Posts Tagged ‘All Aboard Ohio’

New Rail Alliance Pushes Old Idea

August 2, 2021

Although the coalition is new, the idea is not.

Seven rail passenger advocacy groups announced last week the formation of the Lakeshore Rail Alliance which has proposed expanding Amtrak’s Chicago-New York service via Cleveland, Buffalo and Toledo from one daily roundtrip to four.

Amtrak currently links Chicago and New York with two trains, the daily Lake Shore Limited via Cleveland and the Cardinal, which operates tri-weekly via Indianapolis, Cincinnati and West Virginia.

In past years Amtrak operated a third Chicago-New York train, the Broadway Limited. The Broadway was discontinued in September 1995 and for a few years another Chicago-New York train, the Three Rivers, ran between the two cities between November 1996 and March 2005.

Neither the Three Rivers nor the Broadway Limited operated over the Lakeshore Corridor.

The proposed four Chicago-New York trains concept was initially proposed in 2011 by Richard Harnish, the executive director of the High-Speed Rail Alliance, a Chicago-based group that is one of the seven members of the Lakeshore Alliance.

His original idea was to upgrade the route to enable trains to cover the distance on schedules several hours shorter than today’s Lake Shore Limited.

No. 48 is scheduled at 19 hours eastbound while No. 49 is scheduled at more than 20 hours.

The Harnish proposal has failed to gain any traction since it was proposed.

A draft plan released by the alliance shows that there would remain other trains in the Lakeshore Corridor, including existing Amtrak Empire Corridor service between New York and Buffalo, and the Chicago-Washington Capitol Limited, which operates in the corridor between Chicago and Cleveland.

In a statement, the alliance described the Lakeshore Corridor as a series of overlapping short corridors.

“As a result, maximizing volume would require treating this as a single route—even if no one rode the train more than 400 miles,” the alliance said.

Michael Fuhrman, the executive director of the Lakeshore Alliance, said the Lakeshore Corridor is the second-most-important transportation corridor east of the Mississippi.

“It connects the Great Lakes megaregion of 55 million people with the Northeast Megaregion of 52 million people—the two largest of the 11 megaregions of the U.S. No other corridor between those two areas is better suited for development of passenger rail.”

By combining forces the alliance members hope to generate a wider swath of local political support for the public funding that would be needed to upgrade the Lakeshore Corridor, which largely involves host railroads CSX and Norfolk Southern.

Bill Hutchison, a former officer of alliance member All Aboard Ohio, believes that pushing for four trains might improve the likelihood of getting a second train on the route someday, or even a third.

“Local governments are on board, but we need an organizing force,” All Aboard Ohio member Ed D’Amato said. “We need to bring in new voices—we’re trying to build a choir here.”

Other groups in the coalition include the Empire State Passengers Association, Indiana Passenger Rail Alliance, Northern Indiana Passenger Rail Association, All Aboard Erie, and the Northwest Ohio Passenger Rail Association. 

Some rail passenger advocates see the goal of the Lakeshore Alliance as noble but not necessarily realistic.

“Four trains would be great, but is it realistic?” said Richard Rudolph, chair of the Rail Users’ Network.

Rudolph agrees the lakeshore corridor should have at least two trains, but one of them could be a Chicago-Boston train that would not need to do any switching at the Albany-Rensselaer, New York, station as the current Lake Shore Limited does in combining and separating its New York and Boston sections.

He noted that Amtrak could add service to its national network without violating the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008, which limits the national network to routes operating when the law was adopted.

A Michigan rail passenger advocacy group reportedly wants to become involved in the lakeshore alliance, which currently lacks involvement with a group representing Massachusetts.

Coalition Seeks Boost in Chicago-New York Amtrak Service

July 29, 2021

A newly formed intercity rail passenger advocacy coalition is pushing for increased service in the Chicago-New York corridor.

The Lakeshore Rail Alliance is calling for at least four daily Amtrak roundtrips between the two cities. The coalition said this would be an interim service level until a high-speed service can be created.

The new coalition is based in Erie, Pennsylvania, and is made up of existing rail advocacy groups

All Aboard Erie, All Aboard Ohio, the Empire State Passenger Association, the Chicago-based High-Speed Rail Alliance, the Indiana Passenger Rail Association, the Northern Indiana Passenger Rail Association, and the Northwest Ohio Passenger Rail Association make up the coalition .

Michael Fuhrman of All Aboard Erie will serve as executive director. He previously was director of economic and regional issue agency Destination Erie. The coalition has a website that shows sample timetables of the expanded service.

