Posts Tagged ‘Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’

Philly-Reading Service Could Cost $818M to Get Started

January 13, 2021

Implementing rail passenger service between Philadelphia and Reading, Pennsylvania, would cost up to $818 million in capital expenses, a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation study concluded.

The study found the 12-station, 59-mile service could attract up to 6,400 passengers daily,

However, PennDOT said several significant issues must be addressed to determine the concept’s feasibility.

One of those is whether host railroad Norfolk Southern would  be a “willing party” to negotiate access, improvements and fees.

NS tracks would be used between Reading and Norristown and are not electrified, a fact that could complicate equipment decisions.

The report said the existing SEPTA route between Norristown and Philadelphia is heavily used and might not be able to accommodate additional trains.

Additional studies are needed to make a detailed infrastucture and service feasibility study; a Norfolk Southern operational feasibility study; development of local support and funding; preparation of design and environmental documents; and completion of a preliminary memorandum of understanding between Norfolk Southern and SEPTA or whatever entity would be the project sponsor.

If funding can be arranged the service could be launched in 2030.

Keystone Service Slashed With Little Notice

January 6, 2021

With little advance notice Amtrak on Monday slashed Keystone Service in Pennsylvania, citing low patronage.

The state-funded service between New York and Harrisburg via Philadelphia was cut to seven weekday roundtrips with six on weekends.

Three of the roundtrips will operate between New York and Harrisburg while other trains will operate between Harrisburg and Philadelphia.

The new schedule boosts Harrisburg-New York service by one roundtrip.

Six roundtrips plus one additional westbound train have been suspended on weekdays. On weekends, three trains have been suspended.

An Amtrak announcement said the cuts were made “in order to adapt to changing demand.”

It was not the first change to Keystone Service since the COVID-19 pandemic intensified last March.

The service had been cut last spring when the New York-Pittsburgh Pennsylvanian also was suspended. The Keystone Service cuts and the Pennsylvanian were restored last June

Weekday trains will now depart Harrisburg for Philadelphia at 5, 6:40 and 8:59 a.m. and 12:05, 3:05, 4:30 and 8:35 p.m.

The 5, 8:59 and 3:05 trains continue to New York Penn Station, which Amtrak is now referring to as the Moynihan Train Hall.

Trains leave Philadelphia for Harrisburg at 5:20, 6:20, and 8:45 a.m. and 1:35, 3:45, 5:35 and 6:42 p.m. Trains leave New York for Harrisburg at 7:17 a.m. and 4:03 and 5:10 p.m.

The schedules and services of the Pennsylvanian are unchanged.

The weekend schedule has trains leaving Harrisburg for Philadelphia at 7:20, 9:30, and 11:35 a.m. and 2:05, 5:05 and 7:05 p.m. The 7:20, 9:30 and 2:05 trains run through to New York.

From Philadelphia to Harrisburg, trains leave at 7:25, 8:30 and 10:50 a.m. and 2:45, 4:55 and 6:55 p.m. rains leave New York for Harrisburg at 9:09 a.m. and 1:05 and 5:17 p.m.

News reports from Pennsylvania media quoted Amtrak spokeswoman Beth Toll as saying Amtrak is experiencing ridership that is 20 percent of what it was before the pandemic.

Railway Age reported that neither Amtrak nor the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation issued a news release in advance of the service cuts to announce the new schedules.

Instead, the intercity passenger carrier and PennDOT cooperated in issuing a service advisory on the morning that the cuts became effective.

The Railway Age report said it remains unclear whether PennDOT or Amtrak decided to made the service cut and when the decision was made.

Federal Grant Awarded to Improve Keystone Line

October 29, 2020

Amtrak and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation have received a $15.9 million federal State of Good Repair grant that will be used on the Keystone Line.

The project involves signal upgrades on the Amtrak-owned line that is used by the intercity passenger carrier’s Keystone Service and Pennsylvanian trains.

Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority trains also use the line.

The work will occur between Paoli and Overbrook and allow for bidirectional train movement on all tracks and higher operating speeds.

The line is owned by Amtrak.

Bill Would Give PennDOT Rail Line Ownership

October 18, 2020

A Pennsylvanian congressman has introduced a bill that would require Amtrak to to transfer ownership of the Keystone East Line between Harrisburg and Philadelphia to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

In a statement Rep. Lloyd Smucker said he introduced the bill, which calls for PennDOT to manage the line and certain stations, because of his disappointment with Amtrak’s management of the line.

