Amtrak considers more Pittsburgh-to-Harrisburg trains |

Amtrak considers more Pittsburgh-to-Harrisburg trains

Joe Napsha
Passengers exit an Amtrak train in Pittsburgh.

Riders of Amtrak’s Pennsylvanian train between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg have long been limited to one morning and one evening train, but a hearing in Altoona on Aug. 28 is expected to explore the possibility of adding another train to the daily schedule.

“If we can improve passenger service in Western Pennsylvania, communities across the board would benefit,” said state Rep. Louis Schmitt, R-Altoona, who is chairman of the House Transportation Committee’s subcommittee on railroads.

The hearing will start at 3 p.m. at the Altoona Railroaders Memorial Museum, 1200 Ninth Ave.

Among those expected to testify are a representative from Norfolk Southern Corp., which owns the tracks from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia; and Western Pennsylvanians for Passenger Rail, a Pittsburgh-based group seeking to expand passenger rail service in the region.

Norfolk Southern will conduct a PennDOT-funded study to determine the potential expansion of passenger service between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg, PennDOT spokeswoman Ashley Schoch said. The study is expected to provide the estimated expense of increasing rail service between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg as it relates to Norfolk Southern, Schoch said.

A spokesperson for Norfolk Southern, which is based in Norfolk, Va., did not respond Friday to a request for a comment.

Amtrak’s sole train from Pittsburgh to Harrisburg leaves Pittsburgh at 7 a.m. en route to Harrisburg. The return train reaches Pittsburgh at 8 p.m.

“Amtrak has been and continues to work with PennDOT on this initiative,” Amtrak spokeswoman Beth Toll said Friday.

To fund public transit such as passenger train service, PennDOT has been receiving $450 million annually from the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, which goes toward highways and bridges as well. But that funding source will be drastically cut under a state law that reduces the allocation to $50 million annually in 2022.

The state is paying about $16 million a year to subsidize the Amtrak service in Pennsylvania, Jennie Granger, PennDOT’s deputy secretary for multimodal transportation, told a Westmoreland County business group this summer.

Granger said the state is looking at the possibility of having a private company offer service along the Pittsburgh-to-Harrisburg route.

If rail service between Pittsburgh and Altoona in increased, “folks could conveniently take the train into Pittsburgh for work, or to attend sporting and cultural events from their homes in any number of the smaller communities along the line,” Schmitt said in a statement.

“This would improve not only the economic prospects of these smaller communities, but also the quality of life of the Pennsylvanians who live there,” he added.

Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at 724-836-5252, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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