It’s easy to say "cut spending" and then not offer suggestions to do so. It's a little more difficult to make decisions that might prove unpopular. That said, it's hard to justify the continued drain on state taxpayers that comes with Amtrak's Harrisburg-to-Pittsburgh route.
The line, relative to the entire state budget, is akin to chump change: $5.7 million in taxpayer money would go to continuing the relatively unpopular service. But cuts like that add up and, eventually, will benefit taxpayers.
It takes Amtrak a painful 5 hours, 29 minutes, to make a trip most drivers can handle two hours quicker than that. Ridership on the line, likely because of the slow, circuitous route the train takes to get to Pittsburgh, pales in comparison to the high-speed, extremely popular Harrisburg-to-Philadelphia route.
But it does mean the elimination of Amtrak service to Greensburg, Latrobe, Johnstown, Altoona, Tyrone, Huntingdon and Lewistown. The only Amtrak service in Pittsburgh left standing would be a singular route connecting the city to Chicago and Buffalo. And for those without access to their own vehicles, it means one less option for traveling between the two cities. Instead of traveling from New York City to Pittsburgh on one train, for example, travelers will have to disembark at Harrisburg and catch a bus to continue their journey west.
PennDOT already has made the case that maintaining the route is unlikely.
“If you look purely at that segment, it is hard to justify,” PennDOT spokeswoman Erin Waters-Trasatt recently told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Rail experts say that the line could prove profitable and popular one day, but getting there would require tens or hundreds of millions of dollars — some subsidized at the federal level, to be sure, but some on the backs of Pennsylvania taxpayers — to realign and straighten the route to allow for high-speed access.
If the state’s going to spend money on rail transportation, it should do so where money would be better spent. Continuing to upgrade the Harrisburg-to-Philadelphia line, or investing with NJ Transit on plans to bring commuter rail to the Scranton area, seem more palpable than maintaining money-losing service to Pittsburgh.