Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak in Ohio’

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.

Running in a Winter Wonderland

January 22, 2018

When the weather in the upper Midwest turns wintry, Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited often runs late.

Earlier this month Nos. 48 and 49 were running as much as six hours or more behind schedule due to the effects of winter conditions. Delays in turning the equipment in Chicago were given some of the blame, but winter operating conditions can also lead to frozen switches, broken rails and freight train emergencies that are not Amtrak’s fault.

If No. 48 leaves Chicago late, it likely will be even later as it rolls eastward toward New York and Boston.

On a sunny but frigid day last week when the early morning temperatures were in the low teens and the wind chill was sub zero, I braved the elements to photograph No. 48 at Geneva, Ohio, which was more than two hours off its schedule.

It was running a few minutes behind an eastbound CSX stack train. I can only speculate that the dispatcher put the intermodal train out ahead of Amtrak because it would not be stopping in Erie, Pennsylvania, but Amtrak would be.

Project Manager Being Sought for Elyria Station Project

January 18, 2018

Commissioners in Lorain County, Ohio, are seeking proposals for a construction manager of the long stalled plan to create a new platform in Elyria for Amtrak passengers.

The platform will be located in the former New York Central passenger station, which serves as a public transportation center for local buses.

County Administrator Jim Cordes expects the proposal will go to bid soon.

“It’s been progressing along fairly slowly, but it’s been progressing,” Cordes said. “We’re at the point now where I’m bringing a project manager to get ready to build something.”

Amtrak currently uses a shelter at 410 East River Street. A modular station at that site was destroyed by fire in 2013.

The existing station also has limited accessibility for those with disabilities and Amtrak must use Track No. 2 of the Chicago Line of Norfolk Southern.

The new platform, which is expected to cost between $8 million and $10 million, will feature a bridge spanning the two NS tracks.

It also will include elevators and stairways to provide access to two partially enclosed platforms for passengers.

Lorain County will pay 5 percent to 8 percent of the project cost, with the rest of the money coming from federal, state and Amtrak funding.

Cordes said no start of construction date has yet been set, but expects that to change once the project had been awarded.

He said although work on the project has been slow, it never was in danger of ending. Much of the slow pace was due to reviews of the proposal by the county, NS and Amtrak.

“We’d exchange paperwork, then there’d be tweaks, more paperwork and then more tweaks,” Cordes said. “It was easy to lose focus. It had been a slow project to begin with, and the complicated relationships made it even more so.”

Elyria is service by Amtrak’s Chicago-Washington Capitol Limited and Chicago-New York/Boston Lake Shore Limited.

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.

Oxford, Miami U Pledge Money for Amtrak Stop

January 5, 2017

Trains magazine reported this week that the City of Oxford, Ohio, and Miami University have agreed to contribute $350,000 toward the cause of establishing an Amtrak station in the southwestern Ohio city.

Amtrak 4The station will be a platform and shelter to serve the tri-weekly Chicago-New York Cardinal.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari told the magazine that Amtrak favors establishing a stop for the Cardinal in Oxford and will work with the community and CSX to bring it to fruition.

Currently, the only Ohio stop for the Cardinal is in Cincinnati, 40 miles away.

Nos. 50 and 51 once served Hamilton, Ohio, but that service ended in 2005.

No timeline has been set for when construction of the station will begin or when service will be inaugurated.

Cincinnati Meeting to Discuss a Daily Cardinal

September 23, 2016

Map of Amtrak's Cardinal showing its station stops. It more stations in West Virginia than in any other state.

Map of Amtrak’s Cardinal showing its station stops. It more stations in West Virginia than in any other state.

Amtrak supporters met in Cincinnati on Friday to push for making the Chicago-New York Cardinal a daily train rather than the tri-weekly operation that it has been since the early 1980s.

Amtrak CardinalRail passenger advocates and public officials met to hear Amtrak officials outline the challenges facing daily service as well as how to overcome those.

“We’ve been building toward an event like this for a very long time. If you truly want to make this train better, you’ve got to run it seven days a week,” said Amtrak senior government affairs specialist Charlie Monte Verde. “We’re pitching this as a modern economic engine. We’re not trying to trade on the ghosts of the past.”

A Cincinnati chamber of commerce official echoed those sentiments.

“This is a piece of the puzzle for the chamber’s transportation strategy of connecting people to jobs,” said Jason Kershner, the chamber’s vice president for government relations. “We’ve really put our stake in the ground that transportation is important to business.”

The Cincinnati meeting was billed as a step toward building a coalition of communities along the route of the Cardinal that want better service.

Amtrak officials have said the cost of a daily Cardinal remains unknown. Much of the route uses tracks owned by CSX, which might demand capital improvements before agreeing to host a daily Cardinal.

Monte Verde said once the capital needs are known Amtrak could ask for an appropriation from Congress or attempt to build seven-day-a-week service into its budget somehow. He would not discuss potential costs.

“We think there is the space out there to make this train daily, but the first real step is to work with the railroads to see what their traffic is like,” Monte Verde said.

Amtrak officials said ridership would likely increase with more service because trains become more reliable the more they run.

“A daily Cardinal is a starting point,” Monte Verde said. “From there, you build the kind of awareness you need to have a discussion [about] a Cincinnati-Indianapolis-Chicago short corridor service.”

“It’s a step forward, and it’s going to be a step we build upon,” said Derek Bauman, the southwest Ohio chair of rail advocacy group All Aboard Ohio.

When the Pennsylvanian Was New to Cleveland

November 10, 2014

Pennsylvanian at Berea

If you live long enough, everything that you’ve witnessed in your life will become history, even ancient history.

It was 16 years last Friday that Amtrak extended the Pennsylvanian to Chicago and thus created a scheduled daylight train in Northeast Ohio.

The Pennsylvanian began operating between Chicago and Philadelphia on Nov. 7, 1998. Prior to then, it had been a New York-Pittsburgh train.

The impetus for extending the Pennsylvanian to Chicago was to take some of the pressure off the Chicago-New York Three Rivers, which was about to reach its 30-car maximum. Most of the cars on the Three Rivers carried mail and express shipments on its route over CSX via Akron and Youngstown.

The Pennsylvanian would also be heavily oriented toward head-end traffic as well.

At the time, Amtrak was seeking to grow its way to profitability by aggressively going after head-end traffic.

Of course, Ohio rail passenger advocates have been trying for years to get the Pennsylvanian extended to Cleveland and Toledo.

Amtrak eventually exited the mail and express business and the Pennsylvanian in early 2003 fell back to being a New York-Pittsburgh train, which it remains today.

But on Nov. 22, 1998, when this image of Amtrak No. 44 was made at Berea, there was optimism that better days were ahead for Amtrak in Ohio.

Aside from the Pennsylvanian no longer operating west of Pittsburgh, much else has changed about this scene. Amtrak still uses P42 locomotives, but in this scene they are two liveries removed from the present day look.

Also, note the yellow Conrail service truck. In November 1998, Conrail was in its last year of independent operation.

Finally, the signal bridge at the west end of CP 194 has been replaced by modern signals.