SOMERSET — Somerset County’s efforts to lobby lawmakers in Washington, DC, for the final four-lane stretch of U.S. Route 219 in the region are now expanding to include both road and rail.
Somerset County Commissioners said they were tasking two ring road-focused consultancies with lobbying for the development of a rail stop at Rockwood along Amtrak’s Capitol Limited route.
It’s a move that was originally proposed nearly a decade ago, but has struggled to gain traction in the Rockwood community.
Over the past year or so, county and Rockwood officials have revisited the idea — specifically a lower-cost “flag stop” that would likely cost a fraction of the original proposal’s $3.9 million price tag. , said Brad Zearfoss, executive director of the Somerset County Planning Commission. .
“It’s a model that has worked in areas such as Tyrone and Huntingdon,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be much more than a cement slab and a shelter like a bus stop.
Since most people are moving to buying tickets online, a sales booth isn’t necessary — and neither would daily “full” stops, Zearfoss said.
With the “flag stops”, the train operator will know in advance if there are passengers boarding or departing and could continue through the city without stopping on days when this is not the case, did he declare.
“It makes a lot of sense for Rockwood,” he said, citing the Great Allegheny Passage, area ski resorts and the developing National 9/11 Memorial Trail as local draws.
Capitol Limited trains connect Washington, DC and Chicago via Pittsburgh and Cleveland.
Rockwood Borough Councilwoman Sarah Sleasman said borough officials have already drafted a letter supporting the project, saying it would not only benefit their borough, but the region as well.
“We’re going to do everything we can to support him,” Sleasman said.
An Amtrak study a decade ago predicted the stop would add 2,100 passengers a year to the line.
This does not mean that the project rounds off the final curve.
Rail line owner CSX Corporation was not so warm to the idea. The Florida-based company has raised concerns about cargo delays another passenger stoppage could cause.
In recent years, CSX has suggested the addition of a low-speed “siding track”, a parallel stretch of rail on which the train could stop, would be necessary. Zearfoss said it’s probably not feasible or affordable.
Somerset County Commissioner Pamela Tokar-Ickes said project partners hope federal transportation officials can find a solution.
Given that DC-based Pendulum Strategies and South Carolina-based Nelson Mullins are already lobbying lawmakers for support for Route 219, adding the rail project to their to-do list wasn’t a big undertaking. , she said.
The county hired the two companies last year on a $5,000-a-month contract.
Federal transportation leaders are pushing for a new surface transportation bill this year, making this the perfect time “to have those conversations,” Tokar-Ickes said.
“I think we’re all still holding out hope for good news…in this transportation bill,” she said.
David Hurst is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @TDDavidHurst.