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Cost of high-speed, Pittsburgh-Harrisburg rail link starts at $1.5B

| Friday, Feb. 13, 2015, 11:49 a.m.

PennDOT officials released a long-awaited study Friday detailing potential options to establish higher-speed rail service between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg.

The study detailed four options to improve rail connections, ranging in cost from $1.5 billion to make minor track curve modifications to $38.3 billion to build an electrified, two-track, high-speed train on a path similar to that of the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

PennDOT spokeswoman Erin Waters-Trasatt said there is no funding for any of the options, but they will be incorporated into PennDOT's long-term planning.

“Now that we know what it would take to do it, we want to know what the public's thoughts are,” Waters-Trasatt said.

The rail trip takes about 5½ hours. High-end improvements could cut the rail trip time to 4½ hours, although the study essentially ruled out the $38.3 billion option as being too costly. Lesser options could cut times by up to 35 minutes on the 244-mile corridor.

PennDOT wants public feedback on the potential options. The study can be viewed at www.PlantheKeystone.com on the “Keystone West” page under “Resources.” Public feedback will be accepted through March 31 by email to: KeystoneWest@planthekeystone.com.

Amtrak officials say the rail service provides an important economic benefit.

“Every day, the Pennsylvanian (route) delivers mobility, connectivity and economic benefit to the communities along its route,” Amtrak spokesman Craig Schulz said in a statement. “Amtrak will continue working with the stakeholders involved to identify and promote cost-effective opportunities for service improvements wherever possible.”

The plans would include either a rail connection to State College or a bus connection to an existing rail station at State College.

The options include:

• $1.5 billion for curve modifications in the existing right-of-way;

• $9.9 billion for those modifications plus curve straightening and new alignment at slow points;

• $13.1 billion for the above improvements plus the addition of a third track;

• $38.3 billion for a new electric, high-speed alignment on a route near the turnpike.

PennDOT and the Federal Railroad Administration shared the $1.5 million cost of the study.

Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or bkerlik@tribweb.com.

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