PA: Officials: PennDOT, Norfolk Southern finalize deal for 2nd daily Johnstown passenger train

Sept. 25, 2023
The project is already in the design phase, with an anticipated 2026 completion date — but the two sides had been ironing out details all year to reach a mutual, final agreement.

Sep. 23—JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — A previously announced deal between PennDOT and Norfolk Southern to add a second daily Amtrak passenger train through Johnstown has been finalized, officials said on Friday.

The project is already in the design phase, with an anticipated 2026 completion date — but the two sides had been ironing out details all year to reach a mutual, final agreement.

"Today's announcement keeps us on course to achieving what was said couldn't be done — more rail service for western Pennsylvanians," said state Sen. Wayne Langerholc Jr., R-Richland Township. "This was one of my first priorities when elected, and I am pleased that we are nearing completion of our goal."

Langerholc, the state Senate Transportation Committee chairman, has been among a local contingent that has pushed for a second daily Johnstown train since he took office. Gov. Josh Shapiro's administration also announced the news on Friday.

Amtrak's Pennsylvanian route currently includes one round-trip passenger train per day between New York City and Pittsburgh via Harrisburg along tracks mostly owned by Norfolk Southern; those trains stop in downtown Johnstown.

The now-final agreement supports adding a second daily round-trip train on that route, according to PennDOT.

The Pennsylvanian route travels along Norfolk Southern's Pittsburgh Line, which PennDOT described as "part of the Premier Corridor, a main artery for double-stack intermodal traffic moving between Chicago and metropolitan New York."

The route sees significant numbers of freight trains daily.

The initiative required plenty of funding for upgrades that Norfolk Southern said are needed to allow passenger and freight trains to safely co- exist on the route. It was backed by the federal government's largest investment in rail in years, through the bipartisan infrastructure bill signed into law last year by President Joe Biden.

PennDOT said on Friday that the commonwealth will invest more than $200 million in infrastructure and safety improvements that will be constructed and maintained by Norfolk Southern. PennDOT has applied for grants through the Federal Railroad Administration to help fund the work, it said.

Those improvements apparently will include projects in the Johnstown and Portage areas.

The necessary work includes the development of a crossover that would allow trains to quickly switch tracks west of a curve near Brownstown Borough, at a cost of more than $9.5 million. A section of rail line in the same corridor may also need to be relocated, a final report shows.

For an additional $8 million or so, a separate crossover is needed on a section of tracks between Portage and Cassandra; an access road for the construction of a new signal is also needed in that area.

Earlier this year, officials indicated that plans for the project were being reviewed from a safety standpoint prior to a final deal, given lessons that might be learned from the high-profile derailment in February of a Norfolk Southern train in East Palestine, Ohio. It was not clear what safety- or price-related changes, if any, might have been made to the finalized plans.

"This agreement lays the groundwork for expanded passenger rail service in western Pennsylvania while simultaneously preserving a critical freight rail corridor," PennDOT Secretary Mike Carroll said in a statement on Friday.

"Ensuring more Pennsylvanians have access to safe and reliable transportation to western (Pennsylvania) will reduce commute times, help connect hundreds of thousands of residents and boost local economies. This expansion of service on the Pennsylvanian will provide key mobility and economic benefits."

Johnstown-area officials, Langerholc included, have said that a second daily train route on the Pennsylvanian route could bring travelers to Johnstown and allow Cambria County residents to commute by rail to Pittsburgh for work.

Amtrak has already announced that brand-new, more commuter-friendly trains will be used on the Pennsylvanian route in the years ahead.

"This is a win-win agreement that would not be possible without the dedication and collaboration of our state officials, who share our vision for enhanced rail service across the Keystone State," Norfolk Southern Senior Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer Mike McClellan said.


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