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Corbett reaches deal to pay to maintain Amtrak route to Pittsburgh

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Thursday, March 21, 2013, 4:24 p.m.
 

A subsidy deal the state announced Thursday ensures passenger trains will continue to roll between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg.

Gov. Tom Corbett said the state will pay $3.8 million a year to subsidize Amtrak's Pennsylvanian route, a daily round-trip that provides the only passenger rail service between Western Pennsylvania's largest city and the state capital, plus seven small towns between. Amtrak sought at least $5.7 million annually.

“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,” Corbett said.

He said the money hinges on the Legislature passing a transportation funding plan.

“This is an exciting day for the people of Pennsylvania, and I want to thank Gov. Corbett and (PennDOT) Secretary (Barry) Schoch for working with us to continue this important service,” Amtrak CEO Joe Boardman said.

PennDOT hasn't subsidized the Pennsylvanian for about two decades, according to the advocacy group Western Pennsylvanians for Passenger Rail. The state covered 20 percent of the route's costs when it began in 1980 and 50 percent two years later when a second daily round-trip began. The subsidy ended in 1994.

The Pennsylvanian's operating costs totaled $16.8 million in 2011, according to a Brookings Institute analysis released this month. At that rate, the state's subsidy would cover about 23 percent of the route's cost.

Amtrak sought the subsidy as part of a change in federal law that requires the railroad to come up with a uniform cost-sharing formula with state governments for routes of up to 750 miles.

“I'd like to read the find print before I celebrate too much, but this certainly sounds like very good news. This service is important to a lot of communities,” said Michael C. Alexander, president of Western Pennsylvanians for Passenger Rail.

About 212,000 passengers used the service last year.

Heading east from Pittsburgh, the Pennsylvania stops in Greensburg, Latrobe, Johnstown, Altoona, Tyrone, Huntingdon and Lewiston before reaching Harrisburg. The trip takes about 5- 12 hours, averaging about 45 mph through the mountains and around Altoona's famed Horseshoe Curve. From Harrisburg, it continues east to Philadelphia and New York.

Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7847 or tfontaine@tribweb.com.

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