MOUNT VERNON — Ohio is one of eight Midwest states to submit a request for federal stimulus money for passenger rail service. Earlier this month, the state joined Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri and Wisconsin in seeking a share of $8 billion available through The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The requests total almost $10 billion.
Ohio is requesting $564 million for passenger rail service between Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati. The 3-C Corridor, 255 miles in length, would use the tracks of three railroads: CSX, Norfolk & Southern, and Indiana and Ohio Railway. In addition to the main stations in Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati, the route includes 14 other stops. Stations used by Knox Countians would probably be Delaware, Columbus, Galion or Crestline.
The goal of the proposed service is “an affordable, convenient, energy-efficient and environmentally friendly transportation alternative to highway and airline modes,” according to a feasibility study by Amtrak.
“Probably overall, I think it would be a benefit to have something like [passenger service],” said Robin Durbin of Fredericktown. “It might be a little bit more green than traveling by bus or car.
“I think it would be of more benefit when you are going to a longer destination, such as out West, rather than staying in your state, but it might be of benefit to older folks who don’t want to drive that far.”
It is estimated it will take 6 1/2 hours to travel by train from Cleveland to Cincinnati, and around three hours each from Columbus to Cincinnati and from Columbus to Cleveland. Although no firm numbers have been set, tickets are estimated to be around $25.
“We’ve gone to several different events in Cleveland,” said Durbin, a 44-year-old substitute teacher. “I would probably prefer to go by car. If the tickets were at a low rate, even though it might take longer, I could see the benefit there.”
According to the study, the Cleveland Lakefront Station is the only station that has suitable building and parking facilities for passenger rail service. All of the other station stops will need new station buildings, waiting areas, platforms and parking lots constructed. Under the proposal, communities desiring a stop will be responsible for the cost of station facilities, as well as the cost of maintaining the facilities.
The rail lines currently handle freight service, which travels at a slower speed than the proposed 79 mph passenger service. Signals and crossings would need to be upgraded to handle the passenger service. In addition, several points — Berea, Columbus, Scioto Junction, Sharonville Yard and Mill Junction — are already heavily congested areas with the freight traffic; it is uncertain how these areas will accommodate the additional passenger traffic.
A segment of track through Springfield has speed restrictions of 15, 20 and 25 mph because of the many curves and roadway grade crossings. The report stated it is unlikely these speed restrictions can be significantly improved without extensive infrastructure investment, which the feasibility study did not include in the cost for start-up service.
Amtrak will be responsible for the train cars. The model calls for a trainset of one locomotive, five coaches with business class seating, one food service car and one non-powered control unit. The locomotive will be on one end; the NPCU on the other. When the train reaches the end point, either Cleveland Lakefront Station or Cincinnati Boathouse, the NPCU becomes the lead locomotive so that the train does not have to be turned around on the track. Amtrak does not have enough cars in its inventory; new cars will have to be obtained, which could take two years.
The proposal calls for the construction of a maintenance facility in Cleveland, on the site of a mostly abandoned yard located about one mile from the existing Amtrak Lakefront Station. In addition, layover facilities will need to be built in Columbus and Cincinnati; the estimated cost for the three facilities is $55 million plus contingencies.
Every five days, a trainset will have an almost 26-hour layover in Cleveland, during which time maintenance and repairs will be performed.
“There are advantages and disadvantages to passenger rail service,” said Durbin. “I think it can’t hurt to have it available, and it may well create more jobs. It may be a greener way to travel, and less pollution, if you are able to have a lot of people ride the rail. It may be cheaper than paying for gas.”
But, she added, there’s the question of how it will be paid for.
According to the feasibility study, estimated revenue is $12.2 million. The estimated annual expense is $29.2 million, leaving $17 million that will need to be subsidized by the state. According to Scott Varner of the Ohio Department of Transportation, ODOT will use non-gas tax money — including ad revenue from the trains, franchise fees and existing grant dollars — to cover the subsidy.
If funding is received, passenger service could begin in 2011.