Could passenger rail service return to the Lehigh Valley? Advocates say it could happen

Written by on June 29, 2022

Could passenger rail service return to the Lehigh Valley? Advocates say it could happen

By Hayden Mitman
June 29, 2022

Many have wished for the return of passenger train service to the Lehigh Valley. (Photo | Creative Commons)

BETHLEHEM, Pa. – The last time a passenger train traveled between New York City and the Lehigh Valley, the year was 1961 and John F. Kennedy was president. 

Now, more than 60 years later, Joyce Marin, co-chair of the Lehigh Valley Advocates for Passenger Rail, said it’s time to bring it back.

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“We are in a historic moment right now. This is a priority from the White House, it’s a priority to Congress, and so, it’s possible now,” she said.

This week, Gov. Tom Wolf touted an agreement to expand passenger rail between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh. The project will cost hundreds of millions of dollars, funded in part through President Joe Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. 

Marin said this has advocates hopeful the rest of the state could see similar funding. 

In fact, Amtrak has a plan that includes creating new passenger trains to connect Allentown to New York City.

And, Marin said, it’s not an unrealistic goal: Amtrak even tested it back in 2016. 

“They actually ran a demonstration train through the Lehigh Valley to New York City and back. There were human beings on these tracks, that people say, `it can’t be done,’ it can be done,” said Marin. 

The western Pennsylvania rail expansion came through a collaboration between the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) and Norfolk Southern, a shipping company that owns the lines needed for passenger rail in the region and that had long resisted sharing rail lines.

Julie Thomas, co-chair of the advocacy group, said in order to bring something similar to the Lehigh Valley, there’s still work ahead and elected officials need to hear from the community.

“We need the people of the region to really rise up and say, we want to be included,” said Thomas. 

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