Allegheny, Westmoreland team up on rail service proposal

| Monday, April 19, 2010

Officials in Westmoreland and Allegheny counties met last week to discuss how they might advance two proposed commuter rail lines into Pittsburgh.

Train service from Arnold and Greensburg to Pittsburgh was recommended last summer after a feasibility study determined there are enough potential riders to justify it.

Little work has been done since June to further the rail project, but last week Westmoreland County officials traveled to Pittsburgh and met with representatives for Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato to talk about forming a joint committee to oversee the project.

"We think it's a great project that would benefit both counties," said Onorato spokesman Kevin Evanto. "We agreed to work with them to keep this project moving forward. Our goal is to keep it moving."

Last June, officials announced the findings of a 15-month, $500,000 study by HDR Inc. of Pittsburgh. It was estimated that the costs to build each branch of the rail line is $208.7 million. Another $22.5 million would be needed to operate the service.

The Greensburg branch would run on tracks owned by Norfolk Southern, which operates a freight line through Westmoreland County. The proposed commuter line would begin in Latrobe and stop in Greensburg, Jeannette, Irwin and Trafford. The line would end at Penn Station in downtown Pittsburgh.

The study determined the Greensburg branch could attract at least 1,500 daily riders. It would take 60 to 65 minutes to travel between Latrobe and Pittsburgh.

The second branch of the rail line would travel on tracks owned by AVR, which operates a freight line along the Allegheny River. It would originate in Arnold and stop in New Kensington, Oakmont, Verona and Penn Hills before ending at Penn Station.

The study estimates the Arnold-to-Pittsburgh route would take 45 minutes and attract at least 2,700 daily riders.

Both branches could include stops in Shadyside, according to the study.

The study also recommended that a separate entity comprised of representatives from both counties be formed to oversee the rail project.

"We are hoping to have this committee established by the end of summer and to begin working before the end of the year," said Frank Tosto Jr., chairman of the Westmoreland County Transit Authority.

That committee would be charged with authorizing an environmental impact study and finding money to pay for the train lines.

Westmoreland County Commissioner Tom Balya said the rail project is still a priority.

"We're continuing to explore the opportunity to provide commuter rail service. The challenge will be finding the resources to make it go forward," Balya said.

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