The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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November 19, 2012

Budget cuts threaten to derail Amtrak service

JOHNSTOWN — Dozens of people rallied at Johnstown’s train station Monday to show support for passenger rail service threatened by state and federal budget cuts.

“It isn’t just that the train won’t stop in Johnstown,” said organizer Michael Alexander, president of Western Pennsylvanians for Passenger Rail Service.

“There will be no train. It won’t exist any more.”

A federal law passed in 2008 requires the states to share in the subsidy for Amtrak, which operates The Pennsylvanian daily from Pittsburgh to New York, with stops in Johnstown and Altoona.

Alexander and other speakers Monday urged rail supporters to write their legislators.

Next year’s state budget must include $7 million toward The Pennsylvanian’s operation for the service to continue, Alexander explained. More money will have to be added to the current $9 million state allocation to Amtrak’s popular Keystone rail service between Philadelphia and Harrisburg.

It’s money well spent, state Rep. Bryan Barbin, D-Johns-town, said at the train station.

“This is the most important thing we can do to keep this community vibrant,” Barbin said. “It is a way to connect to the rest of the state and connect to the nation.”

Rail improvements made possible by Amtrak will help improve all rail service here, Barbin said, noting that the growing natural gas industry  requires the movement of commodities for expansion.

Cutting the rail budget during a sagging economy slows recovery, he said.

“We should be investing in infrastructure,” Barbin said. “That’s how you get out of a recession.”

Rail service made Johns-town’s first industrial boom possible in the late 1800s,  Barbin said.

“If we do what’s right, we are going to be in a position to have that high caliber of growth that we last saw in the 1890s,” Barbin said, pledging to fight for the funding.

With the loss of a major hub for air service at Pittsburgh International Airport, rail services has become more important, said Lucinda G. Beattie, vice president of Western Pennsylvanians for Passenger Rail Service.

“We need more transportation choices, not less,” Beattie said at the rally.

Monday’s event was scheduled to greet the evening westbound run of The Pennsylvanian. Participants joined in unison to read all 15 stations served by the train as a reminder of rail’s impact.

”This is an extremely important resource,” Alexander said. “We should be asking how many trains we need each day, not whether we need a train.”

More than 212,000 people rode The Pennsylvanian last year, up 2.2 percent from the year before. A record 1.4 million boarded Amtrak’s Keystone Service trains between Harrisburg and Philadelphia.

Systemwide, Amtrak ridership is up nearly 50 percent since 2000.

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