Region gets little money for fast rail lines
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While Western Pennsylvania appeared to get very little from President Barack Obama's $8 billion high-speed rail initiative, there were a couple of glimmers of promise following Thursday's grant announcements.
The only money coming here is $750,000, to pay half the cost of a study into improving Pittsburgh-to-Harrisburg passenger rail service.
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation said the study will assess what improvements are needed to increase service from the current one daily round trip to eight, and to increase the speed to 110 mph, similar to service east of Harrisburg.
Currently, passenger trains from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh average less than 50 mph.
The study will look at possible improvements to the corridor, including dedicated tracks for passenger trains. The current line is congested with freight traffic.
The Harrisburg-to-Philadelphia segment got $25.65 million in Thursday's announcement to add to years of improvements that have increased train speeds, frequency of service and ridership.
But possibly the best news for Pittsburgh was that Ohio scored $400 million toward its plan to launch passenger rail service between Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and Cincinnati.
Efforts have begun to upgrade service between Pittsburgh and Cleveland, which would better tie the city into Ohio's emerging hub of passenger rail lines, and eventually to a network that is contemplated to crisscross the Midwest.
U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire, D-McCandless, said Thursday that he would continue efforts to get Pittsburgh-to-Cleveland added to the nation's list of designated high-speed rail corridors.
Govs. Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania and Ted Strickland of Ohio also have requested the designation.
"When I heard what the amount (of the Ohio grant) was, I was very happy," said Ken Prendergast, executive director of All Aboard Ohio, a nonprofit group that has been pushing for years to restore passenger rail service connecting the state's urban centers. "But I have to tell you there's a lot of work remaining to be done."
The funding will pay for track upgrades, grade crossings, new stations, maintenance facilities and rail cars. Ohio had sought $564 million but Mr. Prendergast said he believes the award is sufficient to launch the service within two years.
It won't be high-speed rail -- top speeds are contemplated at 79 mph -- but the Ohio Rail Development Commission sees 110-mph trips as a longer-term goal.
The biggest winners in Thursday's announcement were California, $2.25 billion; Florida, $1.25 billion; Chicago-St. Louis, $1.1 billion; and Wisconsin, $810 million. The $8 billion was allocated in last year's economic stimulus legislation.
Although Pennsylvania got a relatively meager sum, there was nary a cross word from political leaders.
"From a national perspective, it is highly appropriate to make the largest investments in the two marquee projects in California and Florida," Mr. Rendell said.
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey said the planning grant "takes us a step forward toward extension of high-speed rail service all the way to Pittsburgh."
"I am pleased to see stimulus funds at work for high-speed rail in Pennsylvania," said U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter.
"Obtaining funding for a planning study for high-speed rail between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg is an important step forward, but we must remember that this is only the first step," Mr. Altmire said.
First Published January 29, 2010 12:00 am