The statement claimed that renovation and repair projects have been consistently delayed and over budget. 

“By granting Pennsylvania ownership of the Keystone Line, we can provide greater local control, accountability and expand ridership opportunities,”  Smucker said. 

The line also hosts Southeast Pennsylvania Transit Authority’s Paoli-Thorndale commuter-rail service.

SEPTA in a statement expressed support for the bill, saying it would create opportunities to improve service on the route, which is SEPTA’s highest ridership regional rail line.

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives earlier unanimously adopted a resolution urging the U.S. Department of Transportation to transfer the line’s ownership to PennDOT. 

The line hosts two PennDOT-supported Amtrak services, the New York-Pittsburgh Pennsylvanian and Keystone Service between Harrisburg and New York via Philadelphia.

The state spends $100 million annually to support those services.

New York-Harrisburg Keystone to be Restored

July 3, 2020

One New York-Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Keystone Service roundtrip will be restored on July 6.

The restoration is part of an ongoing restoration of service funded by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation that began June 1.

All Pennsylvania-funded Amtrak service had been suspended on March 18 during the COVID-19 pandemic after the state imposed stay home orders.

The restored New York-Harrisburg trains include No. 640, which is scheduled to leave Harrisburg at 5 a.m. and No. 653, scheduled to depart New York at 5:10 p.m.

Modified Keystone Service that resumed on June 1 will continue operating between Harrisburg and Philadelphia. That includes nine weekday roundtrips and six weekend roundtrips.

In a news release, Amtrak cited increased travel demand for resuming New York-Harrisburg service.

The New York-Pittsburgh Pennsylvanian also resumed operating on June 1.

Amtrak Pennsylvania Service Suspension Extended

April 21, 2020

The suspension of Amtrak’s Pennsylvanian and Keystone Service due to the COVID-19 pandemic has been extended to May 17.

The trains have been suspended since March 19 due to the pandemic.

The Amtrak website shows that reservations can be made starting May 18 although that it subject to change.

The Pennsylvanian operates between New York and Pittsburgh while Keystone Service operates between New York and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, via Philadelphia.

The trains are funded largely by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

In a related development, operations of the combined CTrail/Amtrak Hartford line were further reduced on Monday due to a sharp decline in ridership.

The line how has seven weekday round trips in each direction, including four Amtrak Regional trains and three CTrail trains.

There had been 11 round trips, including five Amtrak Regional trains and six CT rail trains.

Pennsylvanian Suspension Extended to May 4

April 7, 2020

The suspension of Amtrak’s New York-Pittsburgh Pennsylvanian has been extended until at least May 4.

The Pennsylvanian along with Keystone Service between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, were suspended on March 19 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“All of our measures in this regard have been aimed at mitigating the spread of COVID-19, in concert with Amtrak,” said Pennsylvania Department of Transportation spokeswoman Alexis Campbell.

PennDOT pays Amtrak to operate Keystone Service and the Pennsylvanian.

Among the intermediate stops made by the Pennsylvanian are Greensburg, Latrobe, Johnstown, Altoona, Lewistown and Tyrone.

In a related development, VIA Rail Canada said the suspension of its Canadian and Prince Rupert-Prince George-Jasper service in Western Canada has been extended until at least June 1,

In a news release, VIA cited expanding travel restrictions and physical distancing measures, as well as ongoing infrastructure issues for the Prince Rupert service.

Amtrak Eyes Service Cuts Due to Lost Revenue, Bookings

March 13, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic may cost Amtrak “several hundred million dollars” due to cancellations and depressed bookings.

The passenger carrier has warned its employees that this may result in significant reductions in service.

Thus far Amtrak has suspended operations of three Acela Express trains and will curtail operations in its Keystone Corridor in Pennsylvania effective today.

In an announcement posted on its website, Amtrak said that in coordination with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation Keystone Service will operate on a reduced schedule, with no service to the Ardmore Station.

Effective March 13 Amtrak will operate 18 daily Keystone trains (nine in each direction) along with the Pennsylvanian between New York and Pittsburgh.

All trains will remain in service on the weekend. Amtrak said this schedule reflects the “S” schedule or special schedule that Keystone Service has set for severe weather or other service disruptions.

In an email sent to Amtrak employees earlier this week, the company’s senior vice present and chief operating officer, Stephen Gardner, said the carrier has instituted “aggressive measures to cut costs.”

Gardner said future bookings are down 50 percent compared with a year ago and cancellations are up more than 300 percent.

Amtrak plans to implement a voluntary leave program for “non-mission critical employees” willing to take unpaid time off.

