PennDOT just released a study on how much it would cost to speed up a train trip between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh.
During his campaign, Governor Tom Wolf said he wanted Pennsylvania to install high-speed rail. He envisioned a system that would allow manufacturers to ship goods from Philadelphia to Chicago in three hours.
That won’t be easy to do.
PennDOT just released a study on how much it would cost to speed up a train trip between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh. That trip currently takes 5-1/2 hours on Amtrak.
For a cost of nearly $2 billion, the study reports, you could trim a whopping 10 minutes off the trip in each direction.
What if you wanted to cut a half hour off the trip? That might cost $10 billion.
Why so expensive?
The terrain between Harrisburgh and Pittsburgh has so many hills and curves that trains have to travel slowly, said Erin Waters-Trasatt, a spokeswoman for PennDOT.
“There aren’t many opportunities to pass the slower freight trains that are on that route,” Waters-Trasatt said. “And the infrastructure is older [than between Philadelphia and Harrisburg], so we would need to be able to upgrade the infrastructure itself to go faster.”
Waters-Trasatt said fully electrifying the rail line and putting in a new alignment would cost more than $38 billion, so PennDOT isn’t going to explore that option.
Waters-Trasatt said the agency could not use its existing funding for this project, so it would need to come up with more money. “It is an expensive proposition,” she said.
The agency is asking for public comment on whether speeding up the trains would be worth the investment. (You can share your thoughts by emailing PennDOT at KeystoneWest@planthekeystone.com).
“There’s no definitive timeline on this or if we’re even definitely proceeding with any of these improvements,” Waters-Trasatt said. “This is just kind of a first step here. Here’s the data, what are we going to do with this?”
The study was conducted by PennDOT, the Federal Railroad Administration, and Norfolk Southern, owner of the Keystone West rail line.