The first railbikes in Pennsylvania – 2022 Season introduces New Location, New Mission, New Partners, New Prototype, and New Autism Workforce Development!
Are you ready for a leisurely pedal-powered adventure deep into tall forests, crossing bridges, chasing creeks, and admiring the scenic wonders of the Boyertown area? Then climb into recreational vehicles at the heart of the “Secret Valley Rail Bike Excursions- Railbikes on the Colebrookdale Railroad Line” program, and keep an eye out for wildlife that includes deer, fox, heron, and bald eagles. First introduced in May of 2021, SVE was awarded ‘Best of Philly’ by PHILADELPHIA magazine.
Railbike exploring, opened May 1, 2022, with beautiful weather and exceptional experiences for the second season’s customers. Secret Valley Excursions - Rail Bikes of the Colebrookdale Railroad riders reported that the bald eagles were flying overhead and a small herd of maybe six deer swam across the creek.
More, SVE offers “a pioneering educational and recreational experience,” SVE Executive Director Michele Barrett said. It aims to provide persons of all abilities access to the nature and history surrounding what the popular tourist attraction calls “Pennsylvania’s Secret Valley.”
A first of its kind in the state, the program relies on rail bikes as vehicles to increase education, health, quality of life, and all-community inclusion. Rail bikes are pedal-powered vehicles with four steel wheels, disc brakes, and pedals for each seat that rides on the railroad tracks. They take advantage of the railroad line’s gentle grades to ensure a smooth, comfortable ride.
Although rail bikes require pedaling, “the magic of steel wheels on steel rails” makes the experience very different from riding a regular bicycle. “There is no need to carefully watch the road ahead, there is no need to steer, and riding is hands-free, making it easy for couples young and old, groups, and families of all ages and abilities to roll along,” Ms. Barrett explained.
“Riding a rail bike is a unique experience and a great family activity, added Sylvia Landis, a railbike sponsor, and retired school teacher. You don’t have to travel to the next state to enjoy such fun recreation. When your inner child calls to you, head to the rails,” she said.
Landis and her husband Carl in part funded the program, joined by the Pottstown Area Health & Wellness Foundation; and by a grant from the Community Conservation Partnerships Program, administered under the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Bureau of Recreation.
“Our partnership with Colebrookdale Railroad and SVE’s Railbike Excursions Program will provide a unique chance for people of all ages and abilities to appreciate the natural beauty of our region in an active and engaging way,” according to Dave Kraybill, Pottstown Area Health & Wellness Foundation president.
Pedal-powered rail vehicles date back to the 1850s when maintenance workers used handcars and rail bikes to travel the tracks. They transported crews and materials for track inspection and repairs.
This year – Walmart $5000 Local Grant through Bechtelsville Walmart is funding job coaches through KenCrest for SVE’s young staff on the Autism Spectrum. Most of the staff report that SVE railbikes are their very first job.
“Here at the Bechtelsville Walmart, we are always looking to give back to our local community and make a difference. We are extremely excited to be a part of this opportunity and grow our relationship with the Colebrookdale Railroad and its Rail Bike Excursion Program,” affirms Christopher Ott, Omni-Channel Store Manager, Walmart Store #5239, Market 167 Region 22, Bechtelsville, PA.
Allison V. Smale, Director of Employment Programs at KenCrest, says, “KenCrest is excited and honored to collaborate with the Colebrookdale Railroad; providing our expertise to ensure that the highly valued volunteers and employees with neurodiversity at the railroad are supported and utilized to the fullest extent.”
MCCC Engineering Students Electrify Colebrookdale Railroad Rail Speeder
The speeder (A speeder is a small railcar formerly used around the world by track inspectors and work crews to move quickly to and from work sites) will be used as a support vehicle and comes to SVE through the generous contributions of the Scott and Susan Bentley fund.
College students have been tasked with restoring the nearly 70-year-old railroad speeder for the 21st century. The rail speeder will be put back into service for the first time in years after the work is complete and will support the Secret Valley Explorers railbike program.
Montgomery County Community College INNOVA program is electrifying a rail speeder through the generous support of the Scott and Susan Bentley fund. According to William Brownlowe, Professor of Engineering at the college, “The electrification of traditionally-gasoline powered vehicles, such as the speeder, is a necessary step to addressing the near future scarcity of fossil fuel resources. To that end, the department of engineering seeks to reduce the use of internal combustion engines (ICE) in vehicles such as the rail speeder,” said William Brownlowe, Professor of Engineering.
A Perkiomen School sophomore student, Tommy Saeger, is electrifying a prototype railbike under the guidance of teacher Allison Rodgers, Coordinator of the Artificial Intelligence Institute. This will allow us to ultimately install electric pedal-assist motors on every bike.
“The Institutes at Perkiomen School allow students to follow their passions to paradigm-shifting experiences. I am so excited that Tommy is able to work on electrifying the railbike for his Capstone Project; he has had the chance to follow his intuition, iterate, and learn far more about engineering than he would be able to do in a classroom setting,” expresses Allison Rodgers, Director of the Artificial Intelligence Institute.
This work is funded in part through a generous grant through the Community Conservation Partnerships Program, under the administration of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Bureau of Recreation in support of the Schuylkill Highlands Mini-Grant Program administered by Natural Lands Trust.
Secret Valley Excursions MISSION: Secret Valley Explorers is a women-led nonprofit organization whose mission ensures education, employment, inclusion, and accessibility. We create employment opportunities for people on the Autism Spectrum – a population group that experiences an unemployment rate of more than 80%. We strive to make biking accessible to everyone through the development of all new railbikes – the first and only in the world – that is ADA accessible so that people of all sizes, ages, and abilities can bicycle. We will accommodate those with visual, physical, and mental disabilities – allowing many, for the first time in their lives, to bicycle. Join us as we strive to achieve this mission
This project was funded in part by a grant from the Community Conservation Partnerships Program, under the administration of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Bureau of Recreation in support of the Schuylkill Highlands Mini-Grant Program administered by Natural Lands Trust; in part by a grant from the Pottstown Area Health & Wellness Foundation; and through the generous support of Carl and Sylvia Landis. To add your name or company to this honor wall, please call 610-367-0200.