Efforts to start commuter rail service from Arnold into Pittsburgh keep chugging along as county transit officials this week received a $500,000 state grant to study whether the project is feasible.
Officials announced Thursday they likely will hire a consultant later this year to determine whether there are enough potential riders to justify rail service as well as peg cost estimates for the project.
The Westmoreland County Transit Authority is exploring a two-phase project that would offer commuter rail service between Arnold to the Strip District and Latrobe to downtown Pittsburgh.
“We want to get this study done as quickly as we can, maybe within a year,” said authority Executive Director Larry Morris. “Then a decision to go forward or not will be made.”
The state grant will pay for the feasibility study. Transit officials have been waiting for nearly six months for the money.
In the meantime, plans for the commuter rail project have been tweaked as officials moved to extend the proposed Greensburg-to-Pittsburgh line eastward toward Latrobe.
“It made sense to extend it out to Latrobe because Latrobe has a train station that has been remodeled and is being used now by Amtrak,” Morris said. “It only made sense to extend it out a little bit.”
Commuter service from Westmoreland County to Pittsburgh was a top recommendation of a study completed last year by a regional planning agency that explored improving transportation needs in the region.
The proposed rail line from Arnold to Pittsburgh’s Strip District would stop in New Kensington, Oakmont, Verona and Lawrenceville. It would utilize existing train tracks.
Projected costs for the Arnold line are about $140 million.
By initial estimates, the proposed Allegheny Valley rail line would service as many as 6,700 daily riders making the 34-minute commute.
Initial plans suggested the proposed Latrobe-Greensburg line could use existing tracks and train stations. It would include stops in Jeannette, Irwin, Trafford, Wilmerding, East Pittsburgh, Braddock, Swissvale and Wilkinsburg.
Early cost estimates ranged from $190 million for a limited-service system to a more ambitious $300 million line that would operate every 30 minutes during peak commuting times.
Preliminary studies have indicated that the more expensive system could carry about 8,800 passengers every day for the 49-minute trip between Greensburg and downtown Pittsburgh.
Transit officials learned earlier this year that for the first time there is a pool of money available to pay for the rail projects.
As part of the comprehensive state transportation bill approved in July by state lawmakers, $50 million a year was allocated to finance commuter rail projects throughout the state.
Rich Cholodofsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-837-0240.