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State seeks so as to add Pittsburgh-to-Harrisburg Amtrak prepare – TribLIVE

Hearings set
Virtual public hearings for draft 2020 Pennsylvania State Rail Plan:
• To be held from 4 to 5 p.m. Monday and 6 to 7 p.m. Tuesday.
• To register, visit Pennsylvania State Rail Plan website at http://www.planthekeystone.com/Pages/PA-State-Rail-Plan.aspx
• PennDOT developed plan, as required by the Federal Railroad Administration, updated every four years
• Identifies a vision for the future of rail transportation, set goals and objectives for achieving that vision
• Evaluates passenger and freight rail needs over next 25 years to guide investments.
• Comments accepted through Dec. 2.
Source: Pennsylvania Department of Transportation

Amtrak’s proposal to add another Pittsburgh-to-Harrisburg daily round-trip train in about three years is good news to Sharon Calloway of Uniontown, a frequent traveler on the Pennsylvanian train from Greensburg to New York City, where she works.

“It would be nice to have more than one option,” said Calloway, who often travels back home to Uniontown, where she still maintains her residence.

“If you don’t get this train, you don’t get to New York,” said Calloway, as she waited one recent morning to board the Pennsylvanian at 8 a.m. in Greensburg.

The proposal for another daily round-trip train between Pittsburgh and New York City is projected for the fiscal year from October 2023 through September 2024, in the Pennsylvania State Rail Plan 2020. That plan was developed by PennDOT from fall 2019 through fall 2020 with input from state and local officials, freight carriers, commuter rail providers, Amtrak and rail passenger organizations.

The feasibility of adding another daily passenger train to travel 440 miles from Pittsburgh to New York City, the schedule for such a train and projected costs are still under evaluation by Norfolk Southern Corp., said Ashley Schoch, PennDOT spokeswoman.

Norfolk Southern owns the tracks on which the Amtrak train runs between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg, as well as the freight trains that generate the revenue for the railroad company. The Keystone rail corridor between Harrisburg and Philadelphia is owned by Amtrak.

A Norfolk Southern spokesman could not be reached for comment.

Virtual public hearings on the rail plan, detailed in a 338-page report, will be held from 4 to 5 p.m. Monday and 6 to 7 p.m. Tuesday. The hearings will include one-hour sessions that present an overview of the updated draft state rail plan developed from fall 2019 through fall 2020 which reflects conditions before the covid-19 pandemic, said Schoch.

Trends and forecasts in the rail plan represent longer-term projections through 2045, Schoch said.

The Federal Railroad Administration will review and approve the final plan.

If a second train is added to the route, the plan projects ridership will increase on the Pennsylvanian from 215,100 from October 2018 to September 2019 to 378,000 in 2025, based on Amtrak’s five-year service plan.

At Amtrak’s Pittsburgh station, ridership — getting on and off the train — is projected to increase 88%, from about 130,000 in 2019 to 244,000 in 2025. Ridership at the Greensburg station would increase 76%, from 13,645 to 22,243. At the Latrobe station, the usage is predicted to rise a modest 7%, from 4,523 to 4,843.

The rail plan cautions, however, that a full recovery of ridership to pre-covid days could take years.

Beth Toll, an Amtrak spokeswoman, declined to comment on adding another train on the Pennsylvanian route, referring comments to PennDOT.

The projections for a significant increase in ridership from a second Pennsylvanian train are consistent with the Western Pennsylvanians for Passenger Railroads longstanding contention that there is a great deal of unmet demand for increased service, even beyond that which would be handled by one additional train, said Mark Spada, president of the passenger railroad group.

The plan, however, does not appear to list any potential supporting investments or improvements, such as station upgrades west of Harrisburg anytime over the next 25 years, Spada noted. Forty-eight short-range rail projects for passenger rail service over the next four years are identified as being needed, at a cost of $3 billion.

In addition to providing much better access for people traveling to Pittsburgh and from Harrisburg and points east along the Pennsylvanian, increasing efficient, multimodal options for travelers would have a positive impact on connectivity, mobility and economic vitality, as well as decreasing highway congestion and improving air quality in the Southwestern Pennsylvania region and across the state, said Andrew Waple, director of transportation planning for the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, the Pittsburgh regional organization that offered input on the plan.

Spada is hopeful the additional train will be added before 2024, with the anticipated presidency of Joe Biden, a longtime Amtrak rider and advocate.

“We hope that during the next four years, the executive branch of the federal government will view passenger rail as an important part of the nation’s transportation structure and support its needed investment,” Spada said.

Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at 724-836-5252, jnapsha@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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Allegheny | Local | Pittsburgh | Top Stories | Westmoreland

Hearings set
Virtual public hearings for draft 2020 Pennsylvania State Rail Plan:
• To be held from 4 to 5 p.m. Monday and 6 to 7 p.m. Tuesday.
• To register, visit Pennsylvania State Rail Plan website at http://www.planthekeystone.com/Pages/PA-State-Rail-Plan.aspx
• PennDOT developed plan, as required by the Federal Railroad Administration, updated every four years
• Identifies a vision for the future of rail transportation, set goals and objectives for achieving that vision
• Evaluates passenger and freight rail needs over next 25 years to guide investments.
• Comments accepted through Dec. 2.
Source: Pennsylvania Department of Transportation

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