Pennsylvania transportation officials yesterday asked the federal government for $28.2 million for high-speed rail development along the "Keystone Corridor" between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

One application was for $27.45 million for preliminary engineering on four projects to upgrade tracks, signals and power between Harrisburg and Philadelphia, to add a third express track between Atglen and Paoli, and to remove three grade crossings in Lancaster County.

A second application was for $750,000 to study ways to improve rail service between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, including additional tracks and electrification of the route.

The applications were filed by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation late yesterday, the deadline for states to seek funding from part of a federal pool of $8 billion in stimulus funds for high-speed rail projects.

The federal government is expected to announce the award of the first high-speed rail grants by mid-September.

The Keystone Corridor is one of 10 corridors identified as potential high-speed rail routes eligible for funding.

PennDot said in its application that the planned improvements between Philadelphia and Harrisburg could increase the top operating speed on the route to 125 m.p.h. from 110 m.p.h.

The state also is seeking to increase the top speed of passenger trains between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh to 110 m.p.h. from the current top speed of 79 m.p.h. With additional tracks and electrification, PennDot said, the current 51/2-hour trip time could be reduced by two hours, and eight round trips could be offered daily, up from the current one.

The state in 2006 completed a $145 million upgrade to the Philadelphia-Harrisburg portion of the Keystone Corridor, allowing state-subsidized Amtrak trains to make the one-way trip in about 1 hour and 40 minutes.

With the faster trips and additional trains, ridership between Philadelphia and Harrisburg has increased by 26 percent in the last two years, state officials said.

Contact staff writer Paul Nussbaum at 215-854-4587 or pnussbaum@phillynews.com.