The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

January 28, 2011

Feds pledge $750G for rail study

— A state study to extend high-speed rail service from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh is getting a $750,000 boost from the federal government.

PennDOT has been awarded the grant to explore the feasibility and cost of extending the Amtrak Keystone Service west to Pittsburgh. The Keystone is one of Amtrak’s busiest routes, with high speed passenger rail service several times daily between Harrisburg and Philadelphia and on to New York City.

It is not yet clear if extension of the Keystone route would include a stop in Johnstown, PennDOT spokeswoman Erin Waters said.

“There are no stations identified yet,” Waters said. “This is very preliminary. We are looking at what types of challenges the service would face.”

Currently, Amtrak’s Pennsylvanian line offers one eastbound and one westbound departure each day, connecting to Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, with stops in Greensburg, Latrobe and Altoona.

 The study looks at ways to add trains with faster service.

A 2009 study by Amtrak points to “significant differences” between its Harrisburg-Philadelphia route and the Pittsburgh-Harrisburg route.

Most importantly, Amtrak owns the track east of Harrisburg, while Norfolk Southern owns the lines to the west. That means Amtrak must share the tracks with freight trains.

Speed becomes a problem because the tracks west of Harrisburg are not electrified, due to mountains and curves in the region.

But improved passenger rail service would be a godsend to the state, Rep. Mark Critz, D-Johnstown, said in a press release.

“By extending Amtrak’s Keystone Service west to Pittsburgh, we’ll be able to provide increased service, higher speeds, and reduced travel times than the existing rail service provided to riders throughout our region,” Critz said.

The study will take about a year to complete, Waters said.


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