What if those trains offered low fares and on-board amenities like WiFi, conference space, cafe service, comfortable reclining seats, and a safe, smooth ride at 90 mph?
What if Ohio’s seven existing cities and towns with stations served by intercity passenger trains grew to 23?
What if the total number of passenger trains serving Ohio grew from 5 per day to 14?
What if if the State of Ohio didn’t have the responsibility to create (or chance to prevent) the new trains and instead there was a federally-driven and -funded planning process to identify the feasibility of these and other possibilities as well as a federal grant program to pay for new train services to and through Ohio?
Finally, what if there was a report that proposed new/expanded train services (six of them, actually) that would achieve a higher level, interconnected transportation system for Ohio, producing $4 billion in benefits over the 30-year lifetime of the infrastructure investments to create them?
Such a report was released today (DOWNLOAD REPORT HERE) by All Aboard Ohio, a nonprofit educational association of citizens and rail/transit users. All Aboard Ohio’s report was prompted by two important, emerging developments that could soon improve the prospects for passenger rail service expansions and improvements in Ohio:
- The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) announced to Congress in August that it will lead multi-state feasibility studies of expanded short-distance (less than 750 miles) and long-distance passenger rail service expansions in the Southeast states and in the Midwest states, including Ohio.
- With bipartisan support, the U.S. Senate has passed a Surface Transportation Program reauthorization that includes a rail title that would for the first time since 1997 allow federal funds to be used for long-distance passenger rail expansion without a host state having to sponsor it. The rail title includes language originally introduced as S.1626, the bipartisan Railroad Reform, Enhancement, and Efficiency Act of 2015 (RREEA). The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to consider its own version of the transportation reauthorization bill in the coming weeks.
“With these ingredients coming together, the time is right for All Aboard Ohio to consider how best to utilize these opportunities for rail expansion in Ohio,” said All Aboard Ohio Executive Director Ken Prendergast. “All Aboard Ohio wants the rail passengers’ voice in our state to be heard as the FRA’s multistate plans for expansion are formed and Amtrak or other applicants seek federal grants to offer more transportation choices.”
Expansion funds would support longer routes (750+ miles) that were omitted from the national system or discontinued due to factors other than passenger usage, such as political factors or the neglect and abandonment of private railroad infrastructure. Except for Florida, no state has lost more Amtrak service since 2000 than Ohio. The FRA’s Midwest plan and the Senate’s RREEA legislation offer opportunities to right past wrongs.
Recently, All Aboard Ohio’s board of directors unanimously recommended six service expansions on routes 750+ miles long, therefore making them a federal responsibility. These proposed routes would connect communities with limited transportation choices, that have high ridership potential rail and that might entail lower capital and operating costs. The report includes ridership projections based on average per route-mile usage of all existing long-distance trains nationwide:
- Expand to daily service Amtrak’s Cardinal (Chicago-Indianapolis-Cincinnati-Charleston-Washington DC-Philadelphia-New York City). This train currently operates thrice-weekly. Ridership is projected to grow 96 percent to 215,000 passengers per year (the equivalent passenger load of four full 737 jets or 10 full long-distance buses every day).
- Extend Amtrak’s Pennsylvanian service (New York City-Philadelphia-Harrisburg-Pittsburgh) to Chicago via Youngstown, Cleveland, Toledo and Dearborn, MI. Ridership is projected to increase 56 percent to 360,000 passengers per year (the equivalent passenger load of seven full 737 jets or 16½ full long-distance buses every day).
- Inaugurate Cincinnati section of Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited (Cincinnati-Dayton-Columbus-Cleveland-Buffalo-Rochester-Albany-New York City). This new service is projected to carry 195,000 passengers per year (the equivalent passenger load of four full 737 jets or nine full long-distance buses every day).
- Restore Amtrak’s Three Rivers via Dearborn, MI (Chicago-Dearborn-Toledo-Cleveland-Youngstown-Pittsburgh-Philadelphia-New York City). This new service on a roughly 12-hour counter-schedule would provide daytime service where the Pennsylvanian extension provides overnight service. Ridership is projected at 200,000 passengers per year (the equivalent passenger load of four full 737 jets or nine full long-distance buses every day).
- Restore the best remaining route segments of Amtrak’s Broadway/National Limited (Chicago-Fort Wayne-Columbus-Pittsburgh-Philadelphia-New York City/Washington DC). This new service is projected to carry 220,000 passengers per year (the equivalent passenger load of four full 737 jets or 10 full long-distance buses each day).
- Restore direct Midwest-Southeast passenger rail (Detroit-Toledo-Columbus-Dayton-Cincinnati-Lexington-Chattanooga-Atlanta-Macon-Jacksonville-Orlando). This new service is projected to carry 350,000 passengers per year (the equivalent passenger load of seven full 737 jets or 16 full long-distance buses every day).
All Aboard Ohio urges Ohioans to reach out to your U.S. Congressperson in the coming days and request their support for the rail title (S.1626) in the Senate’s surface transportation reauthorization bill to provide more and better transportation choices in Ohio. We also urge you to share this report with business and tourism officials in your community, as well as your local, state and federal elected leaders in the coming months to encourage their participation in the FRA’s Midwest rail planning next year. Join All Aboard Ohio today to make sure you’re kept informed on where and how best to give input to this planning process!