A railroad feasibility study may not bring rail service to State College, but it could give residents rail access via bus.
The issue was initially brought before the Township Council March 5 when Lemont resident Lillie Langois urged the council to look into the study, which proposed the possibility of adding a spur to State College that would link the community to the Keystone West rail corridor connecting Harrisburg to Pittsburgh.
Langois requested that the council write a letter of support to PennDOT for the rail expansion, according to a memo by Township Manager Adam Brumbaugh. Letters are due by March 31.
The study was released in February, according to Centre Region transportation planner Tom Zilla, focusing on the preservation of passenger rail service between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg. Currently, he said, there is a minimum level of passenger service along the rail — one train making a daily trip from one city to the other, then back the same day.
The trip typically takes about five and a half hours from point to point at an average speed of 45 mph, he said.
Although there is no connection to State College, he said, service to the community frequently comes up because of the population of the area and proximity to Penn State.
Several options were presented by the study, he said, but an option proposing curve modifications in existing rights-of-way with curve straightening and new alignment at slow points “floated to the top as the preferred alternative.” The option could also include some station and platform improvements.
For State College, Zilla said, any spur would utilize the SEDA-COG-owned rail line from Tyrone to Milesburg into College Township. The cost of upgrading that single track would run about $72 million.
The difficulty in trying to use that spur, according to Chairman Eric Bernier, is the challenges associated with operating a passenger service on a line where freight trains have priority.
“It’s very possible a passenger train running on that spur will have to pull over for 30 or 40 minutes and allow freight to pass,” he said. “Under those circumstances, it would be difficult to operate or maintain any kind of reasonable and dependable spur.”
One of the things the study focused on, Zilla said, was adding a second trip to the line, allowing for a daily round trip between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh.
A bus service could also be added, allowing for trips between State College and the train stops in Tyrone and Lewistown, he said.
Zilla said he thought the bus travel time would be less than travel time by rail spur — only about 30 minutes from State College to Tyrone, for example — compared with passenger service trying to compete with freight for a single line of track. The bus service could also be flexible in schedule and would allow for access directly to downtown State College.
He said he would submit comments in favor of a bus connection to the Centre County Metropolitan Planning Organization. The MPO could then draft a letter in support of these options.
The council agreed that letting the MPO draft a letter of support would be the best option. If needed, the council could draft a letter echoing the MPO’s suggestions.