Report Details Infrastructure Projects Needed on NS Pittsburgh Line for Added Amtrak Service

The infrastructure improvements that will be made to the Pittsburgh Line of Norfolk Southern to accommodate a second New York-Pittsburgh Amtrak train include new tracks and interlockings.

NS and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation have released the results of a traffic study that contains the planned infrastructure projects.

The costs of those projects range from $147 million to $171 million with much of the funding expected to come from federal money provided by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

The projects include a new third track on the Rockville Bridge over the Susquehanna River near Harrisburg, a new 5-mile-long main line track through Rose Yard in Altoona, the addition of three new interlockings (crossovers), and expansion of nine existing interlocking plants.

A new track would also be built through the Pittsburgh Amtrak station to enable freight trains to bypass it.

The report projects that Amtrak departure times from Pittsburgh will be 7 a.m. and noon with trains arriving in Pittsburgh from New York at 3:11 p.m. and 9:01 p.m.

The current schedule of the New York-Pittsburgh Pennsylvanian is to depart Pittsburgh at 7:30 a.m. and arrive at 7:59 p.m.

The NS Pittsburgh Line is among the nation’s most heavily used rail freight lines and has handled as much as 100 million gross ton-miles in recent years.

The route has a top speed for passenger trains of 79 miles per hour but operations are complicated by a 40-mile helper district with 1.8 percent grades over the Allegheny Mountains west of Altoona.

NS currently operates 45 trains a day on the mostly double-track line excluding helper moves.

The Pennsylvanian is the sole Amtrak operation between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg although in the passenger carrier’s early years the route saw three daily roundtrips between those points.

As recently as 2004 the line had two pairs of New York-Pittsburgh Amtrak trains.

An analysis of the report published on the website of Trains magazine noted that the report fails to explain how up until that point NS managed to accommodate twice-daily Amtrak service without unduly hindering its freight operations.

However, one change since the discontinuance of the Three Rivers in 2004 has been NS plans to increase clearances on the Pittsburg Line through the city between the Amtrak station and CP Wing in Wilmerding.

That will add more potential for traffic conflicts with Amtrak trains in downtown Pittsburgh.

Because of clearance restrictions on the Pittsburgh Line, NS routes its approximately 16 double-stacked container trains along the south shore of Monongahela River through Pittsburgh over the Ohio Connecting Bridge, Mon Line and Port Perry Branch.

The report used computer modeling to simulate passenger and freight traffic and assumed that by 2020 NS would be operating six additional manifest freights and one additional westbound intermodal train beyond today’s operations.

 “Norfolk Southern does not have adequate capacity to operate the proposed new and modified Amtrak schedules without degradation to both Amtrak and NS operations,” the report concluded. “To mitigate the added delay to both Amtrak and NS trains, and to protect NS priority (expedited) traffic, additional infrastructure is needed.”

Specific projects and their estimated costs are: Add mainline track at Pittsburgh station, $12.5 million to $18.5 million; add universal three-track interlocking at Milepost 276 west of the Johnstown Amtrak station, $9.5 million to $11.5 million; install universal three-track interlocking at Milepost 257 in Portage, $7.8 million to $9.8 million; add new main track between CP Altoona (Milepost 236.8) to CP Antis (Milepost 232.5), $51.5 million to $61.5 million; upgrading 9 miles of an existing controlled siding between CP Antis and CP Gray in Tyrone, $11.5 million to $14.5 million;  and added 8 miles of new mainline track between the Amtrak station in Harrisburg and CP Banks at Marysville, $50 million to $55 million.

The traffic study and report can be read at https://www.penndot.pa.gov/Documents/Amtrak-Pennsylvanian_Final-Report.pdf

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