The Corbett administration says it reached an agreement Thursday with Amtrak that will preserve daily rail service between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg by reducing the cost to state government.
Under the revised agreement with Amtrak, the agency would maintain the Pennsylvanian, with one train a day in each direction between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg. The line serves stations including Greensburg, Johnstown, Altoona, Huntingdon and Lewistown and continues through to Philadelphia and New York City.
The deal with the federal rail agency reduces a state contribution that was scheduled to rise in October to $6.5 million annually. Instead, the state will be required to pay $3.8 million annually for the line, according to the administration.
That funding is contained within Gov. Tom Corbett's transportation infrastructure funding plan, said Steve Chizmar, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation.
"The governor's recommended funding plan can support this initiative," he said. "That's why the governor is calling again for the Legislature to act this spring to advance his transportation funding plan."
The funding change is mandated by the federal Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008, which required Amtrak to develop and implement a consistent formula for sharing costs with states on corridor routes of 750 miles or shorter.
Mr. Corbett said, "I applaud Amtrak for its willingness to work with my administration on a funding plan that makes sense for Pennsylvania in these difficult economic times and maintains this passenger rail service that provides important connections for many towns in Western Pennsylvania."
Amtrak was happy to have reached an agreement that preserves the Pennsylvanian, Amtrak president and CEO Joe Boardman said.
"This is an exciting day for the people of Pennsylvania, and I want to thank Gov. Corbett and Secretary [of Transportation Barry] Schoch for working with us to continue this important service," he said.
U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Blair, chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, said from the beginning he urged the state and Amtrak to reach an agreement benefitting both parties.
"We reformed federal law in 2008 to ensure states had more authority in the process while making Amtrak more accountable," he said. "This is an example of how partnerships between states and Amtrak can produce savings while maintaining service."
It's too early to know if the agreement will cause a change in fares, Amtrak spokesman Craig Schultz said. A one-way ticket from Pittsburgh to Harrisburg currently costs $40.
For the president of Western Pennsylvanians for Passenger Rail, the preservation of the train is vital to the state.
"If Pittsburgh is to remain a big metropolitan area, it needs transportation to other cities," said Michael Alexander, 66, of Squirrel Hill. "This train was and is the best way to get to Harrisburg, and it provides great service to Philadelphia."
Someday, he said, he would like to see additional trains added to the route, but for now, saving the Pennsylvanian was a "big step forward."
Karen Langley: firstname.lastname@example.org