Amtrak Expansion in Ohio Remains Uncertain

Whether Ohio seeks federal funding to develop new Amtrak services in the state may hinge in part on who wins this year’s governor’s race.

Democrat Nan Whaley has said she would seek the funding to create the service while incumbent Republican Mike DeWine has been noncommittal although he did order the Ohio Rail Development Commission to conduct a study of Amtrak’s proposals to launch new service in Ohio.

Through its Amtrak Connects US plan, the passenger carrier has proposed developing service between Cleveland and Cincinnati via Columbus and Dayton.

Amtrak would also create service between Cleveland and Detroit, boost service between Cleveland and New York City, and between Cincinnati and Chicago.

Amtrak has proposed fronting the money to develop routes and pay at least some of the operating expenses not covered by ticket revenue for up to five years.

After five years, the state would be expected to pick up the costs of the routes.

A story published by The Plain Dealer quoted Ohio Senate president Matt Huffman (R-Lima) as expressing doubt that intercity passenger trains are needed in Ohio.

He said it might make sense to have trains in large, dense cities such as New York, but said there’s a question about whether enough Ohioans would prefer to travel via a train instead of by car.

“I’m not enthusiastic about it,” Huffman said of the Amtrak expansion proposal. “It’s kind of fun to talk about, but until someone can figure out why it’s better than taking a car, I don’t think it’s going to happen.”

House Speaker Bob Cupp (R-Lima) said when asked about the Amtrak proposals, “At this point, I don’t have any thoughts.”

DeWine said he has an open mind about passenger train development in Ohio and noted he and his family have traveled on Amtrak to go on camping trips in the West.

He added that he wants to see the results of the ORDC studies before taking a position on seeking federal funding for development of Amtrak routes.

More than a decade ago, the Federal Railroad Administration awarded Ohio $400 million to develop the Cleveland-Cincinnati route.

But after being elected governor in 2010 John Kasich returned that money to the federal government and plans to develop the 3-C corridor collapsed.

There have been no serious efforts to develop the corridor or any other intercity rail passenger route in Ohio since then.

The funding Amtrak plans to use to develop new routes comes from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act approved by Congress last year.

However, the $66 billion in the IIJA that was dedicated toward passenger rail is not enough to fund development of all of the routes shown in the Amtrak Connects US plan.

The route development funding is being funded through the FRA, which earlier this month released guidelines for those interested in seeking funding to develop routes.

The FRA is not expected to begin accepting proposals until this fall.

The ORDC study is expected to take eight months, although an ORDC spokeswoman told The Plain Dealer it is not clear how long the study will take because it is in “the very, very early stages.”

DeWine’s mandate to the ORDC was to determine the feasibility and cost of expanding passenger rail service in Ohio.

During a meeting with news reporters this week, DeWine did say that if the ORDC finds the 250-mile Cleveland-Cincinnati route would run at an average speed of 39 miles per hour, “that’s just not going to work.”

The 39 mph average speed figure came from the 2010 proposal. In its Amtrak Connects US plan, Amtrak said it envisioned three day roundtrips between Cleveland and Cincinnati with a running time of 5.2 hours.

In a statement, Whaley, a former mayor of Dayton, said she has been a long-time supporter of the Cleveland-Cincinnati route and pledged that if elected to “use the full power of her administration to make these proposed routes a reality.”

Earlier, 11 Ohio House Democrats and one House Republican introduced a resolution in support of expanding Amtrak service in Ohio, but it has yet to receive a hearing or a vote in the House.

In a related development, the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission and Columbus Partnership announced support of the development of the Cleveland-Cincinnati route.

MORPC executive director William Murdock said Columbus is one of the largest regions in the country without access to a rail system.

“What we’re proposing is multiple trips a day from Columbus to Cleveland, Columbus to Dayton and Cincinnati,” Murdock said. “And we’re even investigating lines from Columbus to Pittsburgh and Columbus to Chicago.”

Amtrak has three routes in Ohio with stations in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Sandusky, Elyria, Toledo, Bryan and Alliance.

All three routes link Chicago with cities on the East Coast, including Boston, New York and Washington.

The Chicago-New York route via Cincinnati operates tri-weekly while the other two routes operate or soon will operate daily.

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