by Peter Hall, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
December 6, 2023
U.S. Sens. Bob Casey (D-PA) and John Fetterman (D-PA) on Wednesday announced a $143.6 million Federal Railroad Administration grant for track and safety improvements that will support expanded Amtrak passenger service between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
The money from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will be used to improve tracks owned by Norfolk Southern Corp. to accommodate a second daily passenger train between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh on Amtrak’s Pennsylvanian service. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation will pay about 20% of the cost, according to a statement from Casey’s office.
Casey and Fetterman also announced a $500,000 grant from the FRA’s Corridor Identification and Development program to plan expansions of Amtrak’s Pennsylvanian and Keystone services along the Philadelphia to Pittsburgh route in smaller communities such as Altoona, Lancaster and Johnstown.
“I fought for this funding because when Pennsylvanians can move quickly and easily across the state for work, study, or travel our Commonwealth thrives,” Casey said. “Improving rail service means more jobs, more economic opportunities, and more time spent with family for urban and rural communities alike.”
Fetterman said Amtrak riders would see numerous benefits from the investment including safer, faster and more reliable transportation and stronger local economies.
“I am proud to see us investing in so many rail infrastructure projects throughout the commonwealth. The more trains and public transportation options for Pennsylvanians, the better,” Fetterman said.
The announcements followed news on Tuesday that projects to restore passenger rail service between Scranton and New York and Reading and Philadelphia had received grants from the FRA’s Corridor ID program. Each project will receive $500,000 for planning and development.
PennDOT announced in September that it had inked a deal with Norfolk Southern to build new mainline track, passing sidings, switches and other infrastructure between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh using FRA grants and state funding.
While Amtrak provides service between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh only once a day, the national passenger rail company operates 13 weekday Keystone Service trains in each direction between New York and Harrisburg via Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station. That’s because Amtrak owns the Keystone Corridor line between Philadelphia and Harrisburg and controls which trains operate on it and when.
Norfolk Southern, the nation’s fourth largest freight railroad, determined in 2020 that the improvements would permit a second passenger train without unacceptable delays to freight services.
Amtrak operates its Pennsylvanian service from New York to Pittsburgh with stops including Philadelphia and Harrisburg on one round-trip journey every day. The service provides important connections across Pennsylvania and beyond to Cleveland and Chicago via Amtrak’s Capitol Limited service.
The Pennsylvanian carried about 212,000 passengers in 2019 before ridership dropped sharply during the pandemic. In 2022, the Pennsylvanian carried about 176,000 passengers. PennDOT did not say when the expanded service would begin.
Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kim Lyons for questions: firstname.lastname@example.org.