AAO Wants Probe of RTA Railcar Procurement

May 15, 2021

An Ohio rail advocacy group wants an investigation into the procurement process being used by the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority to buy new railcars.

All Aboard Ohio said it contacted the Federal Transit Administration’s inspector general after it learned from unnamed GCRTA sources and a railcar manufacturer that RTA twice denied deadline extensions sought by one or more manufacturers.

The builders said they needed more time to respond to RTA’s pending request for proposals.

AAO said it fears the denials could suppress competition among bidders, which could increase the costs for what is expected to be a $240 million program to replace the cars.

The car replacement project is expected to be RTA’s most expensive capital project in its history.

In a statement, RTA said it continues to pursue acquisition of new rail cars but declined to provide further details on the process.

The statement said RTA is following FTA’s best practices and is in compliance with state and federal regulations.

RTA issued a request for proposals on Feb. 22 that gave interested parties 12 weeks to prepare and submit proposals by May 19.

The transit agency plans to buy 18 railcars and seek options to buy dozens more later. RTA wants to use federal funding to finance some of the purchase.

The agency plans to use one model on all of its rail lines. Currently, it has two types of cars with one dedicated to use on the Red Line and another on the Green and Blue lines.

AAO contend that at least one rail car manufacturer was unable to visit the RTA railcar maintenance shop until April.

The advocacy group said deadline extensions for such projects are considered a “best practice” by the FTA, and had been done on projects in in California, New York, and Illinois in an effort to enhance competition among bidders.

“We hope that FTA’s [inspector general] will be able to determine why FTA’s best practices are not being followed here,” AAO said in its letter to the FTA, saying the deadline should be extended by a month.

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.

Purveyors of Hope

July 20, 2020

I was going through a pile of clutter and discovered the Fall-Winter 2019-2020 issue of the Ohio Passenger Rail News that I had intended to read months ago but put aside and forgot.

The lead article titled “Ohio looks to get back into rail,” opened with an assertion that the 2010s were a wasted decade for rail passenger service in Ohio.

The state didn’t lose any service but didn’t gain anything new, either. The service it has is far from attractive given the middle of the night arrival and departure times at most stations.

The piece sounded an optimistic note that the Mike DeWine administration might be willing to move forward in ways that the John Kasich administration never did.

That movement, though, is tenuous and comes with a lot of caveats.

ODOT wants to consolidate passenger rail projects described in the state’s rail plan into a single grant application to the Federal Railroad Administration.

These include second station tracks in Cincinnati and Cleveland, a full length boarding platform in Sandusky, and a new station in Oxford to enable service by Amtrak’s Chicago-New York Cardinal.

Any grant request is unlikely to include all of those projects and the state would be seeking a relatively modest $10 million to $20 million.

ODOT isn’t willing to invest millions on infrastructure needs to accommodate new trains to places that lack service now so any new service would be confined to existing Amtrak routes.

State transportation officials told Amtrak during a meeting last year they want in return for their investment more convenient service and more frequency of service.

Amtrak wants those things, too, but is unwilling to change the schedules of its existing service to accommodate Ohio if that means breaking connections in Chicago.

Like so many articles I’ve read in this newsletter over the years there was a discussion of prospective expanded intercity rail service, including increasing the frequency of operation of the Chicago-New York Cardinal from tri-weekly to five days a week, launching a Cleveland-Chicago train with a schedule favorable to Ohio, and starting a train linking Detroit and Pittsburgh via Cleveland.

Funding for the new services would come from a federal grant program that would pay operating costs for three years. Beyond that Ohio could “partner” with adjacent states to share the costs of those trains.

All of these ideas sound good on paper because they are plausible. But will any of them happen?

All Ohio rail passenger advocates can do is hope.

There are only a handful of people willing to dedicate their lives to the cause of rail passenger service and persevere in the face of repeated rejection and indifference from public officials who control the spending of public funds.

There is little doubt that passenger service doesn’t happen without public funding.

Public funding doesn’t happen without a viable political constituency to push for it. Viable political constituencies don’t develop without members having hope that their efforts are going to result in something.

What was not discussed in the newsletter is how large of a constituency is needed to achieve political movement and how far Ohio rail passengers advocates are from that.

Also generally avoided is a frank discussion of the enormity of the obstacles that need to be overcome.

To do that might prove to be too discouraging. Instead, readers get hopeful proposals that neither Amtrak nor the state have shown much, if any, interest in pursuing.

