Posts Tagged ‘Pittsburgh’

If it Can Happen in Pennsylvania Why Can’t it Happen Along the Gulf Coast?

February 23, 2022

The contrast was striking. In a week in which opposing parties butted heads during a U.S. Surface Transportation Board hearing over proposed Amtrak service along the Gulf Coast, officials held a news conference in Pennsylvania to announce expanded Amtrak service between New York and Pittsburgh.

On the surface, the Pennsylvania announcement appears to be an example of how to go about getting intercity rail passenger service.

One key to achieving such breakthroughs is money to fund capacity expansions for the host freight railroad. Another key is a lot of patience. The second New York-Pittsburgh train is five years away from being inaugurated and it has been discussed for at least as many years.

The announcement indicated that talks with host railroad Norfolk Southern over the scope of the capital improvements have some loose ends to tie up.

In theory, those negotiations could break down and result in a situation much like the one on the Gulf Coast where the host railroads are demanding capital improvements that exceed what Amtrak and its state partners are willing to pay.

Yet it seems unlikely that officials from Norfolk Southern, Amtrak, the Federal Railroad Administration, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf would have held that news conference to announce the new train if the parties didn’t think that an agreement was close to being finished.

Pennsylvania officials have been seeking a second daily train to Pittsburgh for years to supplement the New York-Pittsburgh Pennsylvanian, which uses track east of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, that is owned by Amtrak.

The route hosts numerous Keystone Service trains and Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority commuter trains.

The operating agreement that NS and PennDOT are working to complete will define project scope, how freight and passenger rail operations will use the Pittsburgh-Harrisburg corridor, compensation for use of NS track, and liability protection.

Officials have said capacity expansion at NS freight yards is expected to cost between $142.8 million and $170.8 million with much of that being provided by the state.

The state is taking money from a fund to buy new passenger equipment to pay for NS capacity expansions.

In turn, the money from the passenger equipment fund is being replaced by federal grants awarded under provisions of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

If it could happen in Pennsylvania why can’t it happen along the Gulf Coast?

There are a number of significant differences in the two situations starting with the political climate.

Somewhat overlooked in the Gulf Coast case is that while the proposed double-daily New Orleans-Mobile, Alabama, service has political support from Louisiana and Mississippi officials, it has faced hostility if not outright opposition from most Alabama officials, particularly at the state government level.

This split political support has, perhaps, emboldened host railroad CSX into being recalcitrant by demanding exorbitant capital improvements that it knows no one will or can agree to pay.

In Pennsylvania, there is unified political support for rail passenger service and state officials have experience paying for and overseeing intercity and commuter rail passenger service.

That level of experience doesn’t exist along the Gulf Coast. The three states involved have funded corridor-type service on the New Orleans-Mobile route in the past, but eventually those trains were discontinued after the states ended their funding.

It is noteworthy that in Pennsylvania the line to be used for the second Pittsburgh train is a far busier freight corridor than the CSX Gulf Coast line.

Yet the parties have been able agree in principle to a capital improvement plan, something that has yet to happen along the Gulf Coast.

During his testimony before the STB, former NS and Amtrak CEO Charles “Wick” Moorman extolled the virtues of additional Amtrak service to Virginia that was developed during his time at NS.

He held that up as an example of what is possible when the parties work together instead of being at each other’s throats as has been the case with the Gulf Coast service.

Moorman also cited the success of the Virginia trains with their growing ridership.

Left unsaid in Moorman’s remarks is that all of those new Amtrak trains into Virginia are extensions of Northeast Corridor service. The same is true of the Pennsylvanian and the proposed second Pittsburgh train.

The Pennsylvania and Virginia trains had the advantage of building upon existing high levels of intercity rail passenger service in a densely populated area. That is not the case along the Gulf Coast.

Amtrak’s host railroads are sensitive to accusations that they are opposed to hosting passenger trains.

