Governor urged to save rail service here to Harrisburg

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Pittsburgh city Controller Michael Lamb has urged Gov. Tom Corbett to support improvements to Amtrak service from the city to Harrisburg, calling it "an important transportation option" for Western Pennsylvania.

Mr. Lamb said he was reacting to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article Monday that the service might be terminated in October because the state is reluctant to take on the cost of subsidizing it.

"As a Pittsburgher yourself, I know you understand the limited options travelers from this side of the state have when attempting to visit the state capitol. The fact is that this service needs to be improved not discontinued," he wrote.

Mr. Lamb, who is running for mayor of Pittsburgh, is a longtime supporter of increased transportation funding and improved rail service here.

A law passed by Congress in 2008 required Amtrak to develop a formula for sharing costs with states on corridor routes of 750 miles or shorter. Estimates by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation are that the Pittsburgh-to-Harrisburg leg would cost the state $5.7 million to maintain in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.

The Pennsylvanian route operates from Pittsburgh through Harrisburg to Philadelphia and New York, with one departure and arrival per day from Pittsburgh. It is one of two remaining Amtrak routes here, with the other, the Capitol Limited, connecting Chicago and Washington, D.C.

"In the face of the federal government's decision to eliminate funding for this route PennDOT will continue to work with Amtrak to explore all our options," said Kelli Roberts, a spokeswoman for Mr. Corbett.

PennDOT officials have said no decision has been made on the Pittsburgh-to-Harrisburg service but have expressed doubts about whether it is worth the required investment.

"If you look purely at that [Pittsburgh-to-Harrisburg] segment, it is hard to justify," PennDOT spokeswoman Erin Waters-Trasatt said. She noted that it is much faster to drive between the two cities than to take the 51/2-hour train trip.

Elimination of the route would end Amtrak service to Greensburg, Latrobe, Johnstown, Altoona, Tyrone, Huntingdon and Lewistown. It would leave Pittsburgh with no direct passenger train connections to Philadelphia and New York.

PennDOT now spends about $9 million to subsidize the much faster and healthier Amtrak service connecting Harrisburg and Philadelphia, which has 14 daily trips operating at speeds up to 110 mph on electrified track that has received more than $150 million in upgrades.

PennDOT estimates that the annual cost to subsidize both segments of what is known as the Pennsylvanian route starting Oct. 1 would be $19.2 million, with $5.7 million of that allocated to Pittsburgh-to-Harrisburg.

"The ridership increases experienced on the line between Harrisburg and Philadelphia have been dramatic," Mr. Lamb said in his letter to the governor. "Those ridership increases are the result of significant investment on the part of the Commonwealth that has made the service more convenient and reliable. We need that kind of commitment in the corridor west of Harrisburg."

Transportation - promostate

Jon Schmitz: jschmitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1868. Visit the PG's transportation blog, The Roundabout, at www.post-gazette.com/Roundabout. Twitter: @pgtraffic.


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