Can students expect service to Penn Station?

Ellyahu Gasson | staff photographer | Passengers waited at Penn Station for the shuttle that will take them to Gateway.

Eliyahu Gasson | Opinions Editor

Pittsburgh’s Penn Station light rail stop hasn’t seen regular use since 2007, but with development plans laid out, it’s possible that regular service may return to this under-used station. Returning service to the station would provide Duquesne students and other residents of Allegheny County a rapid transit connection to the East End via the MLK Jr. East Busway as well as easier access to Pittsburgh’s Amtrak and Greyhound stations.

Penn Station, opened in 1988, connects Steel Plaza to the Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway, a bus highway that takes riders from Downtown to Swissvale without having to deal with car traffic. Until 2007, PRT (then Port Authority of Allegheny County), operated a light rail shuttle service between the two stations.

The reason for ceasing the service? Low ridership. The single track tunnel that connects the two stations, is remnant of the tunnel’s days of service to the Pennsylvania Railroad. The single track, flanked on either side by support beams for the structures above, is not able to be expanded to two tracks, making it difficult to run quick service between Steel Plaza and Penn Station.

But Penn Station is back in action, at least temporarily.

Some students at Duquesne have expressed interest in the potential return of service to Penn Station.

“Just to be able to get places, if it connects everything, it’s just an easier option, and I would definitely consider using it,” said Jenna Stewart, a sophomore physician assistant major.

As a part of a $150 million reconstruction and upgrade project to its light rail system, PRT temporarily closed Wood Street Station and the underground tunnel that connects it to both Gateway and Steel Plaza. To deal with the closure, trains will reroute from Steel Plaza to Penn Station, where passengers coming from the South Hills can catch a shuttle bus to carry them to Gateway.

The detour will be in effect seven days a week until May 30, according to PRT’s website. After May 30, work on the Downtown subway will continue on “some weekends through the summer.”

This detour could give T riders an idea of some of the plans that PRT has made public about their system as a part of their NEXTransit proposal — specifically an Allentown/Downtown/Strip District line, operated as the Brown Line up until 2007, and a Downtown Transit Center.

Ioannis Maniatis, a freshman economics major at Duquesne, said he and other students would benefit from restored service to Penn Station, especially if they needed to use the East Busway.

“It would be helpful,” Maniatis said. “Even for other students that need to go [to the East End] and don’t have access, it would help.”

In the meantime, the detour has caused added time and confusion for some PRT commuters, like Zay Chase, a freshman film student at Community College of Allegheny Campus.

Prior to starting his commute Chase wasn’t aware of the detour in effect. He rode the train as far as possible and was confused when he had to get off at Penn Station and take a shuttle to Gateway.

“When it first happened, I didn’t really know about it,” Chase said. “When I was hopping on the trolley Monday, I was rushing to get onto the T, so I didn’t hear the announcement go off. I was just really confused.”

According to Adam Brandolph, a spokesperson for PRT, the plan to reopen the Brown Line is still in the cards. As far as when riders can expect the return of the Brown Line or the construction of a Downtown Transit Center, Brandolph says it’s too early to say.

“That project is still in our list of plans to advance,” Brandolph told The Duke in an email. “Again, it’s too early to say.”

As of right now, PRT is not actively looking for public input on either project.

“We would [need] to get through $150 million and five years of construction on the rail system before we are able to make significant changes to the rail system,” Brandolph said when asked about PRT receiving public input on the projects.