Keystone Line should work for Commonwealth
As appeared in the November 4, 2020 edition of the Ephrata Review and the Elizabethtown Advocate
Last month, I introduced legislation to increase services, save taxpayer funding, and increase accountability of passenger rail service in south central Pennsylvania by transferring ownership of the Keystone East Line from the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, commonly known as Amtrak, to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT).
The Keystone East Line is one of Amtrak’s state-supported rail lines that runs wholly within Pennsylvania. The line operates between Harrisburg and Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station, contains 12 stations in Pennsylvania, including three stations in Lancaster County: Elizabethtown, Mount Joy and Lancaster.
Federal legislation passed in 2008 requires our commonwealth to pay subsidies to Amtrak. Pennsylvania pays approximately $100 million annually but does not have managerial control of this considerable investment. As a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, I have consistently been disappointed by Amtrak’s lack of responsiveness and management of our local rail line. I firmly believe that the closer a government entity is to those it serves, the more accountable it must be.
That is certainly the case with Amtrak’s operation of the Keystone East Line. Renovation and repair projects are consistently delayed and over budget and revenue generated on the line is sent out of the Commonwealth to other states along the Northeast Corridor. We witnessed the delays and saw the costs of mismanagement in the renovation of the Lancaster station, which took nearly fifteen years to complete.
Pennsylvania has made enormous investments in the Keystone East Line. By granting Pennsylvania ownership of the Keystone Line, we can provide greater local oversight, responsiveness, and expand ridership opportunities.
The Southeast Pennsylvania Transit Authority, or SEPTA, also operates its Paoli-Thorndale Commuter Rail service along the Keystone line. It runs 88 daily commuter trains compared to Amtrak’s 27 daily trains. PennDOT and SEPTA are the agencies most directly accountable to the taxpayers that fund the Keystone East Line just as they are with the Paoli-Thorndale and similar lines. Transferring this line would ensure that the residents of my congressional district and of south-central Pennsylvania are receiving quality public transportation.
Earlier this year, Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives unanimously adopted a resolution expressing support for transferring the ownership of the Keystone East Line from Amtrak to PennDOT. All members across party-lines, including those members representing districts along the line, endorsed this idea. I am working hard to garner a similar level of support in Congress. For more information on this legislation, visit my website www.Smucker.House.Gov.