Expansion of passenger rail has potential to boost Pa. economy, improve statewide commutes

HARRISBURG, April 13 -- Passenger rail has the potential to improve regional access and reduce traffic congestion and state Rep. Joe Ciresi led today’s House Democratic Policy Committee to discuss how the state can get on board.

The hearing featured three panels of testifiers highlighting President Joe Biden’s recent infrastructure plan and how rail connection across the state could help rural and suburban areas benefit from economic growth.

Policy Committee Chairman Ryan Bizzarro shared, “Improving passenger rail has the potential to create jobs, streamline commutes and would have a positive environmental impact on the state. I thank Representative Ciresi for hosting today’s hearing and I look forward to continuing this conversation on how investment of state and federal dollars can boost economic development throughout the state.” 

"I was grateful to the testifiers and the participants in today's hearing for continuing an important conversation about investment in passenger rail service," Ciresi said. "What we learned today is critical to making wise decisions about infrastructure and what is involved to bring much-needed improvements to transportation in many parts of the state, especially in Pottstown, Royersford and other stops on the potential Reading-to-Philadelphia corridor that I've long been working to resurrect. Our partnerships, both with the private sector and our federal elected officials, will be crucial to moving this forward. The benefits of enhanced passenger rail service in our commonwealth would do wonders for small and local businesses, for the entertainment and restaurant industry, and in helping to decrease vehicle traffic on our roads.” 

Jennie Granger, deputy secretary for multimodal transportation with the state Transportation Department; Jody Holton, assistant general manager of planning, SEPTA; and Rudy Husband, vice president of Norfolk Southern, provided an expansive look at how investment will improve safety of existing passenger rails without interfering with freight transport the nation has come to rely on. Husband noted that one intermodal freight train can keep 300 trucks off the roads.

Jim Mathews, president & CEO of the Rail Passengers Association and Brian Pitzer, executive director of All Aboard Erie, shared how investment and expansion of passenger rail would help tie the country and state together. Matthews shared how Meridian, Mississippi’s multimodal investment, resulted in an economic return 170 times their initial investment and the region continues to see returns and benefits.

John Weidenhammer, president of Berks Alliance; Lawrence C. Malski, president of the Pennsylvania Northeast Regional Rail Authority; and Mark Spada, president of Western Pennsylvanians for Passenger Rail, discussed how bus and rail service can complement one another and how legislators can advocate for the investment necessary to execute transportation plans.

Investment in passenger rail would support many of the House Democratic Policy Committee’s objectives, including COVID recovery, job creation, infrastructure improvement, economic fairness and community development.

Hearing testimony and video are available at www.pahouse.com/policy.