Testifiers detail opportunities for passenger rail expansion in Pennsylvania

House Majority Policy Committee gathers input from transportation officials and advocates

SCRANTON, Aug. 30 — Pennsylvania has the potential for great opportunities to expand passenger rail services across the commonwealth and help relieve traffic congestion on roadways with more all-weather travel options. Testifiers detailed potential projects for the House Majority Policy Committee during a hearing Wednesday morning to discuss the importance of passenger rail in Pennsylvania, and what leaders can do to get the commonwealth back on track.

“What was once the world standard, Pennsylvania’s passenger rail service is now in serious need of upgrades and expansion. We know that the financial burdens to do so can be significant, but the passage of the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will help alleviate those costs and allow us to expand rail lines across the state,” said Rep. Bridget Kosierowski (D-Lackawanna). “The testimony we heard today was promising, and I’m hopeful the expansion opportunities we were told about will soon come to fruition.”

Wednesday’s hearing was hosted by Kosierowski and Rep. Kyle Donahue (D-Lackawanna) at the Electric City Trolley Museum in Scranton. It featured testimony from Secretary Mike Carroll of the Pennsylvania Dept. of Transportation, officials from Amtrak and the PA Northeast Rail Authority, and an economic specialist from U.S. Congressman Matthew Cartwright’s office.

“We heard some exciting and encouraging information from our testifiers today. Expanding rail services in Pennsylvania will lead to economic growth, an increase in tourism, and more convenient travel for our friends and neighbors,” said Donahue. “It’s time for the commonwealth to make passenger rail a higher priority once again. It’s time to return to rail.”

Amtrak’s Director of Network Development-East Joe Barr testified to the committee about the rail company’s opportunities to expand rail service in Pennsylvania. Barr pointed to the Federal Railroad Administration’s Corridor Identification and Development (CID) program, which is intended to provide applicants with initial funding for extending rail service to new destinations and creating entirely new services. Barr told members there has been high interest generated in this program in Pennsylvania.

“We know that applications have been submitted for additional service on Amtrak’s Pennsylvanian route connecting Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, as well as new service connecting Scranton to New York City, and new service connecting Reading to Philadelphia,” said Barr. “The FRA indicated that they intend to announce the CID project selections in November, so we will soon know which projects have been picked to move forward.”

The PA Northeast Rail Authority submitted one of those applications, hoping to complete the Passenger Rail Restoration Project, which would connect Scranton, the Pocono region, Northeastern Pennsylvania, and New York City (Penn Station). Testifiers also offered recommendations to lawmakers on how they can continue to support passenger rail in Pennsylvania, including advocating for federal funding and earmarking state funding for the industry.

“Today is a great example of why these policy hearings are so important. The input and information we gathered from these transportation officials and rail industry advocates is vital to bolstering passenger rail and connecting more cities and more people in Pennsylvania and surrounding states,” said House Majority Policy Committee Chairman Ryan Bizzarro. “I look forward to taking what we learned today and turning it into action that will benefit Pennsylvanians.”

Testimony, photos, and more information from this hearing and other House Majority Policy Committee hearings can be found at pahouse.com/policy.