Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak Connect US’

Amtrak Pitches New Service in Pennsylvania

September 17, 2021

Amtrak brought its road show to Pennsylvania last week during a virtual round table event designed to drum up political support for federal funding that would enable Amtrak to expand service.

The passenger carrier has proposed expansions in the Keystone state that would bring new service to Scranton, Allentown and Reading, and increased service to Pittsburgh.

Some upgrades would be made to Amtrak’s existing Keystone Service between Philadelphia and Harrisburg.

Amtrak officials said the expanded service could begin in three years but a lot of things would need to fall in place.

Chief among those is Congress approving funding for transportation infrastructure and host railroads agreeing to allow the service.

Amtrak estimates its Pennsylvania expansion plan would attract 1.3 million passengers annually by 2035, with the services contributing $200 million in annual economic impact and $6 billion in incremental economic activity from capital investments in Pennsylvania, based on a projected capital investment needed of $2.7 billion.

Currently, there are two Amtrak services in Pennsylvania funded by the state. The Pennsylvanian between Pittsburgh and New York and the Keystone Service between Harrisburg and Philadelphia handled 1.8 million passengers in fiscal year 2019.

Amtrak has suggested in its Amtrak ConnectUS plan:
    •    New service between Reading – Philadelphia – New York (three daily round trips);
    •    New service between Scranton – New York (three daily round trips);
    •    New service between Allentown – New York (two daily round trips);
    •    Expand Keystone service between Harrisburg – Philadelphia – New York from 12 daily round trips to 17 daily round trips, and reduce trip times by increasing Harrisburg – Philadelphia speeds to 125 mph; and
    •    Expand Pennsylvanian service between Pittsburgh – Philadelphia – New York from one daily round trip to two daily round trips, with one round trip extended to Cleveland.

Participating in the round table event were Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, Amtrak President Stephen Gardner, Amtrak CEO William Flynn, U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, Allentown Deputy Mayor Leonard Lightner, Scranton Mayor Paige Cognetti, and Greater Reading Chamber Alliance President and CEO Jim Gerlach.

Amtrak to Help Develop NYC-Scranton Route

July 22, 2021

An agreement has been reached between Amtrak and the Pennsylvania Northeast Railroad Authority to work toward the establishment of intercity rail passenger service between New York City and Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Amtrak said in a news release that it would provide infrastructure assessment and ridership and revenue forecasting estimates of equipment needs and other analysis of the proposed service.

The project review is expected to take about a year to complete and cost $400,000.

The New York-Scranton route was among several new corridors identified by the Amtrak Connect US plan to be developed by 2035.

The route would use the Lackawanna Cut-Off, a dormant dormant right of way owned by the states of New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

The proposed service would be three daily round trips that would connect with New Jersey Transit’s Morristown Line at SWIFT Interlocking (Kearny Connection), then on to Scranton via a rebuilt Lackawanna Cut-Off through a connection with the Morristown Line at Port Morris Junction. 

NJT Morristown Line service currently ends at Hackettstown although plans are in place to develop branch line service from Port Morris to Andover Township.

Other work that needs to be completed includes restoring the 1,024-foot Roseville Tunnel located about six miles west of Port Morris Junction.

Amtrak trains to Scranton would require new dual-power locomotives because the segment between Scranton and the Morristown Line will not be electrified.

Passenger trains last used the Lackawanna Cut-off in 1970. Conrail ended freight service there in 1978 and removed the tracks in 1984.

The route is named for the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western.

Estimates of the cost of restoring track between the Roseville Tunnel and Pennsylvania are around $300 million with most of that needed to repair the Hainesburg Viaduct and Delaware River Viaduct.

Advocates of the project hope to obtain funding from an infrastructure bill now being considered by Congress.

Amtrak Seeks $75B to Develop New Service

May 28, 2021

Amtrak elaborated this week on its “Connect US” plan, which calls for a 15-year $75 billion federal investment to add 39 new routes and enhance service on 25 other routes.

Calling the plan “Corridor Vision,” Amtrak said it would lead to the carrier providing intercity rail passenger service in 47 of the 48 contiguous states and new stations in more than half of those states.

