Amtrak service in North Carolina has broken new ridership records with state-supported services including 10 daily trains linking Charlotte and Raleigh at 79 mph. This is an example of the kind of Amtrak expansion of Ohio is reportedly seeking (NCDOT). CLICK IMAGES TO ENLARGE THEM.
3C&D, CLE-TOL-DET among Ohio’s winners
ARTICLE UPDATED DEC. 11, 2023 WITH MORE QUOTES
U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown announced today that the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has selected four key routes in Ohio as priorities for Amtrak expansion and directed $500,000 to draw up construction-ready plans for each. Once those plans are finalized, then those routes would be eligible to apply for federal construction funding.
Two of those routes affect the Greater Cleveland metropolitan area — Cleveland – Columbus – Dayton – Cincinnati (3C&D) and Cleveland – Toledo – Detroit. Elsewhere in Ohio, a route linking Chicago – Fort Wayne – Lima – Columbus – Steubenville – Pittsburgh (Midwest Connect) and expansion of thrice-weekly service to daily on Amtrak’s Chicago-New York City “Cardinal” route through Cincinnati and Oxford, OH were also awarded Service Development Plan funding by the FRA today. In planning parlance, all four include “corridors” or service on short-distance routes of less than 750 miles. The Cardinal route also serves the heavily traveled Chicago – Indianapolis – Cincinnati corridor.
On the four routes selected, Brown said the State of Ohio, Amtrak, and metropolitan planning organizations will now begin corridor development efforts, which include the preparation of a service development plan. As part of the expansion efforts, the FRA will provide $500,000 to each announced corridor for planning under the Corridor Identification program. The investments are made possible by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that Brown helped write and pass, he noted.
“Today’s announcement is a great first step toward expanding Amtrak in Ohio,” said Brown in a written statement. “Good Amtrak service shouldn’t be a privilege only for people on the coasts. These new routes would expand opportunity, help grow businesses and create jobs, and connect communities in Ohio and across the Midwest. I fought for the investment to make Amtrak expansion in Ohio possible – and I will keep fighting to make sure that Ohio receives these critical infrastructure projects.”
In addition to the investment for planning, the Ohio corridors will receive priority in future funding competitions. The selected Ohio corridors will identify necessary capital construction projects to initiate or expand passenger rail service in the corridor’s service development plan, and those projects will receive priority funding in FRA’s Federal-State Partnership – National (FSP-N) Program. $2.4 billion is available per year for fiscal years 2022 through 2026 for the FSP-N program under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and the Ohio corridors can apply for assistance from additional federal programs.
A simplified map showing existing and proposed Amtrak services in Ohio (Sherrod Brown).
“I am thrilled the United States Department of Transportation and the Federal Rail Administration have selected the Cleveland-Sandusky-Toledo-Detroit corridor for the first round of funding in expanding and improving passenger rail service,” said U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-9) in an e-mail to NEOtrans. “Northern Ohio’s connections to Chicago, Pittsburgh, Canada, and beyond will be enhanced because of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Transportation infrastructure can connect communities and change lives, and I am glad to have fought for this bipartisan funding that will help us to imagine a new transportation future for our region.”
Applications for two of the selected corridors — 3C&D and Cleveland – Toledo – Detroit — were sponsored by the Ohio Rail Development Commission (ORDC), an entity within the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT), with the endorsement of Governor Mike DeWine. The Columbus-based metropolitan planning organization Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) helped sponsor the Midwest Connect corridor, and Amtrak sponsored the Cardinal application. The latter two were submitted with the support of the Indiana Department of Transportation. Michigan’s Department of Transportation supported the Cleveland – Toledo – Detroit route.
“While this federal grant allows Ohio to further explore the feasibility of expanding passenger rail service in Ohio, there are still many questions left to answer,” wrote Wende Jourdan, ORDC’s public information officer in an e-mail to NEOtrans. “This award is the first step to finding answers about potential ridership, needed infrastructure investments, impacts to freight railroads serving businesses in Ohio, and operating costs before determining next steps.”
That reaction from the ORDC in winning the federal grants came six days after Senator Brown’s announcement and seemed unenthusiastic. ORDC is more focused on investing in smaller freight railroads. Because of that, rail advocates have called for Ohio to create a new passenger rail and public transportation development agency, much like one in Virginia which is leading billions of rail investments there. Other public officials, especially in Greater Cleveland, were more excited.
“Thanks to every federal, state, city, MPO (metropolitan planning organization) and non-profit advocacy partner who advocated for Amtrak’s Ohio and Midwest north, west, east and south connections,” said Cuyahoga County Executive Chris Ronayne. “It takes a team. Way to go, Ohio!”
City, Amtrak and Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority officials have planned a 150,000-square-foot multimodal transportation center on downtown Cleveland’s lakefront connected to a planned North Coast Connector land bridge. The center would be served by Amtrak, GCRTA light-rail trains and buses, possibly Greyhound and offer parking for 500 cars (CLMP).
“Connecting Cleveland to the rest of Ohio with Amtrak would be game-changing,” said Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb. “Thank you to the USDOT-FRA, Sherrod Brown and all our federal partners for working to make this happen.”
“Great to see these priority Amtrak expansions for Cleveland and Ohio,” said Greater Cleveland Partnership President and CEO Baiju Shah. “An ‘All-In’ effort led by Senator Sherrod Brown and our federal delegation and supported by many partners.”
The organizations which requested federal funding had to pledge matching dollars which they would raise. ORDC Executive Director Matt Dietrich opened an e-mail requesting his comments on the award but had not responded prior to publication of this article.
“Providing improved and new passenger rail service in Ohio, starting with the four corridors that were chosen by the four FRA Grants, will get Ohio ‘on track’ to reduce congestion, transform our state’s economy and improve mobility for all Ohioans,” said Erin Rosiello, chair of the nonprofit rail and transit advocacy association All Aboard Ohio. “All Aboard Ohio is thankful that four of the six corridors were chosen for our state to receive the first stage of grants and we are ready to continue our advocacy work to see the process through the three stages of grants in the corridor identification program, to bring the state to building out these corridors.”
The downtown Cleveland station for Amtrak may be at or near the existing Lakefront Station site. The city, Amtrak and the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority have proposed a 150,000-square-foot multimodal transportation center that’s connected to the convention center and lakefront attractions via the proposed North Coast Connector walkway. But All Aboard Ohio and a new Lakeshore Rail Alliance are advocating for an alternatives analysis which compares the costs and benefits of the lakefront site with restoring Tower City Center as a railroad station served by Amtrak and the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.
“What this means is a giant step forward to not only a better connected Ohio and Midwest, but the economic and workforce benefits that come with it,” said Stu Nicholson, spokesman for the Lakeshore Rail Alliance, a coalition of organizations between Chicago and New York City through Toledo and Cleveland that are advocating for passenger rail service improvements along that existing Amtrak route.