Score win for Amtrak

For weeks, Amtrak supporters, including a number of state legislators from the area, have been saying – “we think we can, we think we can” – when discussing saving the Pennsylvanian.

Now they finally can say – “we knew we could, we knew we could” – as a deal was reached that will maintain passenger rail service between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, including stops in several area towns.

The Corbett administration announced Thursday that the state has agreed to provide Amtrak with a $3.8 million subsidy annually to keep the Pennsylvanian on track after Oct. 1.

Without the agreement, the Pennsylvanian likely would have followed the mighty steam locomotives that once were a familiar sight in the area into oblivion.

It’s good news to learn that passenger rail service – a piece of our area’s rich railroading history – won’t be lost in the foreseeable future.

It’s even better news for the thousands of people who use the trains for transportation.

Amtrak said in fiscal year 2012, nearly 27,000 people either got on or off a train in Altoona – an average of 74 a day, which isn’t too shabby considering there is only one stop eastbound and one stop westbound in Altoona daily.

Tyrone saw more than 3,100 people board or depart trains there, while the total for Huntingdon topped 5,800. Some Juniata College students said earlier this month at a rally that Amtrak service was critical in their decision to attend the Huntingdon County institution.

While the number of rail passengers boarding or disembarking in Altoona admittedly is minute compared with the multitude of area residents driving cars, the totals from Amtrak far exceed the number of passengers taking commuter flights at the Altoona-Blair County Airport, which are subsidized by federal taxpayers, just as Amtrak’s current service is.

However, the federal Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 says that as of Oct. 1, all states must fund Amtrak routes of less than 750 miles, like the Pennsylvanian. Unless states provide subsidies, these routes are to be dropped.

Amtrak originally was seeking $5.8 million a year from Pennsylvania to keep the Harrisburg-to-Pittsburgh line running. But the Corbett regime was able to negotiate that amount down by about a third.

Administration officials are banking on the Legislature and governor agreeing to a transportation funding plan this year that will make it easier to come up with the $3.8 million promised to Amtrak. We just hope a transportation deal can be worked out in the next few months.

Reaching an agreement to preserve the Pennsylvanian was hard work, and we’re glad everyone kept chugging along until they reached the top.