Amtrak route saved

Gov. Tom Corbett has reached a deal with Amtrak to preserve the passenger rail route running through Altoona, his office announced Thursday in a press release.

The state will spend about $3.8 million per year to subsidize the Pennsylvanian, the last daily line from Pittsburgh to Harrisburg and central Pennsylvania’s only passenger train connection, Corbett’s release stated.

The announcement came hours after a pro-train rally in Lewistown, one of several Pennsylvania cities that would have lost train service if the state failed to cover the line’s extra costs. Riders in Altoona, Tyrone, Huntingdon and other affected cities spoke out in recent weeks against the route’s possible elimination.

Amtrak representatives confirmed the deal in a press release Thursday.

“It was just an ongoing negotiation,” PennDOT spokesman Steve Chizmar said. “The governor worked very hard with Amtrak to reach this goal.”

Earlier this year, Amtrak representatives said they needed $5.7 million to continue running the line past October, when a federal law transferring some rail expenses is set to take effect.

Three weeks ago, state Rep. Dick Hess, R-Bedford, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said state officials were negotiating for Amtrak to reduce the amount taxpayers must cover.

Other local politicians, including state Rep. Mike Fleck, R-Huntingdon, joined the chorus of Pennsylvanian advocates as the funding deadline approached. U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., on Tuesday sent a letter to Amtrak’s director asking the train service to work with PennDOT to protect the route.

“I had been feeling more optimistic of late because there was such an outpouring of support for the train,” Michael Alexander, president of Western Pennsylvanians for Passenger Rail, said Thursday.

Without the Pennsylvanian, the state would lose its only cross-state train connection and a Midwest passage for the Philadelphia area.