Pittsburgh slow to battle for high-speed rail lines
Share with others:
"Imagine being able to take a train from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh and arrive in less time than it would take you to drive," a PennDOT deputy secretary said yesterday.
To hear other speakers at a hearing here, that experience will remain a figment of the imagination for quite some time, even with the federal government preparing to spend billions on development of intercity high-speed passenger rail service.
In competition for the funding, "other regions are far ahead of us," said Henry Posner, chairman of Railroad Development Corp., an international rail investor and operator.
Congress has authorized $8 billion in economic stimulus funding for high-speed rail projects; President Barack Obama has proposed another $5 billion; and the draft of a new surface transportation bill calls for $50 billion over six years.
Ten corridors have been designated by the federal government for high-speed rail development, in addition to the Washington, D.C.-to-Boston corridor that already has an approximation of high-speed service.
One is the Pittsburgh-to-Philadelphia line, called the Keystone Corridor.
U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire, D-McCandless, chaired a hearing of the House railroads subcommittee yesterday to hear testimony on the need for better passenger rail service here and elsewhere.
"We haven't been part of the discussion up to this point," he said after the session. "We want to get in the game."
"I believe we are about to experience a new era in passenger rail in this country," said Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Blair. "I want Western Pennsylvania to participate in this new era and to enjoy the benefits of increased and expanded passenger rail service."
Toby L. Fauver, a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation deputy secretary, cited the successful $145 million upgrade of Amtrak's Harrisburg-to-Philadelphia route, which reduced travel times to as low as 90 minutes and increased ridership and frequency of service with 14 daily trips.
By contrast, Amtrak operates one train from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh that takes five hours or more and serves stations that "are in a state of disrepair," he said.
Mr. Fauver estimated that it would take hundreds of millions of dollars to upgrade the Harrisburg-to-Pittsburgh route for high-speed trains that could compete with automobile travel times.
He said PennDOT has begun developing a statewide rail plan and had discussions with Ohio officials about adding a Pittsburgh-to-Cleveland corridor to the national high-speed rail plan.
Mr. Altmire said he has proposed language in the new surface transportation bill adding the Pittsburgh-to-Cleveland route. Development of high-speed rail in that corridor also has been estimated to cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
Mr. Posner said the Midwest and California have been making plans for high-speed rail for a long time and have a competitive advantage in seeking funding.
"Pennsylvania has been caught in a situation where there's a great opportunity and it's something that we aren't prepared for. At this point, it's not clear who's in charge of all of this, if anybody," he said in an interview.
Even Ohio is ahead of Pennsylvania when it comes to planning high-speed rail to Pittsburgh. The state will do a $7 million preliminary environmental study of four possible high-speed rail corridors, three within Ohio and the other from Cleveland to Pittsburgh. It will take two years.
"This is a very small step. But it's not an insignificant one," said Stu Nicholson, spokesman for the Ohio Rail Development Commission.
First Published June 23, 2009 12:00 am