PGH Business Times: Region reacts to potential Dallas-Pittsburgh-New York Amtrak service

A potential Amtrak line that would connect Pittsburgh with St. Louis, Oklahoma City and Dallas/Fort Worth for the first time in more than a generation generated positive interest in the past few days since it was unveiled.

The Federal Railroad Administration said this week that it was in the early stages of studying a handful of possible future Amtrak routes that would need both capital and operating money to become a reality. One would connect Detroit with New Orleans; the other would connect Dallas/Fort Worth with New York and include Pittsburgh along with other cities along the route.

Rich Fitzgerald, executive director of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission and former longtime Allegheny County executive, thinks the rail line will have an impact if it becomes a reality.

“There’s no question anything we can do to connect the region to other parts of the country and other parts of the world helps the economic climate,” Fitzgerald said. “It would be pretty positive.”

Western Pennsylvanians for Passenger Rail, a group of passengers who have long advocated for additional Amtrak service in the Pittsburgh region, say they’re interested, too.

“This proposal could restore much of a route previously operated by Amtrak with its National Limited train until 1979,” WPPR told the Business Times in an email. “Additionally, this proposed route has a segment that overlaps another study being conducted by the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, which is evaluating the feasibility of a new passenger rail route connecting Chicago with Columbus and Pittsburgh.”

Also interested is VisitPittsburgh.

“News of the potential new Amtrak route presents an exciting opportunity for Pittsburgh’s tourism sector,” said Emily Hatfield, a spokeswoman for the tourism marketing organization. “Allegheny County welcomes 19.5 million visitors each year, and the proposed Dallas train would provide expanded connectivity into our region and allow us to grow our visitor base.”

Fitzgerald said that a long trip on the train from Pittsburgh to Dallas might not appeal to the business traveler when the flight will take about two hours.

“But there will be many stops and many connections along the way,” he said. “It might not be the connection from Pittsburgh to Dallas but to other cities, like Oklahoma City, Columbus, Cincinnati, other places that could be connected by rail,” Fitzgerald said.

The Allegheny Conference on Community Development said that it appreciates the potential federal investment in proposed Amtrak routes and the connectivity and transportation options. A spokesman told the Business Times that at this moment, the Dallas-Pittsburgh route would have a significant impact as an asset of economic development.

“It certainly could be beneficial for tourism as another way to get more people, by rail, to our city and region to experience all it has to offer and spend their leisure travel dollars here,” conference spokesman Phil Cynar said.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation would have to be involved in the effort but told the Business Times it is aware of the potential but has limited involvement.

“PennDOT supports the expansion of passenger rail as a mobility option for travelers through Pennsylvania and beyond,” said PennDOT spokeswoman Alexis Campbell.

One of the focuses of SPC is in transportation, and Fitzgerald sees not just the mainline connections between New York and Dallas through Pittsburgh as a positive but the potential shorter connections that might come out of it for cities like Uniontown, Pennsylvania, and Morgantown, West Virginia. He said SPC would be active in supporting more rail service for southwestern Pennsylvania.

“If they are going to be appropriating that type of funding to connect these various locations across the country, yes, the SPC will be an important and big player,” Fitzgerald said.

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