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March 25, 2013 | By | Posted in Legislature

Harrisburg-to-Pittsburgh rail to carry $3.8 million in costs annually

By Eric Boehm | PA Independent

HARRISBURG – Passenger rail service in western Pennsylvania will continue as long as lawmakers approve a transportation funding plan, Gov. Tom Corbett announced last week.

The Corbett administration reached a deal with the federal government requiring Pennsylvania to pay $3.8 million annually to maintain Amtrak service between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh.The federal government had asked the state to pay as much as $6 million annually to make up for planned reductions in federal rail subsidies.

In a statement, Corbett said the funding could be met if lawmakers approved his transportation funding plan. Corbett’s proposal calls for $1.8 billion in new revenue, with most of the cash coming from uncapping a tax paid on the wholesale purchase of gasoline.

“It is important that the state Legislature act this spring to advance my transportation plan so we can meet this funding need,” Corbett said of the Amtrak line.

The Pennsylvanian line has one train in each direction each day and has stops in Altoona, Johnstown, Greensburg and elsewhere.

The state had been asked to pay $6 million to keep the line running, which would work out to a subsidy of $27 per rider.

At the $3.8 million level, the state’s taxpayers will be picking up about $17 of the cost of each rider on the line.

The windy 444-mile trip from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh — it’s less than half that by car — had 212,000 riders in 2012, a 32.5 percent increase since 1991, according to a recent Brookings Institute report. But the line lost more than $7 million in 2011, the most recent year for which data is available.

Eric Montarti, a senior policy analyst at the Allegheny Institute, a free-market think tank in Pittsburgh, said the lower cost for state taxpayers was better, but he suggested the government weigh the costs and benefits of Amtrak service for relatively few users.

“I think we have to ask if that is really the proper role for the taxpayers,” he said. “Is that something we should be subsidizing?”

State Rep. Dick Hess, R-Bedford, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said he was pleased to hear about the agreement between the state and the federal government. His district lies along the line in western Pennsylvania.

“Many residents in my district and in the region, in addition to the Philadelphia and Harrisburg areas, have been calling for this service to be preserved, and they were heard,” Hess said in a statement.

The House Transportation Committee will hold a hearing April 10 in Harrisburg to examine the future viability of the Harrisburg-to-Pittsburgh rail line.

Boehm can be reached at Eric@PAIndependent.com and follow @PAIndependent on Twitter for more.

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Melissa Daniels is a reporter for PA Independent. She can be reached at 717-350-0962 or Melissa@PAIndependent.com

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