The train station in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (Getty Images)
By Ryan Deto
President Joe Biden signed the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill into law on Monday, setting the stage for the eventual funneling federal funds to a bevy of infrastructure projects across the country. Pennsylvania is due to get money for roads, bridges, public transit, broadband, and more. For Pittsburgh, it could mean funding busway extensions, new highway interchanges, and sewage and stormwater improvements.
But another big winner in the bill is Amtrak. The nationwide rail carrier is set to receive $66 billion in funding that will go to fleet acquisition, state grants, rail projects, and improvements across the Amtrak system, Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn told NBC News.
What that means for Pennsylvania is likely to be worked out over time, as agreements have to be reached with private rail companies and likely additional state funding should be allocated.
However, Amtrak already has provided a plan for expansion in case the infrastructure bill was passed. And Amtrak officials have said the funding allocated should be enough to move forward with these plans.
And Pennsylvania is a clear winner in that Amtrak proposal. The Keystone State could see 15 new train round trips under Amtrak’s 2035 Vision Plan, and that includes three new routes serving cities in Eastern Pennsylvania, as well as additional trips to and from Pittsburgh.
The 15 additional train round trips in Pennsylvania as proposed by Amtrak are:
- 1 new round trip between Pittsburgh and New York City, which includes an extension to Cleveland
- 1 new round trip between Cleveland and Buffalo, that would travel through Erie
- 3 new round trips between Scranton and NYC
- 3 new round trips between Reading and Philadelphia
- 2 new round trips between Allentown and NYC
- 5 new round trips between Harrisburg and NYC on the Keystone Service
For Pittsburgh, this would add intercity service to Cleveland that leaves and arrives at a reasonable hour. Currently, rail travel between the two Rust Belt cities is done between midnight and 5 a.m.
Adding another round trip between Pittsburgh and New York City could also provide options for commuters in Westmoreland or Cambria counties to travel by rail into Pittsburgh. Currently, the Pennsylvanian train arrives in Pittsburgh at 8 p.m. and leaves for Harrisburg at 7:30 a.m.
But Eastern Pennsylvania is the real winner in the Amtrak proposal. Three new lines have been proposed that would expand train service into Scranton, Allentown, and Reading.
Final alignments are not complete, but the proposal says the Scranton line will connect the Northeastern Pennsylvania city, which is the birthplace of President Biden, to New York City. The route includes stops in Tobyhanna, Mt. Pocono, and East Stroudsburg before entering New Jersey.
The proposed Allentown line would connect the Lehigh Valley city, now the third-largest in the state, to New York City, and includes stops in Bethlehem and Easton before entering New Jersey.
A line from Reading is proposed to connect to Philadelphia (with eventual passage to New York City) and proposed stops include Pottstown, Phoenixville, King of Prussia, and Norristown.
Erie will see additional round-trip traveling from Cleveland to Buffalo. This route doesn’t have any additional stops in Pennsylvania but does add stops in Ashtabula, Ohio, and Westfield, N.Y.
The proposal, which still has many details to work out, has garnered support from Pennsylvania politicians State Reps. Joe Ciresi, D-Montgomery, and Manuel Guzman, D-Berks. who represent areas that would get additional train service under the proposal. They praised the plan after the infrastructure bill passed the U.S. House on Nov. 10.
Gov. Tom Wolf met and spoke with Amtrak officials on Sept. 10 and he said the proposed expansion will “improve equity, accessibility, and reliability in transportation” for the commonwealth. He also called on the state government to match the federal response.
“We need state-level transportation solutions to match this federal leadership so we can build and sustain this vision,” Wolf said in a September statement. “I am pleased to support this plan which would expand services to many more Pennsylvanians, strengthen local businesses, the regional economy, and the commonwealth as a whole.”
Ryan Deto is a reporter for Pittsburgh City Paper, where this story first appeared.
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