Posts Tagged ‘3C passenger corridor’

More Hope Than Plan at This Point

February 3, 2021

News outlets in Ohio over the past few of days have reported stories about Amtrak service expansion plans in the state.

The intercity passenger carrier has been reported to be planning five new corridor services including Cleveland-Cincinnati via Columbus and Dayton; Chicago-Cincinnati via Indianapolis; Cleveland-Detroit (Pontiac) via Toledo; Cleveland-New York via Buffalo, New York; and Cleveland-New York via Pittsburgh.

Most of these routes would have multiple daily frequencies including four daily roundtrips on the Chicago-Cincinnati route.

The 3C corridor service would be three daily roundtrips while the Cleveland-New York service would be two daily roundtrips via Buffalo and one roundtrip via Pittsburgh.

Amtrak would fund these services through a program for which it is seeking $300 million from Congress.

For its part, Amtrak has been issuing a written statement to reporters seeking information that is far less detailed.

After stating that corridor services of 500 miles are the fastest growing segment of its network, the passenger carrier has said, “We have developed a visionary plan to expand rail service across the nation, providing service to large metropolitan areas that have little or no Amtrak service.

“We are working with our state partners, local officials and other stakeholders to understand their interests in new and improved Amtrak service and will be releasing that plan soon. We will call on Congress to authorize and fund Amtrak’s expansion in such corridors by allowing us to cover most of the initial capital and operating costs of new or expanded routes”

And that’s it. The statement did not provide any details about specific routes and service levels.

The specific information came from All Aboard Ohio, an advocacy group that has long sought without success to push for creation of a network of passenger trains in the Buckeye state.

But is this proposal the “game changer” that some on social media are calling it?

It could be but keep in mind it is simply a proposal. There is no guarantee Congress will approve funding for the corridor development program and no guarantee that any of the proposed Ohio trains will ever turn a wheel.

AAO public affairs director Kenneth Prendergast acknowledged in an interview with Trains magazine that the five corridors that his group has identified are “more of an outline or goal than a plan.”

Amtrak officials have been meeting with local officials throughout Ohio to discuss the corridor program proposal. Similar meetings have been held in other states, including Tennessee and Kansas.

Based on what Amtrak government affairs officials said during state legislative hearings in those states, Amtrak would front the costs of route development and pay operating expenses on a sliding scale for up to five years.

State and local governments would have to begin underwriting the service starting in the second year and assume all funding after the fifth year.

If you read the Amtrak statement carefully, it says the passenger carrier would pay for most of the initial capital and operating costs.

That is not necessarily the 100 percent federal funding factoid that AAO described in a post on its website and it officers have been talking up in news media interviews.

In fairness, though, the AAO post later said that Amtrak might pay up to 100 percent of the initial capital costs and up to 100 percent of the operating costs for the first two years.

Given that Amtrak has yet to release details about the corridor development program and has yet to formally ask Congress to fund it, there is much that remains unknown.

And given that the Amtrak statement falls short of saying it will pay all costs of getting a route up and running it is reasonable to conclude that state and local governments would need to pay something, although we don’t know yet what that would be.

One guess is local and state money would need to help fund station development.

Not even AAO expects the proposed services to come to fruition anytime soon.

Writing on Twitter, AAO said it can take three to six years to get a route started depending on its complexity.

In the meantime, AAO has said it will seek a “small appropriation” in the next biennial budget to pay for state-level planning of the five proposed corridors.

It is not clear whether Gov. Mike DeWine and Ohio legislative leaders would be receptive to that.

AAO argues that DeWine is more inclined to be supportive of passenger rail than was his predecessor, John Kasich.

As a gubernatorial candidate in 2010, Kasich adamantly opposed using a $400 million federal stimulus grant the state had received to start 3C service.

Upon being elected, Kasich returned that money to the U.S. Department of Transportation although not before making an unsuccessful pitch that the state be allowed to redirect the grant toward highway development.

AAO contends that DeWine has asked the Ohio Department of Transportation to put passenger rail “back on the radar.” But the scope of DeWine’s support for passenger rail has yet to be publicly articulated.

It is all but certain that once concrete proposals are introduced in the legislature authorizing spending state money on rail passenger service development that opposition will arise from opponents decrying wasting public money.

Another unknown is what demands the host railroads would make to agree to allow these trains to use their tracks.

We know that in the past host railroads have submitted lists of millions of dollars of infrastructure improvements as the price of acceptance.

How necessary those improvements were is debatable, but the demands seemed exorbitant enough to discourage the proposed service.

Such pricey demands have thwarted efforts to operate the Chicago-New York Cardinal and the Los Angeles-New Orleans Sunset Limited daily rather than tri-weekly.

Some of the articles and social media posts about the proposed Ohio corridors have noted that President Joseph Biden is an avid supporter of passenger rail and is expected to release an infrastructure proposal later this year.

