City, County at Odds Over Elyria Train Station

The city council in Elyria, Ohio, and the Lorain County Commissioners are at loggerheads over a stalled project to move the Amtrak stop in the city to a former New York Central station.

Now known as the Lorain County Transportation and Community Center, the efforts to make it an Amtrak station date back five years.

City and county officials disagree over why that effort has halted.

Mayor Holly Brinda blames county officials, saying they’ve refused to meet with city and state officials to discuss the project.

However, commissioner Matt Lundy blames Norfolk Southern, saying it has made a number of demands in return for its cooperation.

Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited and Capitol Limited use NS tracks through Elyria. Both trains stop at an Amtrak-built shelter

“I think it is important for city council and the citizens of Elyria to understand that the city of Elyria is not the reason this project is not moving forward at this time,” Brinda said during a council meeting this week. “On the contrary, the city has gone out of its way to offer assistance, and we are still hopeful the project can be saved.”

She contended that the Lorain County commissioners also “haven’t embraced the help” the city has offered including indemnifying the county against liability.

Lundy said the county is “committed to trying to make the project work.”

However, he said NS wants an open indemnification for an endless period of time.

“That’s something we can’t do. If, God forbid, something should go wrong, then obviously the county would be open to potential litigation and liability,” he said.

Lundy said the county tried to negotiate with NS but is legally forbidden from exposing the county and taxpayers to liability.

Brinda called that false issue, saying she has spoken with the Ohio Rail Development Commission about acting as a neutral third party to assess the station plan and offer assistance.

But that can’t happen without the cooperation of the county she said.

She also said NS said two years ago it was willing to work through the liability issues.

Elyria Law Director Scott Serazin said officials in Toledo and Sandusky have found ways to address the liability issues.

Lundy, though, said the situation in Elryia differs from projects in Sandusky and Toledo.

In Elyria the project design includes a skywalk above the tracks so that passengers would have access to both tracks at the station site.

Lundy said the skywalk is a large liability issue for safety over the tracks, which will have to remain active during construction.

Serazin suggested that the Elyria Community Improvement Corporation could purchase insurance coverage to cover any liability created by the project.

The city has $250,000 available that it said could be spent on the station project while Lorain County has Federal Transit Administration funds, more than $3.6 million in grants and a $2.9 million commitment from Amtrak.

Brinda suggested taking out a “co-insurance” policy to be funded by the city and the county.

Lundy acknowledged that there have been numerous emails, phone calls and letter exchanged about the project and its legal issues. “We have had endless discussions with Amtrak and Norfolk Southern and legally, we can’t do it,” he said.

Brinda and Lundy met last year to discuss the issues but neither could recall when that meeting occurred.

Lundy also contends that Amtrak has been unwilling to make a long-term commitment to serving Elyria.

It has offered a five-year commitment balked at the county’s request for a 25- or 30-year commitment.

“We have been at this for a long time, and it’s not something we’ve taken lightly,” Lundy said. “We looked at every angle possible. We have a responsibility to the taxpayers to not expose the county and the taxpayers to an open liability potential unless we can get the railroad to agree to limited liability . . . it’s a misrepresentation that we didn’t try to make it work.”

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