CSX CEO James Foote in his testimony before the STB in the Gulf Coast case claimed to not be opposed per se to the proposed New Orleans-Mobile service. He even suggested CSX would have approved a restoration of the tri-weekly Sunset Limited on the Gulf Coast route.

That train ran between New Orleans and Orlando, Florida, via Mobile until August 2005 when the route was damaged by Hurricane Katrina. Officially, Amtrak suspended the Sunset Limited but it has yet to return and probably will not.

Last summer a Union Pacific executive wrote a column posted on that railroad’s website noting instances in which UP had cooperated with public agencies and Amtrak to host and expand rail passenger service, primarily in California.

At the same time the UP executive decried wide-ranging passenger train expansion proposals such as the Amtrak Connects US plan that he said host railroads see as efforts to impose passenger service requirements on them rather than being collaborative ventures.

What seems clear is that Amtrak’s host freight railroads do not share the vision of rail passenger advocates of the need for a wide-reaching network of passenger trains in the United States.

Class 1 railroad executive don’t spend much time thinking about the need for rail passenger service in the United States. That is not part of their mission or purpose.

That doesn’t mean they don’t have beliefs about where rail passenger service makes sense and where it doesn’t.

We might be seeing in the Gulf Coast case an example of the latter.

2nd NYC-Pittsburgh Amtrak Train Deal Reached

February 19, 2022

A deal to bring a second Amtrak train to the New York-Pittsburgh route was announced on Friday.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has agreed to pay $170.8 million in infrastructure upgrades to Norfolk Southern’s route between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg.

The work will involve creating additional capacity for NS freight trains at yards in Pittsburgh, Johnstown, Portage, Altoona and Harrisburg.

The state will also help underwrite the operating expenses of the new train as it does the existing Pennsylvanian between New York and Pittsburgh.

It is unclear when the second train will begin. State officials had said it could be within three years but during a Friday news conference that included Gov. Tom Wolfe and Federal Railroad Administration Administrator Amit Bose, officials said it could be up to five years before the train begins service.

That estimate takes into account how long it will be before the capital improvement work is completed.

State officials said the infrastructure work will be funded in part with money the state had been saving to buy new passenger equipment.

However, Pennsylvania plans to use federal funding that it expects to receive from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to help pay for new equipment that will be used by Amtrak.

The work on NS property is expected to begin after an operating agreement with NS is completed. Officials expect that process to be finished by June.

Pittsburgh Station Elevator Out of Service Through October

July 21, 2021

The elevator at the Amtrak station is out of service through Oct. 1.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said a new elevator is being installed with work having started on July 14.

Until October passengers will reach boarding platforms via stairways inside the station.

Passengers needing assistance in reaching the boarding area are urged to contact a customer service representative at the ticket office.

Biden Campaign Train Rolls in Ohio, Pennsylvania

October 1, 2020

Democratic presidental candidate Joe Biden rode the rails in Northeast Ohio and Western Pennsylvania on Wednesday on a train dubbed the Build Back Better Express.

The train is shown here in Hudson, Ohio, located between Cleveland and Alliance.

The consist included Amtrak P42DC Nos. 100 and 114; conference car 9800; Amfleet I coaches 82810 and 82985; Amfleet I food service car 43394; Viewliner II dining car 68012 (Harrisburg);  Amfleet I coach 82546; and theater car 10004 (American View).

The train departed Cleveland Wednesday morning where Biden had spent the night after his Tuesday debate with President Donald Trump, his Republican opponent.

An online report said the train arrived shortly before noon. Security was tight with the Secret Service, Alliance Police, Stark County Sheriff’s Department, Amtrak Police and Norfolk Southern Police on the scene.

The report said the train arrived under cloudy skies and operated as symbol P098.

During the Alliance stop, Biden disembarked and answered a few questions.

Another online report said the train arrived at the Amtrak station in Pittsburgh at 2:49 p.m., 29 minutes late.

A camera mounted on the American View provided live video scenes of passing trains and other scenery.

