PENNSYLVANIA (WTAJ) – Governor Tom Wolf announced Monday that the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) and Norfolk Southern Corporation (NS) have reached an agreement to expand passenger rail access in western Pennsylvania.

The milestone follows a February announcement that the parties would jointly examine opportunities to eliminate chokepoints and improve Pennsylvania’s rail system to better permit freight and passenger trains to operate together.

“Rail is critical in Pennsylvania and I’m pleased that we’re moving quickly to deliver these long-needed improvements,” Wolf said. “This is another example of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and our strong state-funding position ensuring we can bring more mobility and economic benefits to these communities.”

Currently, the Pennsylvanian Amtrak service travels roundtrip between New York City and Pittsburgh via Harrisburg once daily. The agreement between Norfolk Southern and PennDOT would increase those Pennsylvanian passenger services to twice a day. Eastbound service would depart Pittsburgh at 7:00 AM and 12:30 PM and westbound service would depart Harrisburg at 9:41 AM and 4:40 PM.

“Today’s agreement moves us one step closer to increased passenger service. This has been a top legislative priority of mine since being elected to the Senate and is the culmination of broad bipartisan work across many levels. The agreement will provide for the construction of upgraded rail lines, passenger platforms and other critical improvements. I look forward to the day in the very near future when Western Pennsylvanians will have additional trains.” Sen. Wayne Langerholc, Jr. (R-35), chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee said.

To support these expanded passenger operations, the commonwealth will invest more than $200 million in infrastructure and safety improvements that will be constructed and maintained by Norfolk Southern. The future improvements include upgraded rail lines, passenger platforms, sidings, and necessary communications signals infrastructure. 

“This major state funding initiative will bring needed infrastructure and safety investments to existing rail lines, potentially allowing for more freight and passenger service to areas like Johnstown and Cambria County,” state Rep. Frank Burns said. “The railroad has a rich history in our region, and I’m hopeful this major investment will keep that history going forward – and offer new opportunities for businesses and industry in our region.”

PennDOT will redirect state Multimodal Transportation Fund dollars to fund the project, as part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’s (BIL) funding is intended to replace train sets on the Amtrak passenger-rail network. PennDOT had been setting aside funding to meet requirements from a 2008 federal law for Pennsylvania’s contribution toward train set costs. Additionally, PennDOT anticipates applying for additional BIL funds to support station and platform improvements along the route.

Over the past four months, PennDOT and Norfolk Southern collaborated to develop the operating agreement framework and finalized the improvements necessary to increase passenger-rail service on the Norfolk Southern-owned corridor between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh. The parties anticipate a final definitive agreement to be developed by the end of 2022. Construction can begin after the definitive agreement is finalized.

“This is an excellent example of the positive solutions that government and business can engineer by working side-by-side toward the same goal. Together, we are able to expand passenger rail access, while preserving a critical artery of our nation’s supply chain. This truly is a model for future public-private rail agreements,” Norfolk Southern Chief Strategy Officer Mike McClellan said.

The Pennsylvanian is a key passenger rail route connecting the citizens of the Keystone State from east to west. The Pennsylvanian travels Norfolk Southern’s Pittsburgh Line, part of the Premier Corridor, the main route for intermodal traffic moving between Chicago and metropolitan New York. It is one of the busiest and fastest links on Norfolk Southern’s network, connecting with major terminals in Toledo, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg and the Lehigh Valley.

In a typical year, more than half of Norfolk Southern’s time-sensitive parcel and less-than-truckload shipments use the route. The company’s trains deliver or pick up freight at 140-plus stations along the corridor, serving more than 800 customers.

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More information can on PennDOT’s efforts to improve intercity passenger rail in Pennsylvania is available on the Plan the Keystone website.