Posts Tagged ‘Ohio 3C 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.

‘Data Nerd’ Creates Ohio Intercity Rail Network 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.