The passenger carrier has also said it is waiving change fees for all trip reservations made before April 30.

It is not just Amtrak that has been affected by the COVID-19 outbreaks. Airlines have reported drops in bookings and are canceling flights.

Also hit hard has been public transportation. Northestar Research Partners said a poll it conducted found that Americans are switching their travel habits from public transit to either staying home or relying more on cars to get around.

Of the 1,000 people surveyed, 48 percent indicated a belief that riding public transit poses a high health risk due to the virus, and 30 percent to 40 percent said they have reduced their use of public transportation.

“People’s movement away from public transit is likely to have long-term consequences,” said Jennifer Yellin, senior vice president and co-lead of Northstar’s transportation practice.

“The implications include lost revenue for public transit authorities, which is ultimately used to upgrade and maintain systems.”

Public transit systems have stepped up cleaning of their rail cars and buses as well as stations.

Amtrak said it will disinfect trains and stations multiple times a day, and, in some cases, on an hourly basis.

New Middletown Station Seen As finished in July 2021

January 17, 2020

Construction of a new Amtrak station in Middletown, Pennsylvania, is expected to be completed by July 2021.

But first the project needs to be put out for bid, a process that began on Dec. 19.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is taking bids that are to be opened on Jan. 29.

PennDOT recently held a meeting for prospective contractors who might wish to bid on the project.

The station will be built along West Main Street on the Amtrak Keystone Corridor.

In preparation for station construction, Amtrak is moving the tracks in the vicinity of the station site.

PennDOT is expected to award the winning construction contract bids in March and to give contractors a notice to proceed on March 16.

Levin Wants Pennsylvania to Divorce Amtrak

December 22, 2019

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives Transportation Committee held a hearing last week that drew one witness and he suggested the state take over from Amtrak operation of the passenger service in the Keystone Corridor.

Bennett Levin, who oversees the short line Juniata Terminal in Philadelphia and is the owner of private railroad cars, suggested the Philadelphia commuter operator SEPTA operate Amtrak’s Keystone Service between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

He contended that this would lower the state’s costs of providing the service, which is now 13 weekday Keystone Service trains and the New York-Pittsburgh Pennsylvanian.

Some Keystone Service trains operate between New York and Harrisburg.

Levin also contended that state operation would lead to increased train service between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh.

The 103-mile Harrisburg-Philadelphia line is owned by the federal government and it would have to agree to transfer ownership of it to the state.

“SEPTA is one of the best managed commuter rail operators in the nation and there is no reason why their franchise cannot be modified to allow them to run west of Thorndale to Harrisburg,” Levin said. “Therefore the initial step in crafting a solution in the Pittsburgh region is to divorce Amtrak by having the U.S. Department of Transportation gift the Harrisburg Line to Pennsylvania and let SEPTA provide the existing Keystone Service.

SEPTA has 81 weekday trains on the Harrisburg Line that carry 20,000 passengers.

Amtrak’s  26 weekday Keystone trains carry 4,130 people, and the Pennsylvanian carries more than 560 passengers a day.

Levin said his plan would remove Amtrak as a middleman. “We have already paid for the Harrisburg Line; we should own it,” he said.

Levin noted that the state and SEPTA collectively pay Amtrak $1 million a week to operate intercity and commuter rail service on the Harrisburg line.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and SEPTA have paid more than $250 million for infrastructure improvements to the route including new or renovated stations at Paoli, Exton, Downingtown, Mount Joy, Elizabethtown, and Middletown.

Levin acknowledged that under his plan passengers traveling from within Pennsylvania to New York would have to change trains in Philadelphia at 30th Street Station.

“Those folks going to New York, let them walk downstairs,” he said in reference to the upper level and lower level platforms.

Levin was critical of the schedule of the westbound Pennsylvanian, which he said is oriented to passengers connecting to Amtrak’s westbound Capitol Limited to Chicago in Pittsburgh.

But fewer than 10 percent of Pennsylvanian passengers are connecting to Amtrak train No. 29.

With an earlier schedule westbound, the equipment used on the Pennsylvanian could be turned at Pittsburgh to create a new Pittsburgh-Johnstown commuter train.

PennDOT, Amtrak and Norfolk Southern have discussed expanding service between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh but thus far those talks have not produced any agreements.

Levin told Trains magazine that all of the parties seem to be talking past each others. “It’s my belief that Norfolk Southern is a perfectly rational partner, once you get Amtrak out of the picture,” Levin said.