Stretching between Berks and Montgomery Counties, traversing geological formations unique to Pennsylvania and rich with Native American lore, the Colebrookdale Railroad connects the sites of the earliest iron-making industries in the American colonies, sites once familiar to William Penn, George Washington, and Thomas Edison.
Providing a physical and thematic link between a multitude of municipal and private historic, recreational, and cultural sites, the Colebrookdale will be the catalyst recommended by a recent DCNR, DCED, and Natural Lands Trust report for sustainable development in the Middle Schuylkill region. The railroad will be a major employer and consumer within the tri-county area and provide educational opportunities in partnership with local institutions. The railroad will address the unmet needs of a large regional tourist market and provide special learning, work, and recreational opportunities for under-served populations whose numbers are growing in Pennsylvania, including persons with disabilities and the elderly.
Restoration of rail equipment and infrastructure significant to Pennsylvania history will provide jobs and preserve the corridor for future freight traffic.
Railroads helped invent modern tourism. Railroads populated the great National Parks with guests. Today, the heritage of these railroads provides a different kind of engine, delivering visitors and tourism revenue to those communities wise enough to mine the totality of the railway heritage tourist experience.
Driven by the theme of discovery, the Colebrookdale Railroad experience provides an unmatched opportunity for heritage-based economic development. The magical valleys of the Ironstone and Manatawny Creeks sheltering the Colebrookdale offer a timeless, culturally-rich sojourn from the everyday, enticing visitors to discover for themselves the many unique historic and recreational assets of the Schuylkill Highlands. Capitalizing on heritage and catalyzing its development potential through reinforcing its geographic and psychological connectivity in this way is consistent with DCNR and DCED policy seeking to create destinations by utilizing unique historic assets (see e.g., DCNR Report Better Models for Development in Pennsylvania and the Commonwealth’s Keystone Principles & Criteria for Growth, Investment & Resource Conservation). Tourist railroads are the armature of connecting—literally and figuratively—the assets of a region such that the sum is greater than the individual parts. Capitalizing on the train’s ability to be a memory-making device, the railroad becomes the anchor attraction to the benefit of other attractions and businesses. The Colebrookdale Railroad is nothing less than the key to a sustainable, organic revitalization of the entire surrounding region.
All the principal elements for a heritage rail-oriented tourist destination of national-caliber exist here and the effort required to bring them together is not beyond that done well at over 250 other such destinations across the United States. Just as the Colebrookdale’s completion in 1869 heralded a new day for the people of Southeastern Pennsylvania, the prospect of its resurgence today fires the passion of new optimism within the communities who line its well-worn course.
The Colebrookdale & Heritage Tourism
Heritage tourist railroads are well-proven as regional economic drivers. These projects, funded with state, local and private monies, have been able to give back to the community tenfold and have been self sustaining and successful once up and operating. The Stone Report provides information about the Colebrookdale's economic impact in detail.
The Colebrookdale Railroad will take this well-established and well-proven model of a heritage tourist railroad to a new level. In so doing, it will re-invigorate the economies of the communities in the region. The Railroad will benefit from the many years of sophisticated market study undertaken by the Schuylkill Highlands Initiative by fulfilling large, otherwise unmet demand for heritage and recreational tourism within the local population and visiting tourists. The Colebrookdale will employ smart technology and assistive technology to a degree unprecedented within the industry. The effect will be to make the visitor experience accessible to and engaging for all persons regardless of age or ability.
Heritage Tourism & Our Communities
Railroads such as the Colebrookdale are a particularly effective platform for involving and engaging visitors. Jim Porterfield, the Director of the Center for Railway Tourism at Davis & Elkins College, points out that, "An added value is derived when you harness the passion people have for railway heritage and its preservation, merge the output of that passion with the work of others similarly motivated in the cultural and heritage tourism community, and share the sum of the effort with an incrementally larger audience."
This incrementally-larger audience results in an economic impact several orders of magnitude greater than the investment made in or benefit derived from any individual attraction or event. Several recent multi-million dollar tourist railway projects undertaken as public-private partnerships underscore the widespread recognition of the utility and viability of heritage railroads as platforms for just this sort of layered and exponentially-expanding economic impact. The Virginia and Truckee Railroad in Nevada, undertaken by the County Chamber of Commerce, the Savannah Roundhouse Museum in Georgia, undertaken by a non-profit with support from the city of Savannah and the state of Georgia, and the Steam Into History project in York County, supported by private and county funds, represent investments from 10-55 million dollars.
Heritage tourists brought to the region by the Colebrookdale, according to a 2010 report, would be characterized as being:
- Well educated, with most holding advanced degrees. "Education level is the single most significant factor that influences cultural and heritage participation and travel.
- Older, peaking between the ages of 45 and 65, when people are at the height of their careers, earning power, and discretionary income.
- Generous in spending, averaging $62 more per day than other visitors. And they spend on a more diverse array of goods and services.
- More likely to stay overnight in hotels and bed-and-breakfasts.
- More inclined to stay longer than the average traveler.
- More likely to visit a diversity of sites, cities, and regions than the average traveler.
- In search of high-quality services, authentic experiences, and easy-to-do, accessible quality travel that combines education and entertainment.
- Influenced by women. Women typically plan family vacations and group trips, and also control more personal discretionary income.
Enhancing Community Events & Attractions
As indicated by the Implementation and Economic Impact Analysis plan completed by Stone Consulting, the Colebrookdale's positioning and geographic linkage of two communities will organically position it as the “anchor tenant” in the "mall" of other area attractions and events. Significantly for the Colebrookdale, that collection of compatible attractions and events both adjacent to and nearby the rail line is exceptionally diverse in nature and broad in number.
That "mall" of area attractions anchored by the Colebrookdale encompasses the full range of heritage tourism components, including experiencing the performing arts, museums of all kinds, science and nature centers, zoos, aquariums, historic homes and sites, religious sites, artists and artisans, state/national parks and monuments, heritage trails and byways, retail opportunities, and the special character of a place. A sophisticated heritage tourism experience such as that offered by the Colebrookdale will combine education, entertainment and preservation in a way that is experiential, meaning it involves and engages the visitor.