State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

Amtrak announcement sends an "all aboard" message

Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief | Mar 24, 2013 10:02 PM
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The Corbett administration is touting its role in saving Amtrak service between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg by negotiating a better payment deal for the state - $3.8 million, down from Amtrak's asking amount of $6.5 million. But several signs suggest the line known as the "Pennsylvanian" was never in danger of going away.

Earlier this month, PennDOT Secretary Barry Schoch said it himself: "We don't intend to cancel the service."

That came after a budget hearing during which Schoch explained his office was still trying to figure out how to pay for the Pennsylvanian line, which sends two trains between Pittsburgh and the state capital daily - one in either direction.

"You have to look at taxpayer dollars," said Schoch. "Are we going to subsidize $27 a trip for a five-and-a-half hour trip?"

So why all the talk about saving? It may have something to do with raising the stakes of another one of the governor's top priorities: transportation infrastructure funding.

The announcement about the Amtrak deal came with a caveat: it depends on the Legislature sending him a bill to raise money for roads, bridges, and transit.

Sen. John Rafferty (R-Montgomery) is leading the effort right now. He said Friday the governor hasn't even talked with him about the Amtrak deal.

"But we're going ahead with a transportation bill and we'll be launching it in April," said Rafferty. He added the $3.8 million agreement with Amtrak is "part of what will be the larger package" - that is, a funding bill Rafferty hopes to raise $2.8 billion, part of which would come from uncapping the tax paid by gas stations on wholesale gas, and part of which would come from raising fees for vehicle registrations and drivers licenses.

It's not like the Amrak deal is de minimis, Rafferty hastily added.

"We talk about drops in the bucket and it's not," he said. "It's a lot of money."

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