Downtown Partnership pushing for more rail service to Harrisburg
May 14, 2016 12:00 AM
A man boards an Amtrak train in Pittsburgh.
By Ed Blazina / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
To Lucinda Beattie, the decision on whether to increase Amtrak service between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg is a simple matter of numbers.
Ms. Beattie, vice president of transportation for the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, said it would cost $10 million to $13 million a year to increase rail service from one trip a day to three, according to a study the agency commissioned three years ago. By contrast, it costs about $8 million to build one mile of highway.
“This is a very affordable transportation project,” Ms. Beattie said Friday. “This is not an extravagant project. It’s very doable.”
Ms. Beattie, who has worked for more than two years to build support for additional service, with about a dozen communities along the rail line owned by Norfolk Southern, will make her pitch to Gov. Tom Wolf next week. She will speak Tuesday at the annual Modern Transit Partnership luncheon in Harrisburg, where Mr. Wolf will outline his vision for transportation in Pennsylvania.
Rich Kirkpatrick, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, said the state already has taken the first step in the process to see whether service can be increased: It has asked Amtrak how much it would cost to add one train a day and whether it has the needed equipment and track access. Under Act 89, the transportation funding bill approved in 2013, the state has about $8 million a year earmarked for rail service, but that money already is committed.
“We’re looking at it,” Mr. Kirkpatrick said. “We going to see if it can fit in.”
Mike Tolbert, a spokesman for Amtrak, said the railroad is working on a comprehensive study for the state but he couldn’t discuss specifics.
“We are working as fast as we can to put together the information,” Mr. Tolbert said. “At this point, I do not have a time frame for when that will be done.”
Jeremy Waldrup, president and CEO of the Downtown Partnership, said increasing rail service is an economic development and mobility issue not only for Pittsburgh but for towns such as Greensburg, Latrobe, Johnstown, Altoona, Tyrone, Huntingdon and Lewistown, all stops along the Pennsylvanian Amtrak route. Those municipalities have few transportation options other than driving personal vehicles, he said.
Ms. Beattie pointed out that the Pittsburgh-to-Harrisburg route has the second highest percentage of filled seats among Amtrak’s top 17 routes.
Ridership has increased every year since 2005, when service was cut from two trips daily to one.
“We think there’s an unmet demand for more service,” she said. “It can only grow so far with one train.”
There also is an equity issue, Ms. Beattie said, since the Harrisburg-to-Philadelphia route has 14 daily trips.
“I’m really looking forward to hearing what the governor has to say about rail, especially service to the western part of the state. [Additional service] would connect parts of the state that aren’t connected now.”
Ed Blazina: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1470.
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