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December 08, 2023

Railway services from Philadelphia to Reading and Pittsburgh receive major federal grants

The projects by Amtrak and the Schuylkill River Passenger Authority are two of many rail projects funded by the federal Corridor ID program

Transportation Trains
Amtrak Reading to Philadelphia Schuykill Rail Thom Carroll/for PhillyVoice

Amtrak aims to expand its rail service from Philadelphia to Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, while the Schuylkill River Passenger Rail Authority is planning a railway leading through Berks, Chester, and Montgomery counties to the city.

Projects to reconnect Philadelphia to other areas in Pennsylvania, like Berks County and Pittsburgh, received a major boost in the form of federal funding this week.

The Schuylkill River Passenger Rail Authority aims to restore rail service between Reading and Philly, while Amtrak plans to extend service from Philly to Harrisburg and Pittsburgh. Both initiatives are now part of the Federal Rail Administration's Corridor Identification and Development Program, known as Corridor ID, a product of President Joe Biden's infrastructure plan.

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The announcement of a $500,000 grant for the SRPRA project came from Sen. John Fetterman, Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, and Rep. Madeleine Dean on Tuesday afternoon. The proposed railway would have stops in Norristown, Phoenixville, and King of Prussia and would be the first active rail line to connect Reading and Philadelphia since 1981. This grant will fund the first of three steps in the Corridor ID program, which involves the "development of a scope, schedule, and cost estimate" for the project.

Amtrak PA Vision Map

"The positive impact of restoring the historic Reading rail line to our community cannot be overstated," said Houlahan, who represents all of Chester County and the part of Berks County that includes Reading. In 2021, Houlahan helped to secure $750,000 of Congressional Mandated Funding for consultant work on the project's Service Development Plan.

Officials from Berks, Chester, and Montgomery Counties formed SRPRA in June 2022. According to the authority's FAQ page, SRPRA may partner with Amtrak for operations. A statement from SRPRA from Friday provided to PhillyVoice reiterated this plan. 

"Notably, it’s our pursuit of an intercity passenger rail solution proposed to be operated by Amtrak, rather than a commuter rail transit service, that makes the current effort different from previous ones and more likely to succeed," stated SRPRA and Berks County of Board of Commissioners Chair Christian Leinbach.

Wednesday afternoon brought the news that $143,629,028 from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act would go towards upgrading the Keystone West Corridor between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg. This would also add a second daily round trip to the Pennsylvanian service. Amtrak also received its own $500,000 grant courtesy of the Corridor ID program for expanding Pennsylvanian and Keystone services between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

According to a statement from Sen. Bob Casey regarding the new funds, the PennDOT will match 20% of the project's cost. "I fought for this funding because when Pennsylvanians can move quickly and easily across the state for work, study, or travel our Commonwealth thrives," Casey said. It is not yet clear what the timeline for the proposed Amtrak upgrades will be.

Regardless of how long these projects take to fruition, they aim to make the rest of Pennsylvania more accessible to Philadelphians. “I am proud to see us investing in so many rail infrastructure projects throughout the commonwealth," Fetterman in a statement. "The more trains and public transportation options for Pennsylvanians, the better.”