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State commits annual $3.8M to Pittsburgh-Harrisburg Amtrak line

| Friday, May 24, 2013, 8:26 a.m.

State leaders are committing $3.8 million a year to save a passenger rail route that Amtrak acknowledges is “not as efficient or as useful as it might be.”

Supporters of Amtrak's Pennsylvanian, which provides the only passenger rail service between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg, say the daily round trip is vital to communities and outperforms most routes in the railroad's system.

Gov. Tom Corbett said in March the state would pay $3.8 million a year to subsidize the Pennsylvanian with money from a proposed increase in state transportation funding, which state lawmakers have yet to approve. Amtrak sought state money because a change in federal law requires it to share costs with state governments for routes up to 750 miles.

Amtrak government relations official Ray Lang said Thursday during a legislative committee hearing Downtown that he supports the funding deal.

But, he testified, “I should note that the service, as currently constituted, is not as efficient or as useful as it might be. … One daily round trip is typically not going to be relevant to the business traveler.”

Expanding service likely would require more state money, although Lang did not say how much it might cost to add round trips.

Mark Spada, secretary of Western Pennsylvanians for Passenger Rail, thinks extra trips are needed.

“Some still view the Pennsylvanian as a train that few ride along a route that should not be served,” but the route's performance numbers tell a different story, Spada said.

The Pennsylvanian carried a record 212,006 riders between Pittsburgh and New York in the fiscal year that ended in September, and through the first six months of this fiscal year its ticket revenue is up 14 percent over the same period a year ago, Spada said, citing Amtrak's latest monthly performance report.

“That was the largest percentage increase of any train on the Amtrak system,” he said.

Spada said the Pennsylvanian fills about 60 percent of its seats, on average, compared to 40 percent for higher-speed Keystone Service trains that run 13 daily round trips between Harrisburg and New York. Amtrak's average is 53 percent.

Tom Fontaine is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7847 or tfontaine@tribweb.com.

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