Pa., Norfolk Southern working on deal to add 2nd daily Amtrak trip from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh

Local business leaders and advocates have long sought the expansion of passenger rail service between the capital city and Pittsburgh

By: - February 18, 2022 4:37 pm

Gov. Tom Wolf speaks during a news conference in Pittsburgh on Friday, 2/18/22 (Commonwealth Media Services Photo)

Answering the prayers of Pennsylvania rail-riders, the Wolf administration and rail titan Norfolk Southern are working on an agreement to eventually add a second daily Amtrak trip between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg, according to published reports and Gov. Tom Wolf’s office.

Wolf, joined by state and federal lawmakers, state and federal transportation officials, and a senior Norfolk Southern executive, made the announcement during an event in Pittsburgh on Friday. The details first were reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Local business leaders and advocates have long sought the expansion of passenger rail service between the capital city and Pittsburgh, the newspaper reported.

“Western Pennsylvania has wanted more passenger-rail service for years and I’m excited that we can immediately leverage the federal infrastructure plan for mobility and economic benefits in the communities served by this rail line,” Wolf said in a statement.

According to the Post-Gazette, the pending deal with Norfolk Southern, which controls the rail lines, will lead to improvements that will cost between $142.8 million and $170.8 million. The improvements will be paid for with money the state has been saving since 2008 to buy new trains for Amtrak, the newspaper reported.

The $1.2 trillion federal infrastructure law sets aside billions of dollars to buy new trains for Amtrak, freeing money that Pennsylvania had set aside to underwrite rail line improvements, along with improvements to train stations between Pittbsurgh and Harrisburg, the Post-Gazette reported.

“We are excited to move to the next phase with Norfolk Southern and make these important improvements happen as quickly as possible,” Jennie Louwerse, a deputy secretary at the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, said. “The federal infrastructure law plugged a significant hole in our ability to meet these critical freight and passenger needs.”

Work on those improvements can start when PennDOT and Norfolk Southern ink a deal setting out the scope of the project, how freight and passenger trains will safely use the corridor, compensation for the use of Norfolk Southern’s assets, and liability protections, the administration said Friday. The work is expected to take about five years.

“This public-private partnership is the kind of collaboration necessary to maximize Bipartisan Infrastructure Law investments to improve and expand passenger rail service while also strengthening supply chain fluidity,” Federal Railroad Administration Administrator Amit Bose said. “Freight and passenger rail has and can co-exist to move goods and people, resulting in meaningful benefits to local economies and communities.”

Norfolk Southern Executive Vice President McClellan praised the relationship between the state and freight carrier, and said the company “[hopes] to be successful adding a second round-trip passenger train between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh

“Many critical issues must be resolved before this new service becomes a reality, including the preservation of our ability to serve present and future freight customers, which translates directly to jobs and economic development opportunities in Pennsylvania,” McClellan said.

According to state data, the commonwealth has 65 operating railroads, which is the most of any state in the country. It ranks fifth nationwide for total track mileage. In 2017, 193.5 million tons of freight in 4.9 million railcars moved over Pennsylvania’s rail transportation system, according to state data.

“Our railways are vitally important to Southwestern Pennsylvania’s economy—transporting goods to the rest of the Nation and connecting people to the Commonwealth,” U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., said in a statement. “Thanks to the infrastructure law, we’re going to be able to make critical improvements to both freight and passenger rail. This news is a win for travelers and businesses who rely on our railways.”

In a statement, state Senate Transportation Committee Chairperson Wayne Langerholc, R-Cambria, called the pending agreement a “historic milestone for the expansion of the Commonwealth’s multimodal transportation system.

“This tremendous investment in the east-to-west freight corridor will enable an additional Amtrak train service from Pittsburgh to Harrisburg,” Langerholc said, adding that, “Many years of advocacy, bipartisanship and compromise have finally resulted in more Amtrak trips to create jobs, revitalize communities and inspire outdoor activities.”

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.