Mayors, Planning Groups Seek to Promote Interest in Intercity Passenger Rail Routes in Ohio

The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, some Ohio mayors and other metropolitan planning organizations have submitted “expression of interest” letters to the Federal Railroad Administration in a bid to jump start the creation of intercity passenger service between Cleveland and Cincinnati.

The FRA earlier this year called for expressions of interest from state and local government entities in participating in a program the agency is overseeing to develop new passenger service or improving existing service.

The letters to the FRA promoted the 3C+D corridor via Columbus and Dayton as well as routes linking Chicago and Pittsburgh via Columbus.

The letters of interest are a first step toward winning a grant from the FRA to begin the planning process for the new service.

Amtrak has not served Columbus or Dayton since the 1979 discontinuance of the New York-Kansas City National Limited.

Cincinnati is served by the tri-weekly Chicago-New York Cardinal while Cleveland and Toledo are on Amtrak routes linking Chicago with New York, Boston and Washington.

It remains to be seen, though, whether Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, the Ohio Department of Transportation or the Ohio legislature will be onboard with the efforts to expand rail passenger service in the state.

The letters written by the mayors and planning agencies are in part an effort to show support for expanding Amtrak operations in Ohio.

The 3C+D corridor is part of the Amtrak Connects US plan released by Amtrak in 2021 showing what future services the intercity rail passenger carrier would like to operate.

Those services, though, hinge upon the willingness of state and local governments to pay for those routes once they are developed.

Some funding for intercity route development is included in the federal Infrastructure and Jobs Act. The FRA just this week issued a call for proposals to be submitted by next March by parties interested in working with the FRA to develop new passenger service or to improve existing service.

“To me the good news is that people are thinking about this, people are noticing,” said Stu Nicholson, executive director of All Aboard Ohio, which advocates for rail passenger service and public transit.

Nicholson told the website Columbus Underground that other governors have been more active in working toward getting a share of the FRA funding for passenger route development than DeWine has been.

Last May DeWine did direct the Ohio Rail Development Commission to talk with Amtrak about how much it would cost to launch the routes serving Ohio that are identified in the Amtrak Connects US plan.

A spokesperson for DeWine told Columbus Underground report that DeWine “wouldn’t be responding to questions about Amtrak expansion until a report being prepared by ORDC examining construction and operation costs has been completed.”

At the time that DeWine ordered the study, the ORDC said the study would take eight months to a year to complete.

That would put Ohio at risk of missing the March 7 deadline the FRA has set for bids to seek funding in the first round of funding for the passenger development program.

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