The "reopening" of Bucks and Montgomery counties is about more than a relaxation of COVID-19 measures, but about development and opening of a former train corridor in Southampton as a trail to hike, bike and walk.

Construction begins this month on a 2.5-mile stretch of the former R8 SEPTA train line (Fox Chase to Newtown) in Upper Southampton Township that’s been closed since 1983. (In the final year, there was a fatal train/car accident at Second Street Pike.) The route runs from County Line Road near New Road, to Tamanend Park and Bristol Road. It crosses Second Street Pike near Jaymor Road. The Rail to Trail project, called Bucks County Park, is an extension of the popular Pennypack Creek Trail in neighboring Montgomery County.

A $2.34 million contract recently was awarded to contractor James D. Morrissey, of Philadelphia, for development of the trail that eventually runs eight miles through Southampton, Northampton, Middletown and Newtown townships, ending in Newtown borough. The trail on SEPTA-owned land is part of an 800-mile, multi-county regional trail system called The Circuit. Development of it is funded mostly by PennDOT’s Transportation Improvement Program.

A completion date is unclear. “We’ve requested a timeline from the contractor outlining key dates relative to construction,” said Richard Brahler, director of transportation planning, Bucks County Planning Commission.

The Newtown trail, featuring a 12-foot-wide path for pedestrians walking, biking and hiking, has been a dream for some time. (Not mine, however, because I’ve long argued for development of an exceptional suburban train system.) Building the Rail to Trail through Bucks has been a nightmare, though, with Northampton Township officials balking at it due to homeowner worries about oddballs using the route so close to their homes.

Collaborative work by Bucks, Montgomery and Upper Southampton officials made this step possible, and when finished, the Trail will be a positive attraction. Safety at road crossings is essential. Said PennDOT: “All roadway crossings for the proposed trail are being developed by licensed professional engineers and designers.”

As work begins this week on the Trail, Bucks, Montgomery and Philadelphia-area counties move from the “red” COVID-19 phase to “yellow.” A coincidence, maybe, but a sign things are opening to a better and happier trail.

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