‘Absolutely thrilled.’ PA Amtrak advocates celebrate new projects from Biden’s Infrastructure law

Travelers move through 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, ahead of the Thanksgiving Day holiday, Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2023. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

By Sean Kitchen

December 7, 2023

US Sens. Bob Casey and John Fetterman announced major Amtrak projects throughout Pennsylvania this week. They include a second daily train from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh and possibly reconnecting Reading to Philadelphia and Scranton to New York City

Passenger rail advocates throughout Pennsylvania are celebrating this week following the avalanche of news regarding the expansion of passenger rail access throughout the commonwealth.

“We’re absolutely thrilled about it,” Lucinda Beattie, the Vice President of Western Pennsylvanians for Passenger Rail, said in an interview with The Keystone on Thursday. “It’s like Christmas already came and it really is. It’s a huge, huge, huge gift.”

US Sens Bob Casey (D-Pennsylvania) and Jonh Fetterman (D-Pennsylvania) announced on Wednesday that they secured $144 million from President Joe Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to add a second daily train along the Pennsylvanian Line, which runs from Pittsburgh to New York City, making stops in Harrisburg and Philadelphia.

Pennsylvania will see numerous benefits from this expansion, including safer and more reliable transit, reduced travel time, and strengthened local economies,” Fetterman said in a statement.

According to Beattie, the commonwealth secured funding for the Pennsylvanian rail expansion project from the previous administration but now the commonwealth will have more money at their disposal for other infrastructure upgrades thanks to this latest round of federal funding.

The Keystone reported a similar situation last month where federal funding for a new and improved fleet of trains along the Pennsylvanian and Keystone lines was covered by the infrastructure law and the state funding that was freed up was reinvested into other infrastructure upgrades.

“It would not have happened if President Biden hadn’t been elected,” Beattie said. “I mean, that Infrastructure and Jobs Act has done so much to lift parts of the state in terms of the kind of maintenance work that’s been done on roads and bridges. But more importantly, I mean, it’s renewing opportunities for people and providing work.”

Ridership along the Pennsylvanian is starting to rebound to pre-pandemic levels. According to the Rail Passengers Association, there were 212,000 riders taking the Pennsylvanian in 2019 and that bottomed out during the pandemic to 127,700 riders in 2020. Those numbers rebounded to 176,000 riders in 2022.

Residents in Western Pennsylvania don’t have the transportation infrastructure in place to travel long distances, essentially making traveling by car the only option for those looking to go long distances. The Pennsylvanian is the only viable alternative and the data shows that the average rider along the route travels at least 200 miles every time they take the train.

“We think there should be up to six trains a day going between Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, and Philadelphia. I mean, that’s the way to knit the Eastern Employment Center of Philadelphia with the Western Employment Center of Pittsburgh, the two largest areas where people work, and the train is by far the easiest, most environmentally friendly and affordable way to travel between the two places,” Beattie said.

Aside from connecting Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with a second daily train, it will be possible in the future to connect Pittsburgh to Chicago or cities in Ohio thanks to passenger rail upgrades happening in Ohio.

“The long-term benefit of those is that they could connect Pittsburgh to Chicago better and Pittsburgh to Columbus or Pittsburgh to Cleveland” Beattie explained.

“The stop in Pittsburgh becomes not the end of the route, but a jumping off point for further routes out west. So it’s been a terrific couple of days all the way around.”

Casey also announced that there are plans in the works to reconnect Scranton to New York City for the first time since 1970 through the Corridor ID program created by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to identify and connect and assist with the development of intercity passenger rail corridors.

The other major announcement came from Fetterman and Congresswoman Chrissy Houlahan (D-Chester), and they announced $500,000 in funding from the Corridor ID program to connect Reading, Pottstown and Pheonixville to Philadelphia and New York City for the first time since 1983 through the Schuylkill River Passenger Authority. This funding opens the project for more possible funding.

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.

CATEGORIES: INFRASTRUCTURE | POLITICS

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