So long as there is reasonable hope maybe the troops will continue to fight for the cause.

It may also be that those who write these articles are trying to bolster their own spirits as much as they are those of their followers.

Leaders and followers alike have been wandering a barren landscape for more than a decade and have little to show for it. At best they have been offered an occasional glass of lemonade when what they really wanted was a full meal.

So they create ideas and foster hope about what might be possible. Hope, it would seem, is all they have to offer.

AAO Names Nicholson Executive Director

January 12, 2020

All Aboard Ohio has named Stu Nicholson as its executive director.

He replaces Ken Prendergast who will now have the title of public affairs director.

The rail passenger advocacy group said in a news release that Prendergast asked to be reassigned to his new role.

Nicholson, like Prendergast, comes from a journalism background having been a broadcast journalist for more than 22 years.

“I’m excited about both the near and long-term future for both passenger rail and public transportation in Ohio,” Nicholson said in a statement. “We scored a big victory for public transit funding in Ohio last year in the biennial ODOT budget, when the Ohio General Assembly approved an increase to $70 million to support Ohio’s public transit systems.”

Nicholson said AAO also has worked to build a coalition of more than 40 advocacy groups around the state to help lift Ohio out of the bottom five among the worst states for funding public transportation.

He spoke of getting funding for the development of intercity passenger rail, public transit, bikeways and walkable communities as a “long game.”

‘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.

Remembering J. Howard Harding

October 7, 2019

A memorial service for veteran passenger train and public transit advocate John Howard Harding of Akron will held on Saturday (Oct. 12, 2019) at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Akron at 11 a.m. with the Rev. Tim Timerson officiating.

Howard and Patricia Harding

A reception will follow the service at the church.

Mr. Harding, who died July 13, at age 79 at the Justin T. Rogers Hospice Care Center, had been living in the Brookdale independent living center in Montrose.

He was a former president and vice president of the Ohio Association of Railroad Passengers, now known as All Aboard Ohio, and a former member of the Akron Railroad Club.

In 2006 he was named a director emeritus of OARP, which he had joined in 1976.

Mr. Harding retired in January 2002 after 32 years of working as a planner for the Akron Metropolitan Transportation Study.

He served as president of OARP between 1989 and 1994 and also served on the board of directors of the National Association of Railroad Passengers.

Mr. Harding had been active in the Ohio Sierra Club and was one of the founding members of the Portage Trail chapter.

Many who knew Mr. Harding recalled him as being an outspoken man who frequently wrote letters to public officials and the editorial page editor of the Akron Beacon Journal.

Those letters often focused on his views about the environment and his support for public transportation.

“I read articles by and about Howard in newspapers and association newsletters,” said AAO Executive Director Ken Prendergast. “I was very impressed by Howard. His facts were always well-sourced and persuasive, and he cut through all the political and self-interest BS using hard-to-argue-with data and logic. Later on, I saw why some people called him Spock.”

Former AAO President Bill Hutchinson described Mr. Harding as a very dedicated environmentalist and rail passenger advocate.

“And his passion for the causes he supported were second to none,” Hutchison said. “He was a stickler for detail. ‘Document, document, document’ was his mantra and it rubbed off on everyone around him, giving the then-OARP great credibility.”

Former OARP President Mark Carlson said Mr. Harding’s extensive knowledge of transportation was holistic.

“He understood how it shaped our communities, aided or restrained our personal mobility, affected our environment, and impacted everybody’s life,” Carlson said. “His passion for balanced transportation was aided by his ability to see the facts through his training, and his use of logic, details and analysis to convey his advocacy.”

Born May 1, 1940, he was the son of John and Jeanette Harding of Akron. Mr. Harding graduated from Buchtel High School in 1958 and attended Purdue and Ohio State universities as well as the University of Akron. Mr. Harding served in the U.S. Army.

He was preceded in death by his wife, Patricia Ann (nee Miller) Harding, who died on Jan. 11, 2017.

The Hardings were world travelers, visiting all 50 states, Canada, the Bahamas and nine European countries. Many of those trips involved riding trains.

Mrs. Harding had suffered polio as a child and been in a wheelchair since age 13.

Her experiences in traveling made a mark on Mr. Harding, including a time in Columbus, Ohio, when she was forced to ride a baggage lift between the station and the platform.

He described that experience as worse than inconvenient; it was demeaning and scary.

Mr. Harding would later say that it led him to become an advocate for better trains and public transit.

