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Gov. Tom Wolf last week joined Amtrak executives, congressional members and local leaders virtually to discuss Amtrak’s proposed improvements to and expansion of passenger-rail service in Pennsylvania.
Amtrak has proposed increased and new service in Pennsylvania, including Scranton, Allentown and Reading to New York, an additional Pennsylvanian frequency, as well as proposed upgrades to the Harrisburg line. The proposal is part of the railroad’s national expansion plan known as Connects Us.
Amtrak currently runs two commonwealth-supported routes in Pennsylvania: Keystone and the Pennsylvanian. In fiscal year 2019, there were 1.8 million riders between these routes.
Amtrak estimates its Pennsylvania expansion plan would result in 1.3 million riders annually by 2035, with the services contributing $200 million in annual economic impact and $6 billion in incremental economic activity from capital investments in Pennsylvania, based on a projected capital investment needed of $2.7 billion.
The proposal depends on Congress passing legislation that will fund transportation infrastructure, Amtrak officials said. Also, the passenger railroad would have to successfully negotiate with host railroads to expand its service. If all goes Amtrak’s way, the expanded service in Pennsylvania could be operational in three years.
"With federal leaders at the helm who understand the importance of investing in the future of our country’s transportation infrastructure, we have an opportunity before us to build a transportation system that will meet the needs of the 21st century," said Wolf in a press release. "Amtrak is ready to do its part and has created a forward-looking vision for train service throughout the northeast. A vision that is good for jobs, good for the economy and good for the climate."
Amtrak's Pennsylvania-specific proposal calls for: • New service between Reading – Philadelphia – New York (three daily round trips); • New service between Scranton – New York (three daily round trips); • New service between Allentown – New York (two daily round trips); • Expand Keystone service between Harrisburg – Philadelphia – New York from 12 daily round trips to 17 daily round trips, and reduce trip times by increasing Harrisburg – Philadelphia speeds to 125 mph; and • Expand Pennsylvanian service between Pittsburgh – Philadelphia – New York from one daily round trip to two daily round trips, with one round trip extended to Cleveland.
"Amtrak's plan for expansion will improve equity, accessibility and reliability in transportation and that’s exactly what our commonwealth needs to continue growing and thriving," said Wolf. "We need state-level transportation solutions to match this federal leadership so we can build and sustain this vision."
Additional participants in the Sept. 10 virtual roundtable discussion included Amtrak President Stephen Gardner, Amtrak Chief Executive Officer Bill Flynn, U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.), Allentown Deputy Mayor Leonard Lightner, Scranton Mayor Paige Cognetti, and Greater Reading Chamber Alliance President and CEO Jim Gerlach.
Nationwide, Amtrak’s vision proposes key improvements on 25 existing routes, adding 39 new routes, and bringing service to more than 160 new communities.