Like many others aboard the train, they swear by it, and recoil at the possibility that the one daily Amtrak train serving Pittsburgh and Harrisburg will be eliminated in October.
"They better not eliminate it. I would be furious," says Sandy Kadylak of Mammoth, Westmoreland County, who boarded the train at Latrobe on her way to visit her daughter in Philadelphia. If the service is abandoned, "I don't know. I guess I'll drive," she says. "Or stay home."
A federal law passed in 2008 required Amtrak to develop a consistent formula for passing the costs of subsidizing certain routes to state governments.
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation must decide by October whether to absorb the estimated $5.7 million cost of running the daily train between Pittsburgh and the state capital. Eliminating it would leave just one Amtrak route serving Pittsburgh: the Capitol Limited from Chicago to Washington.
It would end train service to Pennsylvania's Greensburg, Latrobe, Johnstown, Altoona, Tyrone, Huntingdon and Lewistown, and leave Pittsburgh with no direct passenger train connections to Philadelphia and New York.
"Many of the communities served by the Pennsylvanian receive little or even no service from any other form of public transportation," Michael Alexander, president of Western Pennsylvanians for Passenger Rail, said in a news release urging citizens to contact their elected officials.
PennDot officials say they have not decided what to do, but they have sounded a bit sour about having to foot the bill for a segment that was used by 146,241 riders in the fiscal year ending in October, or roughly 400 riders per day.
In a Wall Street Journal article, PennDot deputy secretary Toby Fauver said of the Pittsburgh-to-Harrisburg train, "It is a struggle for me to want to pay for that service."The train serves part of the district of U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster (R., Blair), who recently took over as chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, giving him potential leverage in the decision. He voted in 2008 for the law - the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act - that is shifting the cost of the service to the state.
"In this difficult economy, both the federal and state government have tough budgetary decisions to make," Shuster said in a statement to the Post-Gazette last week.
"Pennsylvania and the Ninth District have a rich railroading history, and I am hopeful a solution can be worked out respecting that history while working within the financial realities of this budget climate. "
Riders on the Pennsylvanian are quick to point out the advantages of train travel, which they say outweigh the longer travel times.
For openers, there's no stifling security, no removing shoes, no body scans, no luggage searches, no arriving two hours early. Amtrak recommends that passengers get to the station 30 minutes ahead of schedule.
Then there's the legroom, far more abundant than in airplanes, buses or cars. Coach-class seats recline without imposing on neighboring passengers and are equipped with foot rests and leg rests.
Behind the four coach cars, which are outfitted with two restrooms apiece, is the cafe car, with a surprisingly expansive menu: wraps and paninis, hot dogs, pizza, burgers, cereal, pastries, a variety of snacks and candy, soft drinks, cocktails, beer, and wine.
Passengers are permitted two carry-on bags and there is no checked luggage on this train, which is fine with Megan Kennedy, a dancer with the Pittsburgh Ballet who doesn't like to entrust her pointe shoes to baggage handlers. "That's one added stress I didn't have to worry about on this trip," she says.
En route to New Jersey to visit a daughter, Christen says: "It's convenient. You don't have to worry about the tolls, the gas. You can walk around. On the bus, it's so limited."
Systemwide, Amtrak has set ridership records in nine of the past 10 years and carried 31.2 million passengers in fiscal 2012.
The Pennsylvanian, for its entire Pittsburgh to Philadelphia run, carried 212,006 passengers, up 2.2 percent over the prior year. Nearly 70 percent of that ridership boarded or disembarked west of Harrisburg, according to Amtrak.
Ridership on the route continued to grow in the fourth quarter of last year, up 5.1 percent, according to the magazine Passenger Train Journal.
The section from Harrisburg to Philadelphia is thriving, with 14 daily trips compared with just the one from Pittsburgh to Harrisburg.
Amtrak owns the track east of Harrisburg, and it and the state have invested more than $150 million in improvements. West of Harrisburg, the track is owned by Norfolk Southern.
Amtrak ridership boarding or leaving at Pittsburgh has been in decline. Some 142,800 people boarded or disembarked there from Pennsylvanian or Capitol Limited trains in the year ended Oct. 1, 2008; that number fell to about 129,400 in the year ended last Oct. 1.
Systemwide, Amtrak ridership rose 3.5 percent last year; Pittsburgh ridership was down 3.3 percent.
Traveling at midweek in the dead of winter, the eastbound train on Wednesday was less than one-third full; the return trip on Thursday was busier but still under half of capacity.
Traveling back to Pittsburgh from Philadelphia, where she works as a medical research coordinator, Shaler native Natalie Katchmar is surprised to learn that service between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg is in danger.
"Amtrak's pretty sweet," she says. "It's nice to be able to travel and do work at the same time."