Region important to Amtrak, too

By Dennis Newman

A Mirror editorial published Jan 10 was titled “Amtrak important to region.”

We completely agree. And the region is important to Amtrak, too.

For Amtrak, Pennsylvania is truly the Keystone State, with more than 120 daily trains, and nearly 6.7 million people boarding or alighting a train in Pennsylvania in Amtrak’s fiscal year 2019.

This is close to 10% of Amtrak’s nationwide ridership.

Only two states have more Amtrak passengers.

Ridership on the Amtrak-owned Philadelphia-Harrisburg Keystone Corridor, served by more than two dozen Amtrak trains per day, has nearly doubled since 2006 thanks to service improvements and investments funded by Amtrak and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Our current service to central and western Pennsylvania is limited to the Pennsylvanian, a single daily state-supported New York-Harrisburg-Pittsburgh round trip operating on Norfolk Southern’s line through Altoona, and a long-distance train that serves Pittsburgh in the middle of the night.

While the Pennsylvanian plays an important role for the seven communities and approximately 20 colleges and universities it serves west of Harrisburg, the region needs and deserves more and better Amtrak service.

Current federal law requires that all short distance service not on the Northeast Corridor (which covers its operating costs) be funded primarily by states.

These services generally operate over tracks owned by freight railroads who have often made adding new service both difficult and expensive.

Amtrak stands ready to work with PennDOT to improve service on the Pennsylvanian route with multiple daily frequencies to enhance the relevance, efficiency and appeal of our service.

We will also urge Congress to provide Amtrak with authorization and funding in the upcoming Reauthorization of the Surface Transportation bill to develop promising new corridors across the country such as the Philadelphia — Pittsburgh route, which could include the federal government covering the capital and operating costs of new or increased services.

We would welcome the opportunity to build on our strong partnership with Pennsylvania to increase and improve service in the years to come.

Dennis Newman is Amtrak’s executive vice president of strategy and planning.