitor, said the agreement will be put in place over two years.

Construction of automatic gates at Locust and Race will be financed out of $600,000 in federal transportation money. The proposed overpass somewhere near Spruce is expected to cost about $2.3 million. About $1 million will come from state money provided by CSX. The remainder will come from the city.

Councilman Darrell L. Clarke said the agreement provided the opportunity to greatly increase access to and activity in the park.

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