The Huge Cost of Improving Amtrak's Pennsylvanian Even a Little

This is Amtrak between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia: It could cost $13 billion to speed up the tip by 30 minutes, and $16 million to add just one more train.

1 minute read

September 25, 2016, 5:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

Amtrak Pennsylvanian

An Amtrak Pennsylvanian crossing Rockville Bridge over the Susquehanna River near Harrisburg. | David Wilson / Flickr

"It's nearly 7½ hours on 350 miles of rail from Philadelphia to Pennsylvania's big city in the west. It's slower than an hour-and-15-minute flight or five-hour drive, and, at $47, comparable to the cost of tolls and gas on the Pennsylvania Turnpike," according to an article by Jason Laughlin.

Laughlin notes the growing volume of advocacy for more and better service on Amtrak's Pennsylvanian, which transit officials pondered at an August hearing. The idea: to improve the 250-mile Keystone Line, the tracks between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, and adding one more trip a day.

Geography and track rights stand in the way, according to Laughlin. And then there's the brass tacks:

The state expects an additional round-trip to cost $10 million to start, and an additional $6 million each year in operating costs. Track improvements to allow faster trains would run between $1.5 billion and $13 billion, according to a 2015 PennDot report. The most ambitious option, straightening the route and adding an additional track in places, would shorten the trip by just a half-hour in each direction.

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