Train travel may become more difficult in the near future for some Pennsylvanians and students in the central Pennsylvania area, as the Amtrak station in Lewistown could be subject to close, as well as all other stations between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, Lewistown Mayor Deborah Bargo said.
The Lewistown train station is about 36 miles away from Penn State, compared to other Amtrak stations such as Huntingdon, which is 45 miles away, or Harrisburg, which is 88 miles.
These possible closures are due to a federal law passed in 2008, the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act, which included a section restricting federal funding for all train lines that are less than 750 miles long, Bargo said. This means that Pennsylvania would have to supply the revenue to keep these train lines in service, Bargo said.
With Gov. Tom Corbett’s recent cuts to the state budget, citizens and government officials in Western Pennsylvania fear that the state will choose to shut down all stations between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, a portion of the “Pennsylvanian” line, Amtrak spokesperson Craig Schulz said. The reasoning for the possible closure of these stations is because of the lower passenger numbers compared to other train routes in the state such as the Keystone route, a line from Harrisburg to Philadelphia to New York City, Schulz said.
Bargo is holding a rally to raise support for the train station, which is to take place at 11 a.m. March 21 at the Lewistown train station, 150 Helen St., Lewistown, Bargo said.
“We can’t let this happen, we’re working hard to try and save it,” Bargo said.
Bargo also said that the Penn State students and citizens of Lewistown and Juniata County would be affected by a shut down of railroad service. In addition to residents being inconvenienced, the economy in central Pennsylvania could be jeopardized, Bargo said.
“Trying to promote businesses to come into the area will be harder without railway transportation,” Bargo said.
Schulz said that Amtrak does not wish to suspend service, but it is ultimately up to the state whether those officials would like to fund the Western Pennsylvania railway line and stations.
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation will be the ultimate decision-making body on the issue of the Western Pennsylvania train stations, Erin Waters-Trasatt, a spokeswoman from PennDot, said.
“We need to reach a cost that is acceptable for the state due to low frequency, and it is Amtrak’s decision on what to do with the line based on the agreed upon cost,” Waters-Trasatt said. “Our intent is not to cut service, but there are unique challenges in Western Pennsylvania because there are much fewer passengers.”
Waters-Trasatt said that PennDOT has been working with Amtrak about this issue since the PRIIA law was passed in 2008. Amtrak has been negotiating with states across the country that are dealing with the same issues being addressed in Western Pennsylvania, Waters-Trasatt said.
A decision should be made by the state of Pennsylvania by October 2013, when section 209 of the PRIIA law is set to go into effect, Waters-Trasatt.