Tuesday, December 06, 2005

All Aboard

This morning I made plans to take a train from Pittsburgh to State College. Amazingly enough, Amtrak's optimistic schedule has promised to provide me safe passage to the State College area in 2 1/2 hours for only $20. Though no bullet train, I must admit that I was impressed... that was, until I realized the train only provides service to Tyrone, PA, not State College.

Tyrone, a forgotten hamlet at an old Pennsy Railroad junction, is 32 miles from State College. Amtrak follows lines drawn by Pennsy in 1850, servicing Altoona railyards and Cambria Steel in Johnstown. Amtrak continues on Pennsy's original 19th century route at Tyrone, bypassing what the then insignificant, rural academic enclave at State College. That insignificant enclave is now North-Central Pennsylvania's fastest growing economy, while population washes out of Altoona, Johnstown and Tyrone with all the ferocity of the Conemaugh River through a burst dam.

Because of struggling towns like Johnstown, and booming towns like State College, Pennsylvania has a highly dispersed population without access to transit. Amtrak needs passenger-dedicated lines that connect to Central PA's principle cities and towns, while providing swift east-west service to Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. If it were possible to cross the state by train in 3 hours, people might opt to take the train cross-state. As a result of this thru-traffic, struggling markets like Johnstown might benefit from increased, reliable transit access. Furthermore, such service would connect these towns to Philadelphia & Pittsburgh Intl' in the same way the Eastern Corridor provides Hartford, CT and Providence, RI with access to Logan, JFK and LaGuardia.

Pennsylvania is historically and geographically responsible for providing for trans-Appalachian travel: a responsibility that has yielded great benefits in the past. With air travel overburdened at the largest airports, cost prohibitive at smallest, and time consuming at all, we should look to providing cost-effective, reliable transit options statewide.

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