Amtrak’s ridership increasing

Thousands more riders traveled Amtrak’s cross-Pennsylvania rail line in the past year than in the year prior, though local ridership declined at some stops, representatives of the publicly-funded passenger train system announced Monday.

“The Pennsylvanian” line, which runs through central Pennsylvania and serves as Altoona’s only passenger rail connection, saw a 3.3-percent ridership increase in fiscal year 2013, according to Amtrak spreadsheets. The line runs from Pittsburgh through Harrisburg and Philadelphia before terminating in New York.

The announcement comes two weeks after an Oct. 1 deadline that, under a five-year-old federal law, could have ended service throughout western Pennsylvania, including Altoona. Gov. Tom Corbett vowed in March to pick up the $3.8 million tab for lost federal funding, and PennDOT officials later confirmed a plan to fund the line for the coming fiscal year.

While The Pennsylvanian showed promising financial numbers this year – a 12.4-percent increase in ticket revenue, totaling more than a $1 million – local ridership statistics are mixed.

Ridership from Altoona declined 3.5 percent; in Johnstown, 1.5 percent, according to numbers provided by regional spokesman Craig Schulz. Numbers increased at the tiny Huntingdon and Tyrone stops, however, with several hundred more riders embarking at Huntingdon than in the previous year.

The increase helped confirm Huntingdon residents’ complaints, voiced at a March protest, that the community relies on The Pennsylvanian as a key connection to the outside world.

“In towns all across America, Amtrak brings economic opportunities for people, businesses and communities to grow and prosper,” Tony Coscia, chairman of the Amtrak board of directors, said Monday in a news release.

Questions lingered as recently as August on the western Pennsylvania route’s survival, as Amtrak and PennDOT representatives said they remained in funding talks. Soon afterward, however, PennDOT officials said they had enough money to cover the route’s state subsidy for at least a year.

Nearly 219,000 passengers rode The Pennsylvanian in the past year, according to Amtrak statistics, including 26,000 from Altoona.

Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.