Pennsylvania's Cross State Train Route Could Be Derailed

  • Sisters Jean Engel and Margaret Ruhl ride the train across Pennsylvania to visit each other. Photo by Ashley Murray

  • Leslie, a woman of the Mennonite faith, looks out the train window. She will transfer from Amtrak's Pennsylvanian line in Pittsburgh as she travels from Lancaster to Northeastern Ohio. Photo by Ashley Murray

  • Pennsylvania farmland rolls by outside the train window along Amtrak's Pennsylvanian line. Photo by Ashley Murray

  • Passengers board Amtrak's Pennsylvanian line at Harrisburg station. Photo by Ashley Murray

February 15, 2013

In his State Of The Union address, President Obama touted the economic benefits of having a sound infrastructure, including high speed trains. Pennsylvania faces losing its Philadelphia to Pittsburgh line if the state does not pick up the nearly $6 million-a year tab starting on October first.  

The Amtrack route from Pittsburgh to New York with stops in Harrisburg and Philadelphia is known as the Pennsylvanian.  The train runs once a day each way. The fate of the route is under discussion by Amtrak and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation or PennDOT.

A 2008 federal act forces Amtrak to transfer the cost of certain routes - including the Pennsylvanian - to the states with rail lines. As a result, PennDOT will have to foot the bill starting this fall. With a backload of infrastructure bills, PennDOT has not yet decided how its funds will be allocated.

On an early morning run, the Pennsylvanian is filled with passengers who are still sleeping or reading. Reporter Ashley Murray rode the rails to find out what people are thinking like Linda Ferguson, a retired elementary school teacher, is traveling on the train with her niece.

“I like to take the train ‘cause it’s less stressful, it’s energy efficient, it costs me less than driving my car,” said Ferguson. “One of the reasons I quit teaching was because they tore out the woods and put a Lowe’s right behind my building.  You know, I thought ‘Gee, I spent 34 years teaching habitat protection.'”

Near a stop in Lewiston, David Holzbaur, a Juniata College student, said the train is convenient.

"It’s right down the street from where the college is," he said.  "I think it’s more economically friendly because instead of having one car, you’re having a train with numerous people on it." 

Brent Burket, another passenger on the train, lives in New York and doesn’t own a car.

“When I first started living in New York 16 years ago, there were two trains that stopped in Huntingdon both ways, one to Chicago, one to Pittsburgh," said Burket.  "And, I forget how long ago, but they cut it down to just the one that goes to Pittsburgh.  And, now that they’re talking about cutting that, it’s just heartbreaking."

Outside of Harrisburg, Jean Engel and her sister, Margaret Ruhl, talk about their plans to travel across the state by train. 

“We’re both strong environmental advocates, so it’s an obvious choice," said Engel.  "We had a line that used to go all the way to Youngstown, Ohio, and they took that one out.  And that was bad enough.  So now I have to get a ride to Pittsburgh at odd hours, but I guess it’s better than the alternative."

“Better than getting picked up in Harrisburg,” Ruhl adds.