While the prospect might now seem remote for a second Amtrak daily passenger train between central Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh, it's too soon for proponents of the additional travel resource to accept defeat.
Instead of being silent, backers of a second train-travel opportunity need to ramp up their message - that Amtrak communities such as Lewistown, Huntingdon, Tyrone, Altoona and Johnstown, given adequate chance, can provide sufficient numbers of passengers for the additional service.
Meanwhile, since continuation of the current once-a-day run has been guaranteed for only a year, support for it beyond the current fiscal year also must remain at the forefront.
A past six-month test run of a second western Pennsylvania train did not provide enough time to build strong passenger numbers. Although optimistic passenger statistics were starting to evolve, the run was discontinued - a not-well-thought-out business decision.
In pushing forward, second-train advocates must deliver the message that a second run can succeed if it is scheduled for times that best serve potential riders' needs.
Having gotten encouraging passenger results from the earlier test run, it's reasonable to conclude that a second Amtrak run is worthy of implementation and further evaluation, combined with a strong marketing initiative. Current marketing of train travel's amenities can best be described as anemic.
Most businesses realize for them to be successful, they need to tailor their operations to customers' needs and schedules.
The western leg of Amtrak is an asset not only for business or recreational travelers. Others who need it include veterans with medical appointments in Pittsburgh, who currently opt for bus service because of a lack of private vehicle transportation or because of the availability of only one train a day.
If given a second train-travel choice, many of those veterans - some of them fragile - would opt for train transportation because of roomier, more comfortable seating than what's available on buses.
From business travelers' standpoint, a second western run to and from the Steel City would offer convenience plus the financial benefits that the current run provides.
Riding the train avoids the costly downtown Pittsburgh parking fees, the time wasted in trying to locate a vacant parking space, and the need to buy expensive gasoline for the trip. While on a train, business travelers can complete paperwork, and plan for their meetings and other responsibilities in Pittsburgh.
Pennsylvania state government should not only be studying how to avoid funding crises for "The Pennsylvanian" in the years ahead; it should make consideration of a second central Pennsylvania-to-Pittsburgh train an important priority.
One possibility might be for a university to propose a research project - and seek federal and/or state money - to do a comprehensive study of passenger train service for central Pennsylvania and points west. Former U.S. Rep. Bud Shuster was famous for highway demonstration projects; many people would welcome a demonstration project that would expand their train-travel options.
According to Amtrak, approximately 26,000 Altoona passengers rode The Pennsylvanian in the past year.
An additional train trip would enable many more people to become loyal riders.
- Altoona Mirror