COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Amtrak is pushing forward with a plan to create passenger rail services from Columbus by 2025. It would link Ohio’s capital city to 500 destinations around the US.
“This is a chance to rectify what we see as a great omission in Amtrak’s rail network,” said Stephen Gardner, Amtrak President at a press conference with Ohio mayors and town planners. “Our goal here is to achieve this vision by 2025, and we are looking for support at local level and federal partners, creating long-term partners.”
Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn said they had spent the last three years developing this strategy.
Ohio had an opportunity during former Governor John Kasich’s administration to accept $400 million in federal high-speed rail funding and begin a passenger program by 2012. This time the situation is different, with the push coming from Amtrak rather than from advocates within the state, said Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley at the press conference announcement.
Amtrak was created 50 years ago to create the network that connects the country. They have 32 million riders on state-supported routes and corridors. The company works in partnership with states and communities, and it will need local support in Ohio to give the best service.
Mayors from three Ohio cities — Dayton, Crestline, Cleveland — took part in the conference, as well as the Executive Director of the Mid-Ohio Planning Commission, with Mayor Andrew Ginther of Columbus sending a letter of support.
At the moment, assuming Amtrak has rights under law, its trains can travel at 79 miles per hour maximum along the route. Although Ohio lost its passenger rail from Columbus, its freight capability is well-established.
“Our aim is to get to and deliver trip-time competitive service to within half hour give or take driving time,” said Gardner. “And the time on the train is productive time,” he said, pointing out that: “…the younger generation is not interested in driving.”
“This route has infrastructure. If you look at 1950s and 60s those trip times were done. It will take commitment and support. If we have that in place, we are ready to focus aggressively to making service in Ohio happen.” Gardner said.
William Murdock, of MORPC said that the prosperity of the region depends on this infrastructure. “Not being on that network puts us at a disadvantage. We don’t have minimum infrastructure compared with places that we compete with.
“In Columbus, we’ve been focused on building connections and giving people robust options if they don’t want to drive or can’t fly. We know our residents and businesses are both clamoring for this.
“Amtrak looking at Ohio and investing in Ohio makes a lot of sense. This makes common sense. It’s really important to rural areas and smaller metros to give them access to jobs and services.
“This corridor is one of the most strong potential ridership markets that Amtrak can look at. If we can’t add passenger rail, we can’t leverage hubs like Wright-Patt. Passenger rail gives us an opportunity to improve freight at the same time. Things are mutually compatible. We have 30 major letters of support from cities that want the interior of Ohio served,” Murdock said.