Feds sending $15.9 million to upgrade rail signals on Amtrak’s Harrisburg Line

SEPTA. (Photo by Todd DeFeo/The DeFeo Groupe)

(The Center Square) – The federal government is sending more than $15.9 million to upgrade railroad signals between Paoli and Overbrook on the Amtrak-owned Harrisburg Line.

The project will replace an outdated signal system on the route, also known as the Keystone East Line. The upgraded system will improve operations, enable higher operating speeds and allow the bi-directional movement of trains on tracks in the area, officials said.

Amtrak operates its Keystone service trains from 30th Street Station in Philadelphia to Harrisburg over the line, while the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) uses the tracks for its Paoli/Thorndale Line between 30th Street Station and Thorndale.

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) awarded the money to SEPTA, Amtrak and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. The total project is $21.9 million, and SEPTA, PennDOT and Amtrak are contributing the remaining $6 million.

“The signal system upgrades that will be made possible through this grant will significantly improve service reliability for customers traveling on the Paoli/Thorndale Line, SEPTA’s highest ridership Regional Rail Line,” SEPTA General Manager Leslie S. Richards said in an email. “SEPTA is pleased to partner with PennDOT and Amtrak on initiatives to improve operational flexibility and reduce congestion on the Harrisburg Line, and I am grateful to the FRA for its continued support of those efforts.”

SEPTA-owned track is equipped with “bi-directional, NORAC Rule 562-compliant signals,” a SEPTA spokesperson said. Amtrak is installing the technology west of Paoli as part of its signal system modernization.

The money is part of more than $291 million in funding the feds announced for 11 intercity passenger rail projects in nine states and is part of the “Federal-State Partnership State of Good Repair Program.” The FRA also gave $18.2 million to N.J. Transit to rehabilitate the Trenton Transit Center in New Jersey, which SEPTA uses along with N.J. Transit and Amtrak.

“This $291 million in federal grants will upgrade rail infrastructure and enhance railroad safety and reliability in communities across America,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao said in a news release.

Earlier this month, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) awarded SEPTA $1.2 million as part of two grants.

SEPTA received $495,000 from the FTA Helping Obtain Prosperity for Everyone (HOPE) program to plan and design future complete streets concepts for the Grays Avenue corridor. It will also use $742,000 from the FTA Safety Research and Demonstration Program to help fund automated right-of-way worker protection technology.

“These grants will allow SEPTA to advance critical employee safety technology and an important planning initiative, and I applaud the SEPTA team for their efforts to secure this funding,” Richards said in a news release. “While this is a very challenging time, SEPTA is determined to move forward, and we are grateful to the FTA for this assistance.”

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