A study initiated by the Switchback Gravity Railroad Foundation and prepared by the Graduate Program in Historic Preservation School of Design at the University of Pennsylvania has been released.
It is the first of two studies for the foundation. A second study on the feasibility of reconstruction of the Mt. Pisgah Plane is anticipated in six months.
The first report, a $22,000 Switchback Gravity Railroad Historic Landscape Preservation Planning Study, was facilitated with partners of the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor Commission and the National Park Service, with grant support through the offices of Rep. Keith McCall.
The report summarized the results of, "a preservation planning study of the Switchback Gravity Railroad undertaken in 2007. The study investigated all aspects of the site's value, especially its history and cultural significance; assessed current resources, opportunities and constraints; and identified an appropriate set of actions to ensure both the preservation of the historic and natural resources of the SGRR as well as its continuing use as a recreational site."
"As part of the project, the team reviewed the feasibility of a proposal made by the Switchback Gravity Railroad Foundation for the creation of a funicular railway on part of the site.
"Based upon substantial research, detailed analysis and public input, the study reinforced the conclusion, drawn by others over the years, that the SGRR landscape, the entire collection of physical remains, rights-of-way, surrounding territory, and historical narratives attached to the railroad's influence on the development of Jim Thorpe-Summit Hill area, is a highly significant cultural resource, demanding the most careful historic preservation attention."
The study concluded that the most appropriate course of action for the Switchback Gravity Railroad is the preservation of the existing resources and the improvement of existing infrastructure, and providing access and interpretation for the public. These recommendations include the stabilization of historic ruins, natural resource protection, improved maintenance, interpretation, continuation of the trail's multi-use function, and the implementation of a cohesive management plan and structure.
The study added that, "construction or development on the site that would damage existing historic and natural resources and/or cause disruption to the surrounding community is not recommended. While the study recognizes the potential economic benefits of attracting greater numbers of visitors by developing the SGRR more intensely as a tourist draw, the benefits of protecting the integrity of the SGRR as a historic landscape of high public value should take precedent and may offer even greater social and economic benefit in the long run."
The report concluded that a "proposal to build a funicular on the Pisgah Plane is not advocated; there are alternative ways to enhance, interpret and provide public access to the site."
According to John Drury executive director of the Switchback Gravity Railroad Foundation, this first report from the University of Pennsylvania was a lesser part of the total study. The second report, a $60,000 feasibility study for the reconstruction of the Mt. Pisgah Plane and Summit of the Switchback Gravity Railroad, he indicated, will be more comprehensive.
"This first study does not address one of the foundation's primary interests," Drury said. "The Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor Commission, at the outset of the study, said that they were not interested in railroads and would not study the feasibility of doing a railroad ride up and down Mt. Pisgah.
"So, that aspect of the study had to be done separately and a separate grant obtained to do that. That's not their thing. When you consider their expertise and their interest, it doesn't affect the outcome," he added.
Drury explained that he felt that the Historic Preservation School group focused on historic preservation. He felt that if the project had been assigned to the Wharton School, the business school on the same campus, the outcome may have been quite different.
The second study, which is currently underway, and is being prepared by a team which includes Ott Consulting Inc., Taggart Associates, and BL Companies. Their task is to access the feasibility of reconstructing the Mt. Pisgah Plane section of the Switchback Gravity Railroad.
The study is being completed on behalf of the Switchback Gravity Railroad Foundation per the guidelines of the First Industries Tourism Planning Grant awarded to the Foundation by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
The goal of the project is to preserve, enhance, and interpret the historic Mount Pisgah Plane and Summit site and to create access to the summit for the general public.
Work would include the stabilization and interpretation of the historic resources that remain, including the improvement of the old Wagon Road located nearby for hiking, biking, and limited vehicular access to the summit for maintenance and security.
The project is also envisioned to include the installation of a cable and rail system on the Mt. Pisgah Plane that would transport a special passenger car up and down the plane. Additionally, the project proposes reconstruction of the engine house as a docking station, trestle, observation tower, a pavilion, and a north and south overlook at the summit of the plane.