On October 13, Pennsylvania State Representative Lloyd Smucker (PA-11) announced the introduction of H.R. 8389, the Keystone Line for the Commonwealth Act. The legislation would require Amtrak to transfer ownership of the Keystone East Line and certain stations along that line to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for management by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT).
“As a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, I have consistently been disappointed by the National Railroad Passenger Corporation’s (Amtrak) responsiveness and management of our local rail line. I firmly believe that the closer a government entity is to those it serves, the more accountable it must be. That is certainly the case with Amtrak’s operation of the Keystone East Line. Renovation and repair projects are consistently delayed and over budget and revenue generated on the line is sent out of the Commonwealth to other states along the Northeast Corridor,” said Rep. Lloyd Smucker.
“Additionally, at a recent committee hearing, Amtrak’s president was unable to answer whether all stations on the line are ADA compliant. Not a promising sign. My legislation to reorganize the rail line under PennDOT’s management will fix these ever-present issues all the while improving service and giving riders the type of commuter service they’ve been seeking,” said Smucker.
The Keystone East Line is one of Amtrak’s state-supported rail lines that runs wholly within Pennsylvania. The line’s operations are heavily subsidized by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, to the tune of approximately $100 million annually. The Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (PRIIA) required that certain routes, like the Keystone East Line, be funded directly by the States.
This line, which Amtrak operates in Pennsylvania between Harrisburg, PA and Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station, contains 12 stations in Pennsylvania. The Southeast Pennsylvania Transit Authority, or SEPTA, also operates its Paoli-Thorndale Commuter Rail service along the Keystone line. Where SEPTA operates on the Keystone and Northeast Corridor Spine, it is the primary user of those lines.
“By granting Pennsylvania ownership of the Keystone Line, we can provide greater local control, accountability, and expand ridership opportunities. Pennsylvania has made enormous investments into the Keystone Line, without managerial control. PennDOT and SEPTA are the agencies most directly accountable to the taxpayers that fund the Keystone East Line. Transferring this line would ensure that the residents of my congressional district and of south-central Pennsylvania are receiving quality public transportation,” said Smucker.
“SEPTA is grateful for Congressman Smucker’s commitment to improving commuter and intercity passenger rail service in Pennsylvania,” said SEPTA General Manager Leslie S. Richards. “This bill would bring control of the Keystone East Line to the state level — opening up opportunities for SEPTA also to improve service on the Paoli-Thorndale Line, which is SEPTA’s highest ridership Regional Rail line. We look forward to working with all parties on this important initiative.”
“The Commonwealth recognizes passenger rail as a critical travel and commuting option, and we are heavily invested in its efficient operation,” Pennsylvania Department of Transportation Secretary Yassmin Gramian said. “Localized administration of a service Pennsylvanians rely on daily would help ensure long-term sustainability and increase options for service expansion.”
This proposal has also been supported by the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, which earlier this year unanimously adopted House Resolution 918, urging the United States Department of Transportation to relinquish ownership of the line to PennDOT.
“The Commonwealth subsidizes Amtrak service on the Keystone East Line, which runs from Philadelphia to Harrisburg, by nearly $100 million annually. Yet Amtrak treats the Keystone East Line as a low-priority rail corridor. It is heavily used by SEPTA with its 88 daily commuter trains as compared to Amtrak’s 27 daily trains. While Amtrak seems more focused on the Northeast corridor rails, SEPTA would be more responsive to needed maintenance on the Keystone East Line when storms cause temporary stoppages on the track,” said author of House Resolution 918, State Rep. Tim Hennessy (R-Chester/Montgomery).
The legislation has also garnered the support of Lancaster County elected officials.
“We thank Congressman Smucker for his leadership on behalf of Pennsylvania taxpayers. Transferring the Keystone East Line to the Commonwealth will increase services, lower project costs and ensure accountability by providing more local control of Lancaster County’s train stations. More frequent services to our community’s stations could provide additional support to our tourism industry and benefit our local economy. Lancaster County taxpayers have already seen the impact of Amtrak’s lack of accountability during the renovation projects on the Lancaster station which overran budgets and took nearly fifteen years to complete. The residents of Lancaster County deserve better service and we believe Congressman Smucker’s legislation will achieve that goal,” said Lancaster County Commissioners Josh Parsons and Ray D’Agostino.
-via Press Release