Lawmakers seek rail plan

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Some state lawmakers want to create commuter rail service between Pittsburgh and Altoona.
House Transportation Chairman Richard A. Geist, R-Blair, and Sen. John N. Wozniak, D-Cambria, are pushing to have $2 million for the service included in legislation to help the state's mass transit agencies.
"We're interested in including this in the transit legislation," Geist said. "There would be enough money to have five [rail cars] in constant service running between Altoona and Pittsburgh."
Plans call for leasing self-propelled rail cars. But it has not been decided who would oversee the system, how much it would cost to lease the Norfolk Southern Railway line on which the trains would run and how much fares would be. Stops would include downtown Pittsburgh, Latrobe, Greensburg, Jeannette and Johnstown.
Norfolk Southern is aware of the plan, but spokesman Rudy Husband said it has not been given a proposal.
It's also not known how the plan would affect other transit plans.
Other plans
Allegheny and Westmoreland County transit leaders have considered commuter rail service between Pittsburgh and Greensburg. PennDOT is studying commuter rail service between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg. And backers of magnetic levitation trains are pushing for a 47-mile route between Pittsburgh International Airport and Greensburg.
Geist and Wozniak say they can get $2 million included in a proposal lawmakers are negotiating to increase the state's annual mass transit subsidy.
Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority and the Port Authority of Allegheny County have a combined $92 million deficit this year. The two agencies say they will have to cut service and increase fares unless the state comes up with a financial bailout.
Geist and Wozniak want to lease self-propelled rail cars known as Diesel Multiple Units. The vehicles, built by Colorado Railcar Manufacturing of Ft. Lupton, Colo., are new to the United States but have been tested in the Miami area, where they will go into service in June. The railcars can seat 92 passengers and travel at speeds up to 70 mph.
Last April, Geist rode one of the Colorado Railcar units that was being shown around the country on a demonstration tour. Geist praised the vehicle at the time.
"The DMU is faster, quieter, more fuel-efficient and more environmentally friendly than commuter trains that are pulled by locomotives," he said.
A study looking at commuter rail service between Pittsburgh and Greensburg estimated a trip of 50 minutes and predicted about 8,800 people would ride it daily. Trip estimates for Johnstown and Altoona weren't part of the study.

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