PennDOT asks Amtrak about adding second daily round trip between Pittsburgh, Harrisburg

September 17, 2015

A grinding squeal echoed as the Amtrak Pennsylvanian rolled into the Pittsburgh train station at 7:52 p.m. and about 100 passengers from points east got off, toting duffel bags and suitcases as they headed from the platform to Liberty Avenue.

This happens once a day, the only round-trip passenger train service between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg. That may change.

Plans are far from finalized, but PennDOT has asked Amtrak about possibly adding a second train on a line that once was in jeopardy of being eliminated.

For passengers such as Rachel Weber, 24, of Dormont, the train’s schedule limits her ability to visit her parents in Lewistown in Mifflin County without taking time off work.

“I’ve been hoping they would increase (service) for years,” Weber said. “I would like to see more.”Website Insert 5000 New Seats copy

Jennie Granger, project manager for PennDOT’s state rail plan, said Amtrak is looking into what it would take to make an additional round-trip each day. The next step is checking with Norfolk Southern, which owns the line, to see whether time and space allow for a new passenger trip among frequent freight routes.

“With our existing funding, we can’t afford billions of dollars of improvements, but we might be able to afford this,” Granger said. “Part of it is the negotiations with Amtrak and Norfolk Southern, and part of it is seeing what that subsidy is and gaining that support and maximizing the available dollars.”

The Pennsylvanian is one of 29 short-distance Amtrak lines receiving state funding when passenger revenue doesn’t cover the costs, a setup that in 2012 almost caused the line to disappear when federal regulations began requiring state subsidies on short-distance trips. In the 2014-2015 fiscal year, PennDOT paid Amtrak $14.5 million for the cross-state Pennsylvanian and the Keystone Service from Harrisburg to Philadelphia.

Amtrak data show about 149,000 people boarded and departed trains in Pittsburgh in 2014. Spokesman Craig Schulz said even if there’s a new train and Norfolk Southern can work it into the schedule, PennDOT must decide whether to add service, because it must subsidize costs that exceed revenues.Website Insert Call Me State DOTs copy

“It’s a popular route,” Schulz said. “If there’s an opportunity to provide more service to Pittsburgh, we’re always willing and able to look at that.”

Reporter Melissa Daniels has the full story at TribLive.com by clicking here.

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