JOHNSTOWN - For Michael Alexander, the thought of the 6 p.m. Amtrak train whistle no longer echoing through the Johnstown train station is troubling.
Alexander, a regional council member of the National Association of Railroad Passengers, said central Pennsylvania could lose Amtrak service west of Harrisburg if funding is not allocated in the state's transportation budget.
Under the federal Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008, the states are responsible for paying a chunk of rail transportation funding, Alexander said. Keeping Amtrak's passenger rail service to Altoona, Johnstown and destinations west of Harrisburg will cost the state $7 million, Alexander said.
Losing the trains, which transported 23,000 passengers to and from the Johnstown station in 2011, would be detrimental to the region, he said.
"We need to keep the trains that we have now," Alexander told a crowd of about 50 people Monday at the Johnstown Amtrak station. "It's very hard to turn it around once you've lost all of the service."
Johnstown residents Paul and Ruth Thomas said they take the train from Johnstown to Pittsburgh and then further west to visit their daughters in Kansas and Montana.
Losing the rail service would impact their ability to visit their family, the couple said.
"It is still the most important thing we have going for us in this community," state Rep. Bryan Barbin, D-Johnstown, said.
Government needs to invest in infrastructure projects such as Amtrak to allow businesses to grow, Barbin said. Expanding the rail service will increase ridership and boost ticket sales, which will in turn drive down operating costs for the railroad, he said.
"That's how you get out of a recession," Barbin said.
Central Pennsylvania towns were laid out around the train stations when rail service was the only reliable method of travel across the Alleghenies, Alexander said.
Some areas such as Huntingdon do not have bus service and continue to rely on the train service on the western corridor, he said.
"They see increased transportation for their area as very important for economic development," Alexander said.
Mirror Staff Writer Zach Geiger is at 946-7535.