Pittsburgh-New York Train Expected to Cost $8M Annually to Operate

Secaucus Junction
An Amtrak train passes through Secaucus Junction in Secaucus, N.J., in February 2016. (Photo by Todd DeFeo/The DeFeo Groupe)

(The Center Square) — Pennsylvania’s travelers and train enthusiasts celebrated last fall when Amtrak announced twice-a-day service from Pittsburgh to New York via Harrisburg.

Expanding service, though, will require a hefty investment to upgrade infrastructure and millions more in operating costs every year.

The service expansion, announced in September after Amtrak and Norfolk Southern worked out an agreement, will require $218 million for capital improvement along the Norfolk Southern-owned corridor, according to PennDOT officials.

After initial upgrades, PennDOT expects the additional roundtrip train journey to cost about $8 million annually, which factors in ridership revenue that offsets some costs.

PennDOT Press Secretary Alexis Campbell called the $8 million “a very preliminary estimate.”

In December, it was announced that Pennsylvania taxpayers won’t bear all the cost for capital upgrades — federal taxpayers will pitch in as well. The Federal Railroad Administration awarded PennDOT $144 million to cover some costs.

“The future improvements and construction will stem from a previously released Norfolk Southern operational feasibility study requested by PennDOT and includes upgraded rail lines, sidings, and necessary communications signals infrastructure,” a PennDOT press release noted in September. “The renegotiated agreement with Norfolk Southern for the infrastructure work needed to support the additional Pennsylvanian ensures that safety and the best interests of the Commonwealth are fully addressed.”

Norfolk Southern will then be responsible for maintaining the corridor.

The Keystone and Pennsylvanian lines, which run between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, registered 1.2 million trips in fiscal year 2022-23. More expansion plans for train travel across the commonwealth are in the works, too.

“Our federally mandated support of Amtrak service continues, and we are doing all we can to advance station projects,” PennDOT Secretary Mike Carroll said during March budget hearings with the General Assembly. “We are also grateful for new federal investments that will allow for the expansion of passenger rail in Pennsylvania.”

Another $500,000 federal grant, with PennDOT matching 20% of the project cost, will identify more intercity projects to develop. Currently, PennDOT is looking at a Scranton-New York train, a Pittsburgh-Philadelphia train, and a Reading-Philadelphia-New York train, with each corridor receiving up to $500,000 for planning and development purposes, Carroll noted in his budget testimony.

“Enhancing passenger rail and restoring these connections will deliver new mobility options for Pennsylvanians, connecting hundreds of thousands of residents and boosting local economies,” he said.

Broader economic trends, however, could mean those projects cost more than they would’ve a few years ago.

“Increased inflation, which has affected every corner of our economy, has not spared PennDOT, and we’ve seen bids come in over 20% higher than anticipated in some cases,” Carroll noted, speaking generally about the transportation department’s projects.

— Anthony Hennen, The Center Square

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The Center Square was launched in May 2019 to fulfill the need for high-quality statehouse and statewide news across the United States. The focus of our work is state- and local-level government and economic reporting. A taxpayer sensibility distinguishes our work from other coverage of state and local issues.