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Improving rail passenger service in Western Pennsylvania has been the subject of multiple studies since 2005. Advocacy groups in the Pittsburgh region have attempted to get additional frequencies of passenger train service in the corridor stretching from Pittsburgh to Latrobe and Greensburg, continuing on to Johnstown and Altoona. Their efforts have not yielded any tangible results.
At an August 2019 Pennsylvania House of Representatives Transportation Committee hearing, it became apparent that all the parties were talking past each other, and that with each passing study and each passing hearing, the level of frustration has only intensified. Yet, to me it was apparent that there were options that were either not being considered or being ignored, deliberately or inadvertently.
Because of my involvement with the Transportation Committee since 2015, attempting to educate it about railroad-related issues in Pennsylvania, I started on “a clean sheet of paper” to ferret out a realistic set of solutions. Surprisingly, the exercise took me from Pittsburgh back to Philadelphia to stake out an initial proposal to provide an incremental solution for the people in the western part of the state.
The solutions for improving rail passenger opportunities for the Pittsburgh region are dependent upon examining the Commonwealth’s financial obligations and commitments to Amtrak for service on the Harrisburg Line, which runs between Philadelphia and Harrisburg.
Here are the facts:
Therefore, the initial step in crafting a solution in the Pittsburgh region is to divorce Amtrak by having the USDOT cede the Harrisburg Line to the Commonwealth and let SEPTA provide the existing Keystone service. Under such a plan, Pennsylvania cuts out the “middleman”—Amtrak—and the Commonwealth’s taxpayers get far better value for every dollar they spend on passenger rail service. Pennsylvania taxpayers and passenger rail riders win. As for the existing Keystone service between Philadelphia and New York, Amtrak would continue to operate it as NEC Northeast Regional trains.
Amtrak Pennsylvanian at Bryn Mawr, Pa. Wikipedia photo
Focusing on Pittsburgh once Amtrak is no longer operating Keystone service on the Harrisburg Line, the following sets forth a simple solution to create a new commuter rail service between Pittsburgh and Johnstown.
Amtrak President and CEO Richard Anderson.
I also need to point out the failings of Amtrak’s current senior executive management and Board of Directors, neither of which is focused on providing the quality of rail passenger service mandated by Congress. Amtrak has adopted a murky agenda, with little or no oversight from Congress. Its financial accounting is nothing more than smoke and mirrors, as it does not conform to GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles).
The current composition of Amtrak’s Board of Directors does not include a single person with actual railroad experience, and as such contradicts the requirements imposed by Congress to be appointed. These requirements have been ignored by a succession of U.S. Presidents, as well as by the U.S. Senate, which must confirm the appointments. Even more telling is the fact that not one member of Amtrak’s current senior executive management team has any bona fide railroad experience.
Amtrak is running on autopilot, and states such as Pennsylvania are paying the bills and getting shortchanged in the process. Amtrak’s current management has also defied a Congressional mandate with regard to excursion service, which has caused significant harm to rural parts of the state that were the beneficiaries of this unique service.
The State Legislature needs to inform the Commonwealth’s U.S. Congressional delegation of the financial charade currently being conducted by Amtrak under the guise of PRIIA, and the smoke-and-mirrors accounting methodology currently in place that is used to extract hundreds of millions of dollars from states and local authorities paying for passenger rail transportation. Pennsylvania, though not alone as a victim, is in a unique position to extricate itself from this quagmire, provided the Commonwealth can “light a fire” and motivate those in Washington D.C. who represent its citizens, to change things.
Norfolk Southern, which pays for operating rights on the Harrisburg Line, and owns, maintains and pays taxes on the heavily utilized Harrisburg-Pittsburgh main line, needs to be a part of the solution.
This solution for Pennsylvania is similar to what was done in California with the Altamont Corridor Express service, which is managed by the San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission, with operations contracted to Herzog Transit Services.
A graduate of Penn
State’s College of Liberal Arts (A&L 1961) and College of Engineering (IE
1965), Bennett Levin is a retired Professional Engineer, having been at one
time registered in more than 30 states. In 1967 he formed his own engineering
firm and had a nationwide practice providing what was then traditional
Mechanical and Electrical Engineering Services to Architects, Corporate Clients
and Developers. Along the way he was awarded several patents. In 1992, Levin
became the City of Philadelphia’s Commissioner of Licenses and Inspections
after having served as a member of the City’s Board of Building Standards for
20 years. He has testified on multiple occasions before committees of the
United States House of Representatives and the Pennsylvania House of
Representatives. Levin has served as a member of the Federal Railroad
Administration Railroad Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC) and its Passenger
Service Safety Standards Committee. He was President to the American
Association of Private Railroad Car owners in the early 1990s, and also was
President of the Pennsylvania Railroad Technical and Historical Society. He
currently serves on the Board of the Altoona Railroaders Memorial Museum, and
the Advisory Board of the Friends of the Railroad Museum of the State of
Pennsylvania. Levin’s Juniata Terminal Company, located in Philadelphia, is in
the business of leasing locomotives and restoring railroad equipment from a
bygone era. Juniata has organized and operated, pro-bono, special trains taking
wounded servicemen and women from Walter Reed and Bethesda Military Hospitals
to Philadelphia’s Army-Navy football game, as well as trains that benefited
charities such as Chicagoland Ronald McDonald Houses, and Capital Region and
Philadelphia Area Toys for Tots operations, among others. Levin has as a served
as a Trustee of the Army War College Foundation in Carlisle, Pa.
The post Two Tickets to Pittsburgh—And Back appeared first on Railway Age.
This article first appeared on www.railwayage.com
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