If implemented, the network expansion would generate $8 billion in annual economic benefits by 2035 and an additional $195 billion in economic activity resulting from capital projects during the same period.

In a letter to Congress, Amtrak CEO William Flynn outlined details of the plan, many of which have already been reported.

This includes Amtrak paying all initial costs for new or improved service but with states eventually assuming responsibility for those costs.

Amtrak proposed to pay upfront the estimated cost for stations, rail cars, locomotives, and infrastructure.

Amtrak also is seeking a dedicated funding source, the Passenger Rail Trust Fund, and called for passage of the Rail Passenger Fairness Act, which would enhance Amtrak’s ability to enforce its right of operating preference over freight trains.

In an effort to prevent host railroads from stalling the launch of new routes, Amtrak wants Congress to clarify existing law that provides Amtrak with access to host railroads.

“Too often host railroads resist and stall any efforts to expand service,” Flynn wrote.

In a statement issued with a news release, Flynn said new and improved rail service has the ability to change how Americans move while providing cleaner air, reducing highway congestion and providing a more connected country.

Details of the Connect US plan are contained in a report Amtrak issued titled Amtrak’s Vision for Improving Transportation Across America.

Among the cities that would receive new or improved service are Houston, Atlanta, Cincinnati, Las Vegas, Nashville, Columbus, Phoenix, and Wichita.

Amtrak said the added service could increase its ridership by 20 million riders annually.

Amtrak said the plan is not a final proposal and does not lay out a specific order or priority ranking for route development.

It said many factors, including available funding levels, post-pandemic travel demand, state interest, host railroad conditions, and equipment availability, will play a role in determining final implementation plans for the Connect US program.

If a corridor is not mentioned in the plan, Amtrak said that doesn’t mean it opposes development of that service.

The passenger carrier cautioned that just because a corridor is shown in its plan doesn’t mean it is certain to be implemented.

“The corridors proposed here are intended to be additive to Amtrak’s pre-COVID-19 route network,” Amtrak said.

Amtrak expects to implement its corridor services over a 15-year period.

The Amtrak report also sought to downplay the idea that these will be high-speed routes.

“While high speed rail service may be right for certain corridors, current state-supported Amtrak services such as the Pacific Surfliner and the Hiawatha show that intercity passenger rail can be successful with conventional operating speeds,” Amtrak said.

“As corridors which begin at conventional speeds build ridership and demand, they can be considered for future conversion to high speed service.”

Funding for Connect US would come from a variety of sources, including direct federal funding to Amtrak for corridor development and operation, and discretionary grants available to states, Amtrak and others for corridor development, the report said.

“This vision does not propose to replace existing grant programs. Rather, it would augment them with dedicated and reliable funding from an intercity passenger rail trust fund … or other source needed to execute on a long-term vision.”

Amtrak Says 3C+D Could Start in 2 Years

May 20, 2021

Amtrak service between Cleveland and Cincinnati via Columbus and Dayton could be up and running in as little as two years, company executives said this week.

Amtrak Chairman William Flynn and President Steven Gardner joined several Ohio elected and civic officials in an online roundtable designed to build support for the proposed service.

However, getting the service out of the station hinges on Congress appropriating the billions the passenger carrier is seeking to develop a series of new corridors across the country.

Gardner also noted that Amtrak needs to negotiate agreements with the host railroads whose tracks it will use on the 250-mile route.

“We believe we could start initial service, maybe one round-trip or a few, without much initial investment, using current track speeds,” Gardner said. “We believe we could get started here in hopefully what would be a relatively short period of a couple of years.”

In the meantime, what was once called the 3C corridor is now being branded as the 3C+D route to include Dayton in the nomenclature.

Garnder said the length of the route is is the sweet spot for successful intercity passenger rail service.

“This service is the type of service we should have for major cities, and for an important state like Ohio,” he said. “Frankly, it should have happened a long time ago.”

The 3C+D corridor is part of an ambitious plan by Amtrak to expand intercity service.

Aside from the Cleveland-Cincinnati route, Amtrak has proposed creating additional service on existing routes through Cleveland to Detroit and Buffalo.

The passenger carrier would front the money to be used for capital costs to develop the routes and initially pay the operating costs of the trains.

