Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak in Ohio’

Funding Set for Oxford Amtrak Station

March 11, 2021

Funding commitments are falling into place for construction of an Amtrak station in Oxford, Ohio.

The city of Oxford along with Miami University have agreed to spend $700,000 for the station, which will serve the Chicago-New York Cardinal.

The city and university funding will pay for a platform and an unmanned kiosk.

Negotiations are underway with vendors for design and cost estimates.

Located 40 miles north-northwest of Cincinnati, Oxford would become the second Ohio stop for the Cardinal and Amtrak’s eighth station in Ohio.

Nos. 50 and 51 stopped in Hamilton, Ohio, between August 1980 and October 2005.

The Oxford station will be located at 909 South Main St. The Cardinal will stop in Oxford westbound on Monday, Thursday and Saturday, and eastbound on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.

Cleveland City Council OKs Resolution Backing Amtrak Expansion in Ohio

March 11, 2021

The Cleveland City County has approved a resolution supporting a proposed expansion of Amtrak service in Ohio.

The resolution urges Ohio members of Congress to support a renewal of the federal Surface Transportation Reauthorization and also approve appropriate funds for the proposed expansion.

The expansion has been floated by Amtrak officials during meetings with local and state government officials in recent weeks.

However, it has yet to be formally proposed and hinges on Congress approving funding for a program to develop corridor routes across the country.

News reports have said that among the routes Amtrak is eyeing in Ohio are Cleveland-Columbus-Cincinnati, Cleveland-Toledo-Detroit, Cleveland-Pittsburgh-New York, Cleveland-Buffalo-New York, and Cincinnati-Indianapolis-Chicago.

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 Protests NS Ft. Wayne Line Changes

April 17, 2020

All Aboard Ohio is trying to drum up public opposition to the plans of Norfolk Southern to remove some of the double track on its Fort Wayne Line in Ohio.

The rail passenger agency is protesting NS’s recent move to route tank car trains off the Fort Wayne Line and onto lines that pass through more populous areas, including Cleveland and Toledo.

NS rerouted the trains carrying crude oil and ethanol on April 7.

A month earlier it filed papers with the Federal Railroad Administration seeking approval to remove 33 miles of double track in three segments between Crestline and Alliance.

AAO said the tank car trains not only operate through more populous areas, but mix with and operate next to Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited and Capitol Limited, as well as Cleveland Regional Transit Authority trains.

In a statement published on its website, AAO cited instances in which trains carrying hazardous materials have derailed, caught fire and exploded, and resulted in the evacuation of hundreds from their homes.

The statement also suggested that such incidents could endanger waterways and drinking water sources, including Lake Erie.

AAO said the City of Cleveland and other local governments are considering resolutions that would urge that all hazardous materials shipments by whatever mode of transportation not originating or terminating in their communities be moved to less populous routings wherever and whenever physically possible.

The advocacy group described the Fort Wayne Line as the only route NS has that bypasses Greater Cleveland and northern Ohio.

It also said the Fort Wayne Line is NS’s only reliever route between Chicago and Pittsburgh.

“Resolutions and letters of opposition to NS’s actions and proposed actions should be forwarded to Norfolk Southern Corp. (c/o Marque Ledoux, vice president, government relations), the Federal Railroad Administration, U.S. Surface Transportation Board, Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, Ohio Rail Development Commission, appropriate members of Congress, as well as Senators Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman, plus all appropriate members of the Ohio General Assembly,” AAO said.

Cincinnati, Charleston Amtrak Ticket Offices to Close

May 1, 2018

Amtrak plans to close its ticket offices in Cincinnati and Charleston, West Virginia, in early June, which will mean that no stations in that state will have Amtrak agents.

Charleston Mayor Danny Jones called the closing a terrible inconvenience for anyone who rides trains.

The mayor said many people are not Internet savvy, and information about trains is not always up to date.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the station waiting room will remain open. Charleston, which closes on June 6, and Cincinnati, which closes on June 5, are served by the tri-weekly Chicago-Washington Cardinal.

Magliari said the closings are being done to save money and because the volume of business done at ticket counters continues to decline. Altogether, Amtrak plans to close 15 ticket offices and eliminate 22 agent jobs over the next few weeks.

“Nine out of 10 tickets across the country are purchased online,” Magliari said.

Amtrak within the past year also closed ticket offices in Huntington and Prince, West Virginia. The carrier is targeting stations serving 40 or fewer passengers a day.

Passengers boarding the Cardinal in Charleston or Cincinnati will have to purchase their ticket online, from a travel agent or aboard the train by paying cash to the conductor.

Closing of the Amtrak ticket office in Cincinnati will mean the only ticket windows still open in Ohio will be in Cleveland and Toledo.

Amtrak’s Broadway Limited in Canton

October 13, 2017

Amtrak’s westbound Broadway Limited is in Canton on the morning of June 12, 1982. I am at the station looking west. I only took night photos there two or three times, but with today’s technology, they look better now than the original projected slide. Paul, if you were there with me that night, leave a comment.

Photograph by Robert Farkas

AAO Still Trying to Move the Passenger Needle

February 22, 2017

A message showed up in my email inbox the other day from All Aboard Ohio, a passenger advocacy group, that has released a report titled, “Ohio Passenger Rail Assessment of Needs.”

