Amtrak riders in Pennsylvania to see major upgrades thanks to Biden’s infrastructure law

Amtrak Station in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by: Robert Knopes/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

By Sean Kitchen

November 6, 2023

Passenger rail in Pennsylvania is getting major upgrades thanks to President Joe Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Amtrak funding is going towards station upgrades and added rail service for Western Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania residents who use passenger rail throughout the commonwealth are going to see improvements on Amtrak’s Keystone and Pennsylvanian lines between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia thanks to President Joe Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Biden traveled to Delaware on Monday to announce $16 billion for passenger rail projects throughout the Northeast corridor. In total, Amtrak will receive close to $66 billion in funding from infrastructure and some of that money has already been flowing into the commonwealth.

“There’s a lot going on,” said Mark Spada, president of Western Pennsylvanians for Passenger Rail (WPPR), in an interview about how money from Biden’s infrastructure law will improve passenger rail.

“You have new cars. You have the infrastructure improvements to the tracks and the signals. You have station improvements, and a lot of that has been facilitated and moved ahead through this new source of funds through the Infrastructure Act,” Spada went on to say.

WPPR formed in 2011 to make sure there was one train constantly running between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg. In the 1960’s there were a dozen trains that operated daily between the two cities, but that number dwindled to one by 2009.

“You can understand our concern about losing the one that would be left, reinstituting passenger rail would be even more costly than it already is,” said Lucinda Beattie, Vice President of WPPR.

“The first effort was getting the state to take on maintaining the Pennsylvanian, which there was an agreement to do in 2013. There was passage of Act 89, which was a critical transportation funding bill in the state, and it included the Pennsylvanian as part of the funding that would be continued,” she went on to explain.

Funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is helping Amtrak riders in two ways, especially for riders who take the Pennsylvanian Line, which operates one train daily from Pittsburgh to New York City via Harrisburg and Philadelphia.

Ridership on the Pennsylvanian peaked in the middle of the 2010’s when it averaged 230,000 riders in 2013 and 2014. Following the pandemic ridership began to improve—close to 176,000 people traveled on the line in 2022, which was up from roughly 128,000 people in 2020 and 2021.

Station improvements between Harrisbrug and Pittsburgh are already underway thanks to the funding. For example, the station in Tyrone received a new shelter platform, Latrobe is getting a new station and the platform at the Johnstown station is getting redone with funds through the infrastructure act.

The other major improvement coming for Pennsylvania’s two rail lines, the Pennsylvanian and the Keystone, which offers 13 daily trips between Harrisburg and Philadelphia, is that Amtrak is picking up the tab for a complete overhaul of the passenger rail cars operating on those lines. This is freeing up state resources to make more improvements on those lines.

“I think one of the really big differences, or what made a big difference, was under that bill Amtrak is buying a whole lot of new rail cars,” Beattie said. “And under the old system, the state had to buy the rail cars for the state managed routes.”

Amtrak is going to replace their current Amfleet cars on the two rail lines with their new Airo rail cars by 2029. According to Amtrak, the new rail cars will be more fuel efficient and produce 90% less particulate emissions, reduce travel times and operate at speeds up to 125 miles per hour and offer more amenities for riders.

The money that’s freed up due to Amtrak purchasing a new fleet of rail cars is being invested into rail improvements between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh and assisting in adding a second daily operating Pennsylvanian train between Pittsburgh and New York City.

“It freed up money that is being used to make the improvements on the Pittsburgh to Harrisburg rail line in concert with what Norfolk Southern felt needed to happen,” Beattie explained.

“None of the movement forward on the improvements between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh could have happened without having this money that had been saved for one purpose – that the Jobs Act freed up– because Amtrak didn’t buy the state managed rail cars in the past. That’s the key change. Now, they are.”

 

Author

  • Sean Kitchen

    Sean Kitchen is the Keystone’s political correspondent, based in Harrisburg. Sean is originally from Philadelphia and spent five years working as a writer and researcher for Pennsylvania Spotlight.

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