Passenger rail advocates are hoping to use that as the springboard to shake loose billions of federal dollars for passenger rail development.

It may be a time to be optimistic yet nothing is certain. At best Amtrak’s proposal represents hope. But as we’ve seen in the past, those hopes can be a very fragile thing.

Budget Proposal Gets Muted Reaction in Washington

February 16, 2020

A Trump administration proposal to more than halve Amtrak funding in federal fiscal year 2021 received a muted response on Capitol Hill.

The Rail Passengers Association wrote on its blog that congressional leaders in both parties are saying there is a two-year budget agreement in effect and they expect that will guide the appropriations process.

“We’ve got the caps deal in place,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “We negotiated it last year. It’s good for the second year, and we’ll comply with that.”

Nonetheless, RPA is trying to activate its members to contact Congress in opposition to the Amtrak funding cuts.

The administration’s budget proposal calls for slashing Amtrak funding from the $2 billion appropriated for FY2020, which ends on Sept. 30, to $936 million.

The budget proposal would reduce funding for the Northeast Corridor from $700 million to $325 million.

Funding of the national network would fall from $1.3 million to $611 million.

The budget document calls for the elimination of Amtrak’s long-distance passengers trains over the next five years.

Specifically, that would be accomplished through implementation of a new grant program whose objective is to encourage state and local governments to fund Amtrak service in corridors of 100 to 500 miles.

The budget document gave few details about the grant program other than it would only last through FY2015.

However, the administration made clear that it sees no future for long-distance trains.

“Amtrak trains inadequately serve many rural markets while not serving many growing metropolitan areas at all,” the budget document said. “The Administration believes that restructuring the Amtrak system can result in better service at a lower cost, by focusing trains on better-performing routes, while providing robust intercity bus service connections.”

RPA said the proposed $550 million in National Network “transformational grants” appears to be designed to help Amtrak cover the costs of multi-year labor agreements and contracts.

The rail passenger advocacy group argues that those agreements in tandem with the lost revenue from the eliminated trains and lost connections will make ending Amtrak’s long-distance network an expensive proposition.

Last year the Trump administration proposed a similar funding program that would have given states money to implement intercity bus services in lieu of passenger trains.

That idea went nowhere in Congress and the long-distance network survived intact.

The FY2021 budget proposal promised to provide details at an unspecified later date as part of the administration’s proposal for renewing the surface transportation act that expires on Sept. 30.

That document will, presumably, also provide a more complete picture of what corridor services Amtrak and the U.S. Department of Transportation have in mind for funding with the federal transformation grants.

For more than a year Amtrak President Richard Anderson has talked up the concept of corridor services between urban centers, particularly in the South and West.

Anderson’s concept is to provide multiple daily frequencies on those routes.

In his public comments and congressional testimony, Anderson has said many cities served by long-distance routes are served poorly due to scheduling or lack of service frequency.

Amtrak executives have also in recent weeks visited state legislative transportation committee hearings to talk up the corridors concept.

An Amtrak public affairs manager spoke in Tennessee in favor of a new route between Nashville and Atlanta.

The same official also spoke in Kansas about an extension of the Heartland Flyer to the Sunflower State via Wichita.

In both instances, the Amtrak executive made clear that state and local governments will be expected to underwrite the operating losses of the routes.

During the Kansas hearing, the Amtrak executive referred to a yet to be enacted fund to help states fund new service.

The Trump administration budget proposal appears to be the framework for that fund.

Last year in response to questions raised during a congressional hearing Amtrak in a letter to senators declined to list the proposed corridors that it is studying, but indicated that it would continue to work with states that have expressed an interest in new Amtrak service.

Among the routes in states that have worked with Amtrak in recent years on service expansions are a route between Duluth, Minnesota, and the Twin Cities; an extension of Northeast Regional service to Bistol, Virginia; and a train between Chicago and the Twin Cities on the route of the Empire Builder.

There are no shortage of potential new Amtrak routes including some that have been discussed for years but failed to gain political traction.

That would include the 3C corridor in Ohio between Cleveland and Cincinnati via Columbus and Dayton.

Amtrak has never served that route, although it does provide service currently to Cleveland and Cincinnati with long-distance trains.

Columbus and Dayton lost Amtrak service on Oct. 1, 1979, with the discontinuance of the New York-Kansas City National Limited.

If Congress does, indeed, follow the budget deal reached last year, it seems likely that Amtrak’s services in the next fiscal year will be the same as those now operating.

Budget proposals are more policy statements and aspirational statements than they are blueprints.

The Trump administration is not the first to call for elimination of Amtrak’s long-distance passenger trains.

The real action is likely to be in the political wrangling over the surface transportation renewal bill and even action on that is not guaranteed despite the looming Sept. 30 expiration of the current FAST Act.

