Lack of funding could end Amtrak in Lewistown

LEWISTOWN – A change in federal law starting this October could result in the demise of Amtrak passenger train service for Lewistown.

Without the federal funding, Pennsylvania would have to pay approximately $5.7 million to keep the train running, during a time when the state budget has either remained stagnant or shrunk in recent years.

The federal law changing this fall will not provide funding for rail routes of less than 750 miles, and the “Pennsylvanian” rail line that runs from Pittsburgh to Harrisburg is considerably less than that.

Local leaders like Mifflin County Commissioner Mark Sunderland are concerned about the possible closure of the Lewistown station.

Sunderland said he would be in Washington D.C. this week and would bring the issue up with representatives.

“This is not good, a lot of people depend on this (Amtrak service),” Sunderland said.

The Great American Stations, an organization that maintains a database of information regarding train stations, recorded more than 8,000 passengers who used the Lewistown station during fiscal year 2012, which brought in over $300,000 in ticket revenue.

State Rep. Mike Fleck, R-Huntingdon, is among the supporters pushing for funding to maintain Amtrak’s Pittsburgh to Harrisburg line.

“Thousands of people depend on this rail line to travel across the commonwealth and points east. I believe its continued operation is vital to the state’s transportation system,” Fleck said. “That’s why I intend to fight hard for the funding needed to keep the train running.”

Gov. Tom Corbett’s Multimodal Transportation Fund would appropriate about $80 million over several years to assist with railways and other transportation projects, but it remains unclear if Amtrak would receive any money from this fund.

“No decisions have been made on how the Multimodal Transportation Fund will be spent, but I plan to push to have the Pennsylvanian included,” Fleck said.

Fleck said he would be working closely with state representatives and Congressman Bill Shuster, chairman of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

“Losing the daily rail passenger service provided by the Pennsylvanian will have a profoundly negative impact on many of the communities along the line. For example, in Huntingdon, the train is the only transportation option for many Juniata College students. It’s also used by employees at the Huntingdon and Smithfield state prisons. The Pennsylvanian has been in business for more than 30 years and it would be a shame for it to disappear now due to a lack of funding support.”

Supporters of the Pennsylvanian are holding a rally at 10 a.m. Friday at the Huntingdon Amtrak stop, located at the corner of 4th and Allegheny Streets in Huntingdon.

The agenda will include remarks from Fleck, the Huntingdon County Commissioners, Huntingdon County Economic Development Partners, Juniata College and a keynote address by Michael Alexandra from Western Pennsylvanians for Passenger Rail.

Nearly 6,000 people annually utilize the train stop in Huntingdon, according to Amtrak.

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