But state and local governments would be expected to assume operating costs on a sliding scale with Amtrak’s share declining until states would pay all of the operating costs.

Although the proposed 3C+D service received endorsements from various mayors who joined the call, Ohio Gov. Michael DeWine has been noncommittal about it.

Last month DeWine said he was reserving judgment on the plan until he could learn more about it, including its potential cost to the state.

Although neither DeWine nor a representative of the Ohio Department of Transportation participated in this week’s online roundtable, Gardner said Amtrak is “anxious to work with the state to look at what that partnership could be and put together a model that makes sense for Ohio.”

During the roundtable, Amtrak said the3C+D route would have stations in Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and Cincinnati as well as at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, Crestline, Delaware, Springfield and Sharonville.

Service is expected to be three round-trips per day with additional trips being added as ridership grows.

The route is expected to draw as many as 500,000 passengers annually and provide an economic impact of $130 million.

The Cleveland-Cincinnati travel time would be about 5.5 hours, but track improvements could cut that to 4 hours and 55 minutes.

Gardner said that a train does not need to be faster than car travel, but does need to be competitive. “The time on the train is productive time, which is not the same as driving time,” he said. “You can work, you can have access to wi-fi, you can socialize, you can walk around. It’s a much more comfortable and productive method,” he said.

Cleveland has the most current Amtrak service of the cities in the 3C+D corridor being served by the Chicago-Washington Capitol Limited and the Chicago-New York/Boston Lake Shore Limited.

Trains on both of those routes, though are scheduled to pass through Cleveland between midnight and 6 a.m.

Cincinnati has a similar situation with the Chicago-New York Cardinal. Dayton and Columbus have lacked Amtrak service since the Oct. 1, 1979, discontinuance of the New York-Kansas City National Limited.

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson was one of the participants in the roundtable and gave the 3C+D a hearty endorsement.

“We simply don’t have the luxury of choosing not to do this,” he said. “It is about positioning Ohio for the future. It’s not a question of rural or urban or suburban or Democrat or Republican. It’s about do we as Ohioans want to be competitive in the world, in this nation?”

Also participating in the roundtable were Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley; Crestline Mayor Linda Horning-Pitt, and William Murdock, the executive director of the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission.

Columbus is the second-largest metro area in the country without Amtrak service. Phoenix is the largest. 

“Not being in that network puts us at a disadvantage,” Murdock said. 

“Businesses and residents are clamoring for this,” he said. “We know the community is behind it. Investing in Ohio, it makes a lot of sense. It’s grounded not just in major cities, it’s really important to rural areas and smaller metros.”

Murdock said when young people arrive in Columbus one of the first questions they ask is, “Where’s the train stop?”

MORPC released 30 letters of support from community leaders who want expanded Amtrak service in Ohio.

Some of the funding Amtrak hopes to land to develop the 3C+D route would come from the $80 billion earmarked for Amtrak by President Joseph Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure proposal.

However, other funding would be contained in a surface transportation bill Congress is expected to take up later this year.

That bill, though, would merely authorize spending. Other legislation would need to be adopted to appropriate federal funding for Amtrak expansion.

The 3C corridor has been the subject of numerous studies and failed attempts to launch service.

The most recent occurred 11 years ago when the state received a $400 million grant to start the route.

However, John Kasich campaigned for governor on a pledge to refuse the funding, which he made good on after being elected in 2010.

Before that ODOT proposed a Cleveland-Columbus service during a rebuilding of Interstate 71. That also failed to launch.

During the roundtable, Amtrak CEO Flynn said the carrier has spent the past three years developing a strategy to expand service.

Known as Connect US, the expansion would touch up to 160 communities in 25 states on more than 30 routes It would be developed over the next 15 years.

Also included in the proposal is additional service between Cincinnati and Chicago via Indianapolis. That route would have an extension from Indianapolis to Louisville, Kentucky.

Although not part of the Amtrak Connect US network, studies are underway of a route between Chicago and Pittsburgh via Columbus.

Although no ODOT officials joined this week’s roundtable, Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the passenger carrier has spoken with ODOT and Ohio Rail Development Commission members.

Gardner acknowledged said that much work needs to be done to bring the 3C+D service to fruition.

“These are not insurmountable challenges,” he said.