House committee debates additional train service between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg
August 24, 2016 12:00 AM
Rudy Husband of Norfolk Southern Corporation answers a question during a House Transportation Committee hearing exploring increased train service from Pittsburgh to Harrisburg.
Rep. John Taylor, R-Philadelphia, right, listens to Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald during a state House Transportation Committee hearing exploring increased train service from Pittsburgh to Harrisburg. At left is Rep. Bryan Barbin, D-Johnstown.
By Madeline Kennedy / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Representatives of the state House Transportation Committee tried to get on board with transportation advocates Tuesday, as they took testimony regarding additional passenger train service between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg.
Those who want additional Amtrak service cited a number of benefits of increasing the trips from the current one a day to three a day, from increasing transportation options to attracting more visitors.
The train from Pittsburgh to Harrisburg departs from the city once a day, just after 7 a.m. The train, which is heavily used, takes about five and a half hours to get to state capital and a standard coach ticket costs $47 on average. By comparison, an airline flight for the route is about $275 one way.
More than a dozen people representing Amtrak, PennDOT, the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership and other organizations voiced strong interest in favor of adding additional service from Pittsburgh to Harrisburg. The overwhelming majority of those in attendance agreed, but the chief concern of the committee is affordability rather than favorability.
“This won’t come to a matter of if, but how much it costs,” said the committee chairman, Rep. John Taylor, R-Philadelphia.
Lucinda Beattie, vice president of transportation for the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, estimated it would cost $10 million to $13 million a year to increase rail service from one trip a day to three, according to a 2014 study commissioned by the agency. By contrast, it’s about $8 million to build one mile of highway.
Officials from PennDOT, Amtrak and Norfolk Southern cautioned that the cost could potentially be much higher. Earlier this year, PennDOT asked Amtrak to develop a cost estimate for an additional daily round-trip train between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg. Amtrak, which uses Norfolk Southern tracks, could potentially cut costs by using existing tracks and trains, but if the current gear doesn’t cut it, additional investment would be needed.
If equipment can be located, Amtrak will have to negotiate with Norfolk Southern on making room for the second passenger train. Rudy Husband, vice president of government affairs for Norfolk Southern, estimated the addition of more service could cost the transportation company millions in increased capital costs.
“If you want to add passengers, you have to add capacity,” Mr. Husband said.
Bryan Barbin, D-Johnstown, pointed out that costs could be offset by the revenue from an increased number of riders.
Mr. Husband said Norfolk Southern would work with PennDOT and Amtrak to develop a report to determine available resources, as well as the potential cost of acquiring or building what they don’t already have.
“It’s always easy to advocate for more things,” Mr. Taylor said. “But we need to pay for what we get and figure out how we’re going to do that. That’s a difficult decision.”
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