Everyone’s excited about self-driving cars coming to a driveway near you in a not-too-distant future, and we are happy that Uber has chosen Pittsburgh as a terrain for advanced research for the autonomous vehicles. (Though we bet a journey from, say, Troy Hill to the South Side Slopes would give conniptions to the car’s robot brain.) But before that utopian future comes to pass, let’s think kind thoughts about the original self-driving car — the passenger train — and hope that it can be made to alight in Pittsburgh more often.
Specifically, let’s bellow “All aboard” to the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership’s effort to increase the number of Amtrak trains traveling between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg. Right now, it’s a lonely one trip a day between here and the state capital. The Downtown group wants PennDOT to push for three a day, which would cost $10 million to $13 million a year — pocket change that would yield many benefits.
The goal is not to allow greater access to the bustling nerve center of the Keystone State. It’s to link to the excellent rail service that rolls out of its station, to Philadelphia and on to Manhattan. Further, the Harrisburg-to-Pittsburgh line serves communities from Greensburg to Altoona and beyond. Their citizens should have more opportunities to pop into our Golden Triangle and see what the fuss is all about.
The main obstacle is Norfolk Southern, which dominates the tracks for freight shipping. Federal rules call for Amtrak to receive priority, but the interplay between the two sides is often less than equitable, and a ruling last month by a U.S. appeals court even tipped matters in favor of freight.
But you don’t have to believe in a “build it and they will come” fantasy to support more trains chugging into and out of Pittsburgh. More people will use a service that moves more of them more often.