The train ended its journey in Johnstown, Pennsylvania.

Photographs by Todd Dillon

Amtrak No. 30 in Pittsburgh

May 22, 2020

Amtrak’s eastbound Capitol Limited was running rather late on this March 1995 day when I captured it on slide film in Pittsburgh.

I had arrived aboard the soon to be discontinued west of Pittsburgh Three Rivers and after disembarking we learned that No. 30 was way behind schedule.

My recollection is one of the P42DC locomotives malfunctioned en route and had to be set aside.

We stuck around to watch the Capitol arrive and then depart before continuing on our way.

I had to catch a Greyhound bus for Akron while my traveling companion got a ride to Cleveland.

Private Car Trip to Operate Philly to Pittsburgh

September 7, 2019

A fall foliage special featuring former Pennsylvania Railroad Pullman car Catalpa Falls will operate from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh and return on Oct. 18-20.

Tickets are $1,100 per person and includes round-trip private rail transportation, four meals, and all beverages aboard the train.

It does not include lodging in Pittsburgh.  The trip is limited to 20 passengers.

The trip is being sponsored by Executive Rail. For inquiries or additional information send an email to or call Carolyn Hoffman at 862-763-0508.

During the journey on Amtrak’s Pennsylvanian, passengers will cross the Rockville Bridge and traverse Horseshoe Curve.

There will be four meals served – two in each direction – that have been selected from menus of the Broadway Limited.

All meals will be prepared on-board by the Catalpa Falls’ executive chef using the original Pennsylvania Railroad recipes.

That will include the Pennsy’s famous pennepicure pie.

Executive Rail has arranged for a rate of $155 per night (plus fees and taxes) at the Omni William Penn Hotel. Rooms at this rate must be booked with the hotel directly by Sept. 16. Passengers should mention the Catalpa Falls to get the special rate.

However, passengers can also make their lodging arrangements at another hotel in Pittsburgh if desired.

PennDOT to Study Pittsburgh-Altoona Train

September 24, 2018

A feasibility study will be conducted by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation of a Pittsburgh-Altoona passenger train.

PennDOT will review several studies on the Keystone West Corridor; and gather information about the existing right of way, current and projected freight-rail activity on the line.

The study will also develop cost estimates of the proposed service as well as three potential service plans, a travel-demand marketing assessment and ridership estimates.

The service would supplement the existing Amtrak Pennsylvanian, which operates between Pittsburgh and New York and is funded by PennDOT.

The route between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg is owned by Norfolk Southern.

Pennsylvania has commissioned previous studies of additional Amtrak service between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh but thus far nothing has materialized.

PennDot Might Sponsor Buses Before Amtrak Service Expands from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh

May 23, 2017

As the Pennsylvania Senate considers approving legislation designed to increase Amtrak service to Pittsburgh, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is eyeing sponsoring bus service until Amtrak service can be expanded.

The state funds the Pittsburgh-New York Pennsylvanian and is considering funding additional Amtrak service between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

The Senate Transportation Committee recent voted unanimously in favor of a nine-month review study into adding two more passenger trains between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg. The full Senate is expected to vote on the study proposal by the end of June.

The study would be conducted within nine months by the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee.

The resolution also calls for looking at the prospect of adding service between Pittsburgh and Cleveland.

A number of steps would need to be taken before the service could become a reality, including making improvements to the Norfolk Southern tracks that the trains would use and negotiating agreements with Amtrak and NS. The route to be used is a busy NS freight line.

Western Pennsylvania interests have long noted that since 2000, the state has invested $400 million to increase passenger service between Harrisburg and Philadelphia from six trains to 14.

PennDOT spokesman Rich Kirkpatrick said the agency welcomes the review of what it would take to increase passenger service but that earlier studies have shown it would cost $3.75 million to $6 million to add one more passenger train, plus capital improvements estimated at $100 million in 2005.

Kirkpatrick said that in other regions of the country bus service has been paired with Amtrak service.

