The Allegheny Valley Commuter Rail, a proposed commuter line serving the Pittsburgh region, faces another hurdle today. Allegheny Valley Railroad, a freight company which has made their rail corridor available for development into a commuter service, and Buncher Co., a real estate developer, will go before the Surface Transportation Board (STB) in Washington D.C. At stake is whether AVR owns an easement on property that Buncher holds. The easement is located in the Strip District neighborhood east of downtown and would be necessary for bringing trains into downtown stations.
AVR claims to hold a deed from 1995, conveying the easement to them, while Buncher denies that any easement exists.
According to Russell Peterson, CEO of AVR, if the STB rules in favor of Buncher, then the rail service will stop short of downtown, at 21st Street. This would put the success and feasibility of the commuter service in jeopardy. If the board rules in favor of AVR, Peterson believes Buncher will likely appeal to a higher court, entering a process that could take years.
Peterson does not, however, think this decision is a make-or-break situation for commuter rail. “It might limit our options,” he says, “but it does not close the door.”
“Even if Buncher prevails in appeals,” Peterson says, “It doesn’t mean there are not other ways to resolve the issue.”
If AVR does eventually prevail in the hearing, the commuter service would still be many years away from breaking ground. According to Peterson, U.S. Representative Jason Altmire (a strong supporter of the service) has environmental impact study funding already in place. A study would be the next step in the process.
Peterson says AVR would likely sell their tracks to a publicprivate entity which would then develop the corridor and commuter stations. Peterson believes there would be at least half a billion dollars worth of development.