The report was timed to coincide with the Ohio legislature getting to work in hammering out the state’s budget for the next two years.

ohioAAO is trying to push legislators to “begin planning, constructing or completing $23.6 million worth of passenger rail improvements” over the next two years.

Much of that work involves upgrading stations served by the state’s three Amtrak trains, the Capitol Limited, Lake Shore Limited and Cardinal.

Some of the funding would also be used to plan potential future intercity rail routes, including a proposed Chicago-Fort Wayne-Columbus route that has never seen Amtrak service.

As AAO sees it, more than $80 million in state funding could be available under state law to be used for passenger rail development without paying for the operating costs of any actual trains.

An AAO news release about the report was written in the typical optimistic tone of rail passenger advocates and sought to put the best possible face on intercity rail.

It focused on such facts as how Amtrak covers 94 percent of its costs through revenues and set a ridership record in fiscal year 2016.

It also reiterated a tactic that AAO has used in the past of trying to shame Ohio policy makers into taking action by noting how neighboring states and the Canadian province of Ontario are investing millions in the development of intercity routes and services while Ohio spends zilch.

The state capital of Columbus is the largest metropolitan area in the western hemisphere without passenger rail service.

Some folks in Phoenix might quibble with that although the Valley of the Sun does have a light rail system that is seeking to expand.

Rail passenger advocates tend to be an optimistic lot. They have to be. If they acknowledged the long and difficult road ahead they might throw up their hands in frustration. AAO is no exception.

“We look forward to continuing our dialogue with Ohio’s policymakers in achieving realistic, near-term improvements to our state’s transportation system,” said AAO Executive Director Ken Prendergast. “We urge Ohioans to contact their state lawmakers in Columbus today and inform them with a short, polite message that they want better passenger rail service in Ohio.”

AAO has around 500 members and even if all of them contacted their legislators it is doubtful that it would have much effect on what the legislature is likely to do in terms of supporting intercity passenger rail.

Ohio has never spent a dime on funding intercity rail service, unlike neighboring Indiana, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

It received a federal grant to help develop the Cleveland-Columbus-Cincinnati corridor, but Gov. John Kasich killed the project shortly after winning election in 2010 and the federal government took back the grant and reallocated it elsewhere.

Ohio’s apathy, indifference or hostility – choose which word you think fits best – toward intercity rail development is not likely to change this year.

Kasich is still governor and is unlikely to change his views toward intercity rail service. Nor is the current legislature likely to be any more open to rail than is the governor. They are not going to be shamed or moved to action.

There may be some small victories, such as state funding of existing station improvements, but little to nothing else.

So AAO works to develop support for a rail a little at a time. Like I said, it’s going to be a long struggle.

AAO Wants Faster Amtrak Trains in Ohio, Indiana

May 30, 2016

Rail passenger group All Aboard Ohio is seeking to prod public officials in Ohio and Indiana into seeking federal funds to be used to upgrade Amtrak routes in the two states in order to provide higher speeds.

AAO noted that under federal regulations positive train control systems enable passenger trains to exceed the 79 mph speed limit when track conditions and grade crossing safety devices allow it.

Amtrak logoWith railroads hosting Amtrak trains in the two states working to install PTC, AAO said that reconfiguring grade crossing for higher train speeds could enable Amtrak trains to reach sustained speeds of 90 mph.

An AAO policy statement noted that these routes have good track and long tangents.

Grade crossing circuits would needs to be lengthened, which could cost $50,000 per crossing.

The rail group noted that the Federal Railroad Administration and Federal Highway Administration have funding that could be tapped to pay for that work.

One particular beneficiary would be the Chicago-New York Cardinal, which has a top speed of 60 mph on its mostly CSX route between Chicago and Cincinnati.

AAO estimated that upgrading grade crossings would cost about $7 million and cut the running time of the Cardinal  by up to an hour.

Reconfiguring the Chicago Line of Norfolk Southern used by the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited west of Cleveland would cost about $15 million.

No Changes for Ohio in New Amtrak Timetable

January 19, 2013

Amtrak issued new schedules on Jan. 14, 2013, and there are no changes to any of the trains serving Ohio. Widely discussed plans to reschedule the Lake Shore Limited to depart Chicago earlier and to add through cars from New York City to the Capitol Limited remain on hold.

Amtrak TTThe latest timetable shows on the cover a conductor with passengers boarding a train at dusk. The Amfleet cars and background scene shown suggest that it is a long distance train, either  operating from Washington, D.C. to the South or it could be the Lake Shore Limited in the East.

Amtrak typically issues new timetables twice a year, in April and October. However, the fall 2012 timetable change was delayed until January in order to incorporate new service that began to Norfolk, Va., late last year as well as an extension of the Downeaster service to Brunswick and Freeport, Maine.

The new services to Norfolk and within Maine are featured prominently on the cover. They are among the first significant expansions of Amtrak service in years.

Amtrak’s Chicago-Washington Capitol Limited stops in Ohio at Toledo, Sandusky, Elyria, Cleveland and Alliance. The Chicago-New York/Boston Lake Shore Limited serves the Ohio stations of Bryan, Toledo, Sandusky, Elyria and Cleveland. The twi-weekly Cardinal serves Cincinnati.