January 29, 2010

My Distressed Part of the State is Thrown a Life Preserver, Maybe.

For a state that has had nothing but bad economic news for a long time now, this is wonderful news. Economically staggered and left for dead when factories by the hundreds or more shuttered and left and which has been further decimated by the bad economic turndown it is news that puts a smile on my face.

Rail could be running by 2012

News Journal

GALION -- Cross-state passenger rail service moved closer to reality Thursday as Washington officials announced Ohio will receive $400 million to connect its three largest cities.

The U.S. Department of Transportation awarded stimulus funds to begin work connecting the "3-C Corridor" of Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and Dayton. The rail will run through Crawford and Richland counties.

Ohio Department of Transportation and Ohio Rail Development Commission officials anticipate the a light-rail line, