A standing room only crowd at a Pennsylvania House Transportation Committee hearing is proof that the topic of increasing passenger rail service in western Pennsylvania is a hot one.
That was the scene at the Altoona Railroaders Memorial Museum, where eight state representatives talked about the possibility of expanding service between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg. A 2014 study revealed the cost of such expansion would be huge—up to $3.7 billion. Not included in the price tag are right-of-way costs, environmental remediation and compensation to Norfolk Southern, which owns the track. State officials are working with Norfolk Southern, which is open to passenger rail on its line, to come up with a possible remedy.
Norfolk Southern, however, says inserting passenger rail service on its line must not interfere with freight schedules, and admits the move will be a complicated one. Currently there are 40 to 60 freight trains a day running the Pittsburgh to Harrisburg line, so a separate track might have to be constructed for passenger trains. The Pennsylvania DOT is working with Norfolk Southern with a possible schedule and an estimate on the capital costs, but the process could take up to a year.
The demand is there. Pittsburgh is expected to have thousands of job openings over the next few years, and passenger rail expansion could help people from Greensburg, Latrobe, Johnstown and Altoona reach those jobs. Officials also believe passenger train expansion would help the local economy.
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