Chris Sandvig | February 16, 2023

We’re getting a second New York-bound train! Now, can we PLEASE get a station that makes people want to use it? 

Have you heard? You probably did. Pittsburgh is getting a second eastbound train! As early as 2025, two daily trains will be heading between here and Harrisburg, then on to Philly and New York. 

Intercity passenger rail is a vital and, especially in places like western Pennsylvania, often overlooked mode of transportation across the US. Expanding Amtrak’s Pennsylvanian service is crucial to providing greater mobility, accessibility and environmental resilience to some of Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable residents and isolated communities. Expanded service also generates economic opportunities throughout the Pennsylvanian’s corridor as well as Commonwealth. It provides additional, much-needed, affordable mass transit to towns and cities that are otherwise cut off from PA’s major centers and the East Coast. It also helps state achieve its stated transportation GHG reduction goals, all by providing more usable, reliable intercity rail service.  

PennDOT recently applied to the federal Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety (CRISI) program to pay for the capacity and other improvements needed to support a second train without freight impact. Mobilify supports this because adding these crucial capacity and management improvements to the corridor reinforce and expand public transportation’s opportunities throughout the state while maintaining good-paying jobs. We applaud PennDOT and the Pennsylvanian corridor communities for their decade-long dedication to achieving this vision and hope the Federal Railroad Administration will approve the grants. But, we shouldn’t stop here. 

Pittsburgh, it’s time we talked about our train station. 

We are not at a loss for infrastructure whose point for existing – to be used by people – seems to be the furthest thing its designers’ and owners’ minds. Somehow though, Union Station feels next-level. Even as a pedestrian, you have to hunt to find it. No wonder some think that Pittsburgh doesn’t have any trains.  

A 2017 PCRG study showed how this overlooked northeastern downtown corner is actually our multimodal gateway between local and regional transit and, literally, the world. Over a dozen PRT routes stop at or near Union Station and the East Busway drops off behind it. It’s not just that it doesn’t attract people; literally nobody wants to be there 

The Grant Street Transportation Center across the street, while not an architectural marvel, is cleaner, brighter, and more hospitable. Amtrak was supposed to join Greyhound in GTSC, but pulled out at the last minute. Why is a long story but it doesn’t change the fact that our current Amtrak station is now the underbelly of the monument of a building above it, also called the Pennsylvanian. Federal programs exist for this and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provides greater opportunities to remake our rail experience. We’re excited that Latrobe and Greensburg are rightly getting their modernizations and upgrades, but shouldn’t the line’s western terminus get a little love? 

It’s great that we’re getting a second Philadelphia-bound train, but we should embrace this. At a bare minimum, the convergence of passenger rail, intercity bus, and rapid transit deserves to be treated as the major intermodal hub that it is. The laces should be tied together. The capital outlay is not astronomical and this is a solvable problem. New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Harrisburg; all have a station that says, “Welcome to our fair city.” Shouldn’t we? 

Courtesy of: Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group, Penn Station Better Busway Report, 2017

Courtesy of: Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group, Penn Station Better Busway Report, 2017

Courtesy of: Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group, Penn Station Better Busway Report, 2017

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