He said a dedicated bus could connect western Pennsylvania cities with Amtrak’s Keystone Service in Harrisburg to New York and Philadelphia.

Hurdles Remain for Western Pa. Amtrak Expansion

March 4, 2017

Although they continue to push for expanded Amtrak service, public officials in western Pennsylvania acknowledge that finding money for that service is a significant challenge.

“You’ve got a tight budget, so any additional money to expand rail service is tough to come by,” said State Rep. Bryan Barbin, a former member of the Pennsylvania House Transportation Committee.

pennsylvaniaBabin said the proposed service expansion is likely to take time to realize because other projects are high on the state’s list of priorities.

He said the potential hurdles include the state budget, cooperation with Amtrak and negotiations with Norfolk Southern, which own the tracks used by the New York-Pittsburgh Pennsylvania.

The state-funded Pennsylvanian is the only intercity rail service on the NS line between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Support for additional service has been particularly strong in the Johnstown area. Officials from Johnstown and Cambria County testified last year in favor of the service at a meeting of the Pennsylvania House Transportation Committee.

Support has also come from public officials in Pittsburgh and Altoona.

Babin said that other projects higher on the state’s list of priorities so, “It’s going to be a while.”

Pennsylvanian Congressman Bill Shuster has also expressed support for the expansion.

“I believe these new investments will bring new economic growth to our communities,” said Shuster, who is chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. “Passenger rail service provides an important link for southwestern Pennsylvania to the rest of the country, and anytime there’s a market demand for new service, it’s something that should be looked at.”

Babin observed that Pennsylvania is operating at a deficit and the legislature is looking at the possibilities of raising taxes, cutting spending and closing loopholes in the state budget.

However, he noted that Pennsylvania spends $18 million per year on passenger rail of which $17 million goes to support trains in the eastern third of the state.

“We need to do the same thing if we’re going to connect the whole state,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, that’s the biggest transportation issue for the western part of the state.”

House Transportation Committee Chairman state Rep. John Taylor, of Philadelphia, said he is still committed to expanding rail service in the western part of the state.

“It’s just a matter of putting the pieces together,” said Eric Bugaile, the committee’s executive director. That would mean reaching an agreement among PennDOT, Amtrak and Norfolk Southern officials on the same page.

Aside from state budget challenges, another sticking point is the fact that the NS route to be used by the service is a busy freight corridor.

NS spokesman David Pidgeon said any expanded Amtrak service should not adversely affect NS freight customers.

Pidgeon said NS was amendable to what he termed “viable plans” for expansion, which would take the carrier’s concerns into account.

Amtrak spokesman Mike Tolbert said the carrier continues to work with PennDOT “to provide a thorough evaluation of additional service between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg. Due to the nature of these requests, which often include multiple stakeholders, extensive research and negotiations, they can require a significant amount of time to finalize.”

Making History in Pittsburgh

November 14, 2016


The date is Feb. 8, 2003. The place is the former Pennsylvania Railroad station in Pittsburgh, now used by Amtrak.

The platform is mostly empty as the eastbound Pennsylvanian waits for time to depart for Philadelphia. It is the penultimate run of this train as it is constituted on this day.

Later tonight the Pennsylvanian will originate in Chicago for the final time. Once it completes its last Chicago to Philadelphia trip, it will revert to Pittsburgh-New York operation and its role of carrying mail and express business will end.

That ExpressTrak boxcar on the rear of the train is a reminder of the reason why the train was extended to Chicago in the first place.

The Pennsylvanian had begun life on April 27, 1980, as a state-funded Pittsburgh-Philadelphia train that sought to take up the slack left by the discontinuance of the New York-Kansas City National Limited in 1979.

It was extended to New York in 1983 and to Chicago in November 1998 at which time the eastern terminus shifted back to Philadelphia.

Today, the Pennsylvanian has returned to its roots as a state-funded Pittsburgh-New York train. The mail and express business is now just another chapter in the train’s history that has passed.