Congress might seek to extend the current FAST act through a continuing resolution just as it does the federal budget when it fails to reach agreement on a appropriations as the current fiscal year is coming to a close.

‘Data Nerd’ Creates Ohio Rail Passenger Plan

December 6, 2019

A self-described data nerd has designed an intercity rail passenger network for Ohio that is rooted in the moribund Ohio Hub plan.

It remains to be seen whether the plans drawn up by Kevin Verhoff will get any attention.

Verhoff, who lives 40 miles from Columbus and grew up in Elyria, is seeking to create a public transportation network for the state after riding to work on public transportation while living in San Francisco and Newark, New Jersey.

“It was very convenient for me,” he said of those experiences. “It made a big difference in my day-to-day life.”

Although he grew up in Ohio, Verhoff said he experienced something of a culture shock when he returned to the state and had to do with limited public transportation.

His proposal for a passenger rail system in Ohio is comprised of seven basic routes, including one that is oriented to serving Columbus.

The plan also included the long-discussed 3C corridor between Cleveland and Cincinnati via Columbus and Dayton.

Other routes would connect Toledo and Cincinnati via Dayton; connect Cleveland and Dayton on a different alignment than the 3C Corridor; connect Marietta and Toledo while continuing into Michigan to Detroit and Ann Arbor; and connect Toledo and Cleveland with an extension into far Northeast Ohio and possibily to Buffalo, New York.

Not all of the route would link the city’s urban areas. The proposed Keystone Express would be situated in eastern and central Ohio linking such town as Mount Vernon, Millersburg, New Philadelphia and Steubenville. The line could continue to Pittsburgh.

Verhoff’s network would serve half of Ohio’s 88 counties.

In an interview with Ohio Capital Journal, Verhoff acknowledged that creating the network is a tall challenge with issues of funding and right of way acquisition.

It will also be a challenge to get politicians, business leaders and other stakeholders to work together on the plan, which he estimated would cost $9 billion.

The executive director of All Aboard Ohio, a rail and public transportation advocacy group, agrees that Verhoff’s plan faces major hurdles.

“(The) real work comes in educating Ohio’s policymakers how far ahead our neighboring states are in developing, improving and operating passenger rail services, and what benefits they are enjoying from those investments,” said Ken Prendergast.

He said All Board Ohio appreciates Verhoff’s advocacy and hopes the attention drawn to transit issues will make an impact.

Ohio policy makers have supported various statewide intercity rail passenger plans at various times, but nothing has ever materialized.

Those included the 2007 Ohio Hub plan, which envisioned a statewide rail network that would have extended beyond the state’s borders.

The closest the state case to financially supporting a rail route was a $400 million grant from the federal government to pay for work to launch the 3C corridor.

But John Kasich ran for governor in 2010 in opposition to that plan and after he defeated incumbent Gov. Ted Strickland he killed the 3C project. The funding was taken back by the federal government.

Since then, the Ohio Department of Transportation has created its Access Ohio 2040 plan that describes a number of “long-term transportation outcomes” but does not mention a passenger rail network other than making references to enhanced and improved access “to the existing multimodal system.”

The Ohio Rail Development Commission in its 2018 State of Ohio Rail Plan described a proposal to develop a passenger line between Chicago and Columbus.

A feasibility study was completed in 2013 but a environmental impact study is now needed.

The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission is conducting its own study of a proposed rail line linking Chicago, Columbus and Pittsburgh.

That study is looking at the potential of a hyperloop, which would involve passengers riding in high-speed tubes.

The ORDC plan also touched on Amtrak station improvement projects that were planned or underway in Cincinnati, Cleveland and Toledo.

Verhoff told Ohio Capital Journal that transportation is an issue which intersects with health care, economy, jobs and tourism.

After he posted his map to his blog and on Twitter Verhoff said he was surprised at the number of positive responses he received.

“A lot of people were saying ‘this would totally change my life,’” he said.

Others asked that their communities be included in the network. These comments, Vehoff said, show there is a demand for public transit is widespread across Ohio.

As for funding, Verhoff said it could come in a variety of ways, including municipal bonds or shifting highway and gas tax funding toward transit priorities.

Verhoff said much of the $9 billion project cost could be mitigated by using and upgrading existing rail lines in the state.

Ohio History Conference Set for Oct. 1 at AOS

September 2, 2016

The 2016 Ohio Rail History Conference will be held on Oct. 1 from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Age of Steam Roundhouse in Sugarcreek.

Five presentations have been set, including one by Akron Railroad Club President Craig Sanders.

Age of SteamThree other programs will potentially be included on the program.

The registration fee is $45 per person and includes admission to the AOS facility. Registrations must be received by Sept. 24.

