Passenger trains could roll next year
Friday, January 30, 2009 3:17 AM
By James Nash
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
It’s been so long since people could catch a train in Columbus and debark in Cleveland a couple of hours later that most Ohioans probably regard the notion as a Cold War memory, like TV dinners in metal trays.
Now it’s time to thaw out the idea, advocates say.
State leaders are determined to connect Ohio’s three largest cities by passenger rail as early as next year, an idea that Gov. Ted Strickland endorsed in his State of the State address Wednesday.
The so-called 3-C corridor was abandoned in 1971, a consequence of falling ridership and the breakdown of the national rail network. Columbus, which lost all passenger rail service in 1979, now is the second-largest city in the country without rail service. (Phoenix is first, although light rail reaches a suburb.)
“Our goal is to link Ohio’s three largest cities by passenger rail for the first time in 40 years,” Strickland said during his State of the State speech. “This will be the first step toward a rail system that links neighborhoods within a city, and cities within our state.”
There’s already movement toward the goal of having trains rolling next year:
• On Jan. 5, Amtrak launched a $45,000 study for the Ohio Rail Development Commission into potential ridership, revenue and any obstacles toward reactivating the route. Results of the study are expected by the end of the summer.
• The chairwoman of the Ohio Rail Development Commission, Jolene Molitoris, takes over as director of the Ohio Department of Transportation on Monday. Molitoris, a former federal railroad administrator, has been Ohio’s highest-profile champion of rail service.
• Rail in Ohio could get as much as $100 million from the federal economic-stimulus plan passed by the House on Wednesday. The stimulus bill currently is being debated in the Senate.
• Ohio also could qualify for rail funding under the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act, which former President George W. Bush signed into law in October. The bill significantly expands Amtrak’s capital budget and provides for 80 percent federal funding for approved major projects with a 20 percent state match.
“We have an opportunity here to build up a culture throughout the state of building rail if that fits your needs,” Molitoris said yesterday. “It’s about building a menu of options for Ohioans.”
Molitoris is stepping down as chairwoman of the rail commission in order to become Ohio’s top transportation planner. Her last meeting was yesterday, during which fellow members of the commission said they plan to keep pushing for expanded passenger rail in Ohio.
Amtrak already runs trains daily across the Lake Erie corridor on routes connecting Chicago with New York and Washington. Cincinnati is served three days a week on a different route linking New York to Chicago via Washington.
Columbus no longer has a passenger rail station, but city officials are eyeing several potential sites Downtown and in the Arena District, said Stu Nicholson, spokesman for the Ohio Rail Development Commission.
No specifics have been rolled out on potential schedules or fares.