By BECKY WEIKERT
Daily News Managing Editor
As news of the governor’s $3.8 million agreement with Amtrak Thursday to save the Pennsylvanian line from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh spread, local business leaders celebrated a victory, but acknowledged the fight is not over.
“We needed (the train), we got it done and I’m so happy,” Huntingdon Borough Mayor Dee Dee Brown told The Daily News Friday morning. “But, we still have to keep pushing forward for a second stop.”
Huntingdon County Business and Industry (HCBI) executive director Amy Wise also emphasized saving the train is half the battle.
“We prevented a catastrophe and battle number one is fought, but we still want a second stop,” said Wise. “It’s so fantastic to watch the entire community rally and it shows the more often we do that, the more effective our efforts will become.”
Brown and Wise thanked everyone involved for their hard work, but especially the organizations and legislators.
“We need to thank the different organizations that get these things done. You can’t get it done alone and, hopefully, the necessary people will get their recognition.”
“Thank you to all 150 people at the rally, especially those with signs, and Huntingdon Borough Mayor Dee Dee Brown has been fantastic as the point person with some of these organizations,” said Wise. “It was a team effort on the part of the visitors bureau, the county, the borough, Juniata College, the chamber, our local representatives and others.”
Brown attended Lewistown’s rally to save the train Thursday prior to the governor’s announcement.
“The elected officials I spoke with said ‘we’re going to make this work for you, we’re going to get this done,’” said Brown.
News of Amtrak’s potential cut in services not only caught the eye of local residents, leaders and legislators, but also national media. Brown recently met with New York Times reporter Ron Nixon, who traveled to Huntingdon earlier this week for an article.
“He is out of the Washington, D.C., office and he was anxious to get here and see our town,” said Brown. “He thought he would fly into Harrisburg and take the train to Huntingdon, but he found there were no seats left. It was full.” The nationally recognized newspaper also sent a photographer to the area who attended Thursday’s Lewistown rally.
Wise and Brown are also proof folks frequently use the passenger rail service.
“I just booked my tickets a month in advance,” said Wise, noting tickets aren’t available at the last minute as in the past.
“I use the train a lot; my son prefers I use it. He hates when I drive to Philadelphia,” said Brown. “But, it’s not always convenient if I need to come back in a certain time though because we don’t have two stops a day.”
Wise said it’s up to those same activists to keep the fight going.
“We will continue dialogue with legislators as they prepare the budget for the next fiscal year to make sure this is included and make sure they understand the need for a second stop,” said Wise, encouraging residents to stay up to date via a Facebook page made specifically for the Pennsylvanian. “Obviously, we’ll continue to update people through our newsletters and social media, but the key is to make sure this momentum continues so we can work toward this second stop. think it’s clear people in our community support Amtrak.”
Brown considers saving the train a victory of the people.
“The people did the work — writing letters, coming to the rally, having legislators listen to the need from the people. I think that’s what did the job and it’s great to see our town come together,” said Brown. “I’m proud of everyone who participated.”
Saving Huntingdon’s Amtrak service is not only a boost for community leaders, but for the county’s business, health and educational institutions. Juniata College president Tom Kepple has also been an instrumental activist for the Pennsylvanian, citing the need for students traveling to and from the school from outside the area.
“On behalf of all of us at Juniata College and in Huntingdon, I want to thank Gov. Corbett and Rep. Fleck for their proactive work in getting this issue resolved,” said Kepple. “It’s a great thing for Huntingdon and it shows what can happen if we all work together.”
Becky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.