Pa. Lawmaker Optimistic About Added Service

A Pennsylvania lawmaker is predicting that additional Amtrak service could begin in western Pennsylvania within a year.

Amtrak logoUsing a football anology, Bryan Barbin, a Johnstown Democrat, said that additional trains are not at the first and goal position yet, but are five yards or less away from the goal line.

Barbin serves on the House Transportation Committee and spoke with Pennsylvania news media after a meeting of that committee.

He said Norfolk Southern will soon tell the state how much it would cost to increase passenger service.

Currently, the route between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg is served only by the daily New York-Pittsburgh Pennsylvanian. The region has been lobbying for years for increased service.

Although expanded service has support on both sides of the political aisle, lawmakers say that the price and technical details must still be negotiated.

“This won’t come to a matter of if, but how much it costs,” Transportation Committee Chairman Rep. John Taylor, R-Philadelphia, said.

Lawmakers might gulp if NS demands costly new switches and track improvements.

“You’ve got to take one step at a time,” Barbin said. “But what do you need to make the western corridor more like the eastern corridor? You’d have to make improvements on both sides of the Allegheny Mountain.”

He said federal grants could help cover the costs for track improvements.

“Any time you have a tight budget like we have, it’s never small potatoes. But it’s possible to do it,” Barbin said.

Expanded rail passenger service to Pittsburgh has the support of Pittsburgh city government, the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership and the Blair County Chamber of Commerce.

Barbin said some in western Pennsylvania have been contrasting the paltry level of rail service in their end of the state with the scale of commuter rail operations in eastern Pennsylvania, particularly the Keystone Service trains from Harrisburg to Philadelphia and New York.

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