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Amtrak will speed trips to Harrisburg

(The following article by Larry King and Angela Couloumbis was posted on the Philadelphia Inquirer website on September 12.)

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Amtrak service between Philadelphia and Harrisburg will be faster and more frequent by Halloween.

A conversion from diesel to electric service will enable trains to run at up to 110 m.p.h., shaving anywhere from 12 to 30 minutes off the 104-mile trek.

The faster service will allow Amtrak to offer more runs with its existing equipment. Three daily round-trip express trips, and one on Saturday and Sunday, will be added to the current weekly lineup of 67 round-trips, Gov. Rendell and Amtrak board chairman David M. Laney announced yesterday.

"At a time when all we hear about is mounting congestion on our highways and in our airports, it's a rare privilege to be able to stand here and tell commuters and travelers that we've just given you back part of your day," Laney said.

The enhancements, scheduled to begin Oct. 30, cap a $145 million upgrade of Amtrak's Keystone Corridor that began during the Ridge administration and was nudged along by Rendell. Starting in 1999, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has footed $14.5 million of the bill, with the rest coming from Amtrak and the Federal Transit Administration.

"It helps link Pennsylvania's cities ...," Rendell said, making it easier for tourists and business travelers to shuttle among Philadelphia, Harrisburg and Lancaster. Slightly more than one million riders took Amtrak's Keystone trains in fiscal 2004-05, up 14 percent from the prior year.

Rendell and Laney predicted that the service improvements, coupled with high fuel prices, would attract even more riders.

"Think about it," Rendell said. "Ninety minutes from Harrisburg to Philadelphia, a chance to do your work, read a book, do anything you want to do, but avoid the traffic, avoid the trucks, avoid all the fumes and have a great ride."

Amtrak diesel express trains currently top out at 90 m.p.h., and express runs take an hour and 45 minutes to just under two hours, Amtrak spokesman Cliff Black said. The electric express trains are expected to arrive in 90 minutes. Local trains, currently making the run in about two hours, will shave off about 12 minutes, Black said.

The Keystone Corridor has long been able to accommodate electric service, but Black said Amtrak has used diesels because of equipment shortages.

Because Amtrak runs only electric trains on its Northeast Corridor tracks, Keystone trains continuing to New York have had to switch from diesel to electric locomotives at 30th Street Station. That will end Oct. 30.

Despite the increase in Keystone ridership, one-way fares remain fairly cheap at $19. By comparison, on the Northeast Corridor, where demand is higher and seats more scarce, Amtrak charges $61 for the shorter, 91-mile trip from Philadelphia to New York.

"Prices are all market-driven," Black said, "and the market is stronger on the Northeast Corridor than anywhere else in Amtrak's system."

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

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