To register for the conference, send a check payable to “The Ohio Rail Conference” to The Ohio Rail Conference, 320 Leader Building, 526 Superior Avenue East, Cleveland OH 44114.

An email confirmation will be sent upon a registration being received and will include a release form to enter the AOS property.

A registration form can also be requested from the same address or obtained online at the website of the Northeast Ohio Association of Railway Societies (NOARS) at http://www.trainweb.org/noars/

Scheduled programs include:

“The Ohio Central System, Jerry Jacobson, and the Age of Steam,” by Michael Connor; “The New York Central’s M-497 Jet-Powered RDC,” by Don Wetzel; “The Newburg & South Shore,” by Joe Juratovac; “The 3-C Route : Past, Present and Potential,” by Craig Sanders; and “What Ohio Lost with the Creation of Conrail,” by Sheldon Lustig.

Other potential programs include a presentation on Ohio interurban railways by Blaine Hayes, a presentation on the Pennsylvania Railroad in Northern Ohio by Dan Davidson, and a program about the Lake Erie, Alliance & Wheeling Railroad by Chip Symes.

Lunch is included in the registration fee and attendees will also have a guided tour of the roundhouse.

August eBulletin Features an In-depth Look at the Battle to Restore 3C Intercity Passenger Service

August 21, 2016

August 2016

Scheduled passengers trains last linked Ohio’s three largest cities in 1969, although service remained over the length of the corridor until the coming of Amtrak on May 1, 1971.

Those trains were poorly patronized and Amtrak didn’t want them. Aside from the New York-Kansas City National Limited using a portion of the 3C corridor between 1971 and 1979, the route has been without intercity passenger service since the coming of Amtrak.

Over the past four decade, various proposals have been put forth to resume 3C service, the most recent in 2010. But none of them came close to fruition and the 3C corridor remains among a number of routes that passenger train advocates argue has a good chance to succeed if the service could get out of the station.

But it hasn’t and the cover story of the August 2016 Akron Railroad Club eBulletin will examine the history of passenger service in the corridor, showing how decisions made when the New York Central was the dominant railroad in the market continue to hold importance today and explain why efforts to revive 3C have failed.

The August issue also takes a look back at the July ARRC picnic at Warwick Park.

To subscribe to the eBulletin or obtain a copy, send an email to csanders429@aol.com

There is no charge to subscribe or obtain a single copy.

CSX May Balk on PTC for the Columbus Line Sub

April 12, 2016

CSX is considering downgrading its Columbus Line Subdivision between Galion and Columbus and rerouting the through freights on the route elsewhere rather than pay the estimated $6 million cost of installing positive train control.

All Aboard Ohio, a rail passenger advocacy group, said that if CSX downgrades the Columbus Line it could have adverse consequences for development of the Cleveland-Columbus-Cincinnati passenger corridor.

CSX logo 1The freight railroad currently routes five to 10 trains per day over the Columbus Line and the route meets the federal threshold for requiring PTC.

A rail route must have a PTC system if it handles more than 5 million gross tons of traffic a year, hosts passenger service, or sees shipments of materials defined as toxic by inhalation.

If CSX downgrades the route rather than install PTC, it would maintain the track to Class 2 standards with a top speed of 30 mph for passenger trains and 25 mph for freight. CSX might also remove or turn off the block signals used on the route.

PTC costs an average of about $100,000 per mile, depending on the physical characteristics of the terrain being traversed.

The 60-mile Columbus Line between Galion and Columbus is currently maintained to Class 4 standards of 80 mph for passenger and 60 mph for freight.

CSX has the option of rerouting through freights now operating over the Columbus Line in a dog leg fashion via the Scottslawn Subdivision between Columbus and Ridgeway and thence over the Mt. Victory Subdivision between Ridgeway and Galion.

A remote-control connecting track between the Scottslawn and Mt. Victory subdivisions already exists in the southeast quadrant of the diamond.

AAO reported that CSX might lease the Columbus Line to short line operate Genesee & Wyoming, which already has a base of operations in Columbus.

The largest freight customer on the Columbus Line is an Anheuser-Busch brewery in Worthington on the north side of the Columbus metropolitan region.

The Columbus Line represents about a quarter of the proposed 3C Corridor. AAO noted that the line between Columbus and Delaware has been discussed as a possible commuter rail operation because it lies in the busiest commuting corridor in central Ohio.

The Columbus Line has not hosted passenger trains since a pair of Penn Central trains between Cleveland and Columbus were discontinued on May 1, 1971, with the coming of Amtrak.

AAO has described the 3C corridor as one of the most promising intercity rail routes in the nation.

Ohio received a $400 million federal grant to use toward establishing Cleveland-Cincinnati Amtrak service, but Gov. John Kasich canceled the 3C Quick Start plan shortly after being elected in 2010.