He also worked in support of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Mr. Harding is survived by a sister, Janet Louis Meek, of Tennessee and her two sons Phillip and Thomas.

All Board Ohio Sets Meetings in Columbus, Cleveland

August 30, 2019

All Board Ohio will hold its fall meeting on Sept. 28 in Columbus and hear seven presentations related to public transportation and rail history.

The rail passenger advocacy group will meet between 9:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. at the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission office at 111 Liberty Street.

Presentation include: Thea Walsh/Dina Lopez, MORPC planning team, providing an update on Pittsburgh-Columbus-Chicago Rapid Speed Transportation Initiative; Matt Dietrich, executive director, Ohio Rail Development Commission, providing an update on State of Ohio rail plans and projects; Laura Kliewer, executive director, Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission, providing an update on Midwest passenger rail projects and regional rail plan; Joanna Pinkerton, CEO, Central Ohio Transit Authority, discussing long-range plans and projects;  Josh Lapp, president, Transit Columbus, discussing the local transit levy initiative; and Stu Nicholson and  Larry Robertson, All Aboard Ohio, giving a brief history of passenger rail service in Columbus.

The event is open to the public, but registration is required and must be completed by Sept. 24.

Tickets are $25 for AAO members and $35 for non-members, which includes a 2020 AAO membership.

The ticket price also includes refreshments and a box lunch. Doors will open at 9:15 a.m. and the programs begin at 10 a.m.

Tickets can be ordered from All Aboard Ohio, 230 W. Huron Road, #85.53, Cleveland, OH 44113.

Information is available at info@allaboardohio.org or by calling 844-464-7245.

AAO will host a Cleveland area meeting on Sept. 14 between 10 a.m. and noon at the  Sustainable Cleveland Center, located on the third level above the food court at Tower City Center.

Topics to be discussed include projects/plans for Federal Railroad Administration grant applications, Amtrak service issues, and Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority projects/issues.

Contact Ken Prendergast at 216-288-4883 for more information.

Could Brightline be Duplicated in Ohio?

April 23, 2018

The launch of the privately-funded Brightline intercity rail passenger service in Florida has some thinking about visualizing a similar service in Ohio.

Brightline, which currently operates between Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach but expects to begin service soon to Miami and, longer term, to Orlando, was the subject of the lead article in Ohio Passenger Rail News, the publication of All Aboard Ohio.

AAO said it would study the concept and its applicability to Ohio, but acknowledged that a private operator would need to step forward. It is not clear if that is likely to happen.

Although much has been made about how Brightline is a private company that does not receive public funding to cover its operating expenses as does Amtrak, AAO noted that Brightline is a public-private venture.

What makes Brightline different, though, is that as a private company it laid out its vision and business plan and then public entities helped it.

Brightline benefited from millions in state and local funds plus a $1 billion federal loan.

But what makes Brightline move is that it is as much a real estate venture as it is a transportation mode.

The genesis of Brightline began with the Florida East Coast Railway establishing a subsidiary, All Aboard Florida, which operates under the Brightline trade name.

FEC owns a freight line between Miami and Orlando that hosts Brightline trains. However, Brightline plans to build a new 40-mile stretch of high-speed track west of Cocoa, Florida, on a state-granted right of way to serve the Orlando airport.

Based on cell-phone data, Brightline projects that 500 million trips are made each year between South Florida and Orlando.

The company said if it can divert 2, 3, 4 or 5 percent of that traffic off the highways it will make a meaningful difference.

Brightline didn’t always have a clear block to implement its service, which began in January.

It was bombarded by attempts by public officials, NIMBYs and Astroturf groups seeking to derail it before it got started.

It is still fighting lawsuits from opponents of the Orlando extension.

Although the FEC has since been sold to Mexican industrial conglomerate Grupo Mexico, All Aboard Florida still has access to FEC tracks and has real estate to market.

The concept of pairing real estate development with public transportation is not limited to Florida. Numerous studies  and articles have described how public transportation arteries have stimulated commercial and residential development.

Brightline Chief Operating Officer Patrick Goddard told The Blade of Toledo that decades of studies showed the potential for rail service in a region that is experiencing population growth and is hemmed in by the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Everglades on the other.

“There’s nowhere to go and no room for more roads,” Goddard said.

That is not, though, the situation in Ohio. Nonetheless, Goodard said the potential for a Brightline-type service exists in “any city pairs that are too far to drive and too short to fly.”

