May 2009 - An Opportunity for High Speed Rail in Pennsylvania

Dear Friends,
Our advocacy and outreach efforts have been almost non-stop since the stimulus legislation passed. While our focus has been primarily on the infrastructure aspects of the American Recovery and Revitalization Act, we’ve really zeroed in on the transportation program and of course what that means to Pennsylvania.

Now another opportunity has presented itself in the form of the High Speed Rail Plan which was recently unveiled by President Obama. This may be a once in a lifetime chance to develop and implement a true rail plan for the commonwealth.

Pennsylvania is one of approximately thirty states that can apply for the funds to help rebuild existing rail infrastructure because the Keystone Corridor, an existing rail line that connects Philadelphia to Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, runs through the heart of the state.

No one could ever describe the trains that traverse Pennsylvania as high speed. The train trip between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh takes seven and a half hours, assuming there are no delays, yet you can drive the same distance in five. Traveling by train between Washington, DC, and Pittsburgh recently took one of our staff members eight hours – twice the time it would have taken to drive. That’s not a trip; it’s an odyssey. But passenger rail service can be an attractive transportation option. First, it’s energy efficient or “green”, consuming one-third less energy per passenger mile than cars. The Administration estimates that high speed rail lines, as proposed on their national corridor plan, could reduce our CO2 output by 6 billion pounds. It’s time efficient too. Why spend hours gripping the steering wheel of your car when you can read, work on your laptop computer or catch up on your sleep by riding the train? There must be something to it; ridership on the Keystone Train from Harrisburg to Philadelphia has increased by 26% since 2006. Ridership remains steady, even as the cost of gas has declined.

An investment in high speed rail could offer multiple economic advantages as well. Communities with easy access to passenger rail and a mix of residential and retail uses are desirable places to live and locate businesses. Existing and new businesses look for multiple transportation options, not only for moving goods, but also as a quality of life feature for employees. High speed rail would provide thousands of Pennsylvanians with easy and affordable access to major cultural centers.

There is a five-year commitment by the federal government to high speed rail, but the funding is being allocated in a similar fashion to the other stimulus programs. Ready-to-go projects that will generate jobs quickly will be funded first. A second round of funding for longer term high speed rail projects will come later.

We applaud the Rendell’s Administration’s early interest in applying for the funds. Just as in the first wave of stimulus funding for transportation, PennDOT moved quickly to get the ball rolling in accessing the funds. This time, however, we’d suggest a more open process in determining how the possible spur routes that feed into the Keystone Corridor might be developed. There are numerous rail advocacy groups from passenger rail enthusiasts to economic development agencies that have been championing various regional rail initiatives. We’d suggest that PennDOT convene a state-wide meeting, perhaps via the web, to discuss their plans for the federal funds and receive input from the regional groups.

We should think multi-state too. The second round of the high speed rail funding would offer a great opportunity for Pennsylvania to take a leadership role in convening our neighbors from Ohio and Maryland to discuss regional transportation and economic development priorities. Pennsylvania should live up to its moniker as the Keystone State. The commonwealth is a vital link between the east coast and points west. Inclusion of the Keystone Corridor in the Federal Rail Administration’s national vision is important for Pennsylvania, but including existing connections that link Washington, D.C. and Pittsburgh and then on to Cleveland and Chicago would bring the entire system together. High speed rail makes our regional connections even stronger. Why not leverage this investment to better position the entire region to compete in a global economy?

The High Speed Rail Plan could be the start of significant and sustained investment in rail systems nationwide that will restore rail to its rightful position in a comprehensive national transportation strategy and lead to long term economic growth. Pennsylvania has been given a rare opportunity to begin the transformation of our transportation system by inclusion in the program. Every Pennsylvanian should get onboard in supporting high speed rail.


Judy Schwank
President and CEO 10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania

Please feel free to contact me in the Harrisburg at the central office of 10,000 Friends. My email is, or call me at 717-234-6070.