Pittsburgh-Harrisburg Amtrak route imperiled

One of Pittsburgh’s two remaining Amtrak route , the one serving Harrisburg, Philadelphia, New York, and points in between, may be on the chopping block in October.

That’s the deadline for Pennsylvania to decide whether to foot the estimated $5.7 million bill for subsidizing the service, a cost Amtrak now pays.

No decision has been made, but remarks from Pennsylvania Department of Transportation officials suggest the route is in trouble unless it can be shown to benefit large numbers of passengers connecting at Pittsburgh to or from cities other than Harrisburg.

“If you look purely at that [Pittsburgh-to-Harrisburg] segment, it is hard to justify,” PennDot spokeswoman Erin Waters-Trasatt said. She noted that driving between the two cities is faster than the 51/2-hour train trip.

Eliminating the route would end Amtrak service to Greensburg, Latrobe, Johnstown, Altoona, Tyrone, Huntingdon, and Lewistown. It would leave Pittsburgh with no direct passenger train connections to Philadelphia and New York. Only one Amtrak route, the Capitol Limited from Chicago to Washington, would still stop there.

The funding change is called for in the federal Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008, which required Amtrak to develop and implement a consistent formula for sharing costs with states on corridor routes of 750 miles or less.

PennDot spends about $9 million to subsidize the much faster and healthier Amtrak service connecting Harrisburg and Philadelphia, which has 14 daily trips operating at speeds up to 110 m.p.h. on electrified track that has received more than $150 million in upgrades.

The state does not subsidize Pittsburgh-to-Harrisburg service, which has one daily trip in each direction and slower-moving diesel locomotives that go no faster than 70 m.p.h. and that average 45 m.p.h.

PennDot estimates the annual cost to subsidize both segments of what is known as the Pennsylvanian route starting Oct. 1 would be $19.2 million, with $5.7 million of that allocated to the Pittsburgh-to-Harrisburg leg.

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