Goodard sees a high level of interest in trying the Brightline concept elsewhere where “there’s the possibility for government to intercede for mobility in the region.”

Efforts to institute corridor rail service in Ohio have fallen short.

In 1982 Ohio voters rejected a penny increase in the state sales tax to pay for development of a high-speed rail program in the state.

In 2010, Ohio won $400 million in federal funding for capital outlays associated with developing rail service in the Cleveland-Columbus-Dayton-Corridor.

The funding would have paid for track, signals, station construction and the purchase of train sets.

After defeating Gov. Ted Strickland in the November 2010 gubernatorial election, John Kasich killed the project and returned the money to the federal government.

Kasich had actively campaigned against the 3-C corridor trains, saying he didn’t want to see the state underwriting the operating costs of the service.

The same criticism was leveled in earlier years against other proposals that never came to fruition that were promoted by the Ohio Rail Development Commission and Ohio Department of Transportation to launch 3-C service, including a proposal in April 1998 to mitigate traffic congestion on Interstate 71 between Cleveland and Columbus during a 10-year rebuilding of the highway.

At the same time that Ohio was moving forward with the 3-C Quick Start project under Gov. Strickland, Florida was also planning an intrastate rail network linking Miami with Tampa vial Orlando and received federal funds to help develop it.

But newly-elected Gov. Rick Scott killed the project and returned the federal money just as Kasich had done in Ohio.

Like Kasich, Scott didn’t want the state paying for the operating costs of the service.

All of this has left Ohio with just three intercity trains, all of which operate through the state primarily between midnight and 7 a.m.

Until Brightline came along, Florida was served by two New York-Miami Amtrak trains, and the Auto Train operating between Lorton, Virginia, and Sanford, Florida.

But the Sunshine State also had commuter rail service in Miami and a new service in Orlando.

AAO sees Brightline as a potential template to kick start the long-stalled efforts to revive 3-C and promote development of other routes.

“Brightline takes us back to the past in some ways  . . . [to] the notion that transportation and real estate go hand-in-hand,” said AAO CEO Ken Prendergast in an interview with The Blade. “It has changed the dialogue about how passenger rail in this country should be going forward.”

Prendergast said transit-oriented development in several cities should encourage the belief that trains and real estate can grow symbiotically in Ohio.

He said that some “pretty remarkable development” is occurring near a bus rapid-transit corridor in Columbus, along the HealthLine busway in Cleveland, and next to the Cleveland RTA Blue Line rail station in Shaker Heights at the site of the former Van Aken shopping center.

Of course, Brightline benefited from being birthed by a railroad. There is little likelihood that either Norfolk Southern or CSX, which make up large segments of the 3-C corridor, would be as receptive to intercity rail passenger service as is the FEC.

Closer to Ohio, the Michigan Department of Transportation acquired from NS the route used by Amtrak’s Chicago-Detroit Wolverine Service trains.

MDOT owns the tracks between Dearborn and Kalamazoo while Amtrak owns the rails between Kalamazoo and Porter, Indiana.

The two agencies have been cooperating in the past few years to upgrade the line for higher speed service with a top speed of 110 mph.

Michigan’s efforts could benefit Ohio, Prendergast said, by creating a dedicated passenger corridor between Detroit and Toledo

CSX, Norfolk Southern and Canadian National have parallel routes between the two cities and consolidation of those routes would leave a line available for passenger use.

Prendergast said it is unlikely that NS would agree to allow additional passenger trains between Cleveland and Toledo so a new line for passenger trains would be needed for high-speed rail service.

He speculated that this would be an opportunity for the Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission to get involved, “now that it has the legal authority to do things other than highways along the highway corridor.”

AAO also sees potential for combining various existing underused rail lines that railroads might be willing to sell that could lead to a Columbus-Fort Wayne-Chicago corridor.

Prendergast said ORDC is soliciting public comments for a 2020 update to an Ohio rail plan, but has no funds have been set aside for passenger train startup projects.

ORDC created a plan in 2002 that it updated in 2007 for a statewide passenger rail network known as the Ohio Hub. It has never gotten beyond paper and public hearings.

As AAO looks for a private sector initiative to materialize in Ohio, Prendergast warned not to expect any help from Amtrak, which he said “only reacts in response” the efforts of others.

Aside from questions of whether a private developer is interested in a Brightline style project in Ohio – and that is a big IF – there is also the question of whether Ohio units of government would respond as they did in Florida.

“If they, or someone like Brightline, came in with a similar message, I think it would resonate,” Prendergast said.