Rail ridership up statewide, Harrisburg up 245 percent

Rail ridership in Pennsylvania is up, according a new study from the Brookings Institution.

Philadelphia-area Amtrak ridership grew 26 percent since 1997. But that’s nothing compared to Harrisburg, in the middle of Pennsylvania. Harrisburg grew 245 percent!

Robert Puentes, a senior fellow at Brookings says that some cities on the East Coast just have chemistry.

“These are places between whom there are economic connections. They are the right distance apart making rail travel very attractive and competitive with other major modes,” he said, “and where [traffic] congestion is ubiquitous.”

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The state of Pennsylvania has not sounded happy about new requirements that it chip in more for these shorter routes. Puentes says the additional cost per year pales in comparison to what’s spent on roads. Chipping in $5 million or $6 million to support a rail line, he says, is about the amount needed to repave three miles of a standard, four-lane highway.

Pittsburgh rail growth lagged. Partly, Puentes thinks, that’s because trains don’t run often and because the Chicago to Washington line that goes through Pittsburgh is really long. Long lines aren’t doing as well and aren’t breaking even.

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