Amtrak in Connellsville Urged to Upgrade with Restrooms, Baggage Checks

Article excerpt

Step off the Amtrak train in Connellsville and the area isn't very inviting.

There's the drab glass and aluminum shelter station, a pay telephone and a sign describing Amtrak's routes. There are seats in the musty shelter, but no restrooms.

"Right now, you're let off in the middle of a train switching yard, and you can't even see downtown from there, so they're lost and there's no one or nothing there to help them," said Jim Segedy, director of community planning for the Pennsylvania Environmental Council.

But since Amtrak announced in April that it is updating the Connellsville station with a new $1.25 million "retro-style" brick and stone shelter, officials working on the city's revitalization efforts are hopeful that more can be done to make the area welcoming to visitors.

And they're trying to persuade Amtrak to build a station that allows for checked baggage and has restrooms -- amenities that were left out of the upgrade.

Karina Romero, a spokeswoman for Amtrak, said it will use federal stimulus funds to build the new station as well as a 550-foot platform to bring Connellsville up to compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The semi-enclosed station will have heating and benches, but it will not have restrooms and will not offer checked baggage service - - something that is lacking at the current structure.

Romero said Amtrak is updating several stations and will base the amenities at each on the number of passengers utilizing the location. About 4,500 passengers used Connellsville in 2008, she said.

She said Connellsville's low passenger load does not allow for restrooms or checked baggage, which would require staffing.

"However, if we increase ridership, and we see an increase in ridership, it's always a possibility," Romero said.

Officials trying to boost tourism to Connellsville, particularly in light of the Great Allegheny Passage biking and hiking trail that runs through town, hope that they can convince Amtrak of that need.

Studio Three, a Muncie, Ind., architectural firm that had been studying Connellsville's downtown area and how to best connect it with the trail, agreed to come back and work on some ideas related to the new train station.

"It's just been shown that economic development has always centered around train stations," said J. Michael Edwards, executive director of the Connellsville Redevelopment Authority. "Being able to tie the train station to our downtown, we think, is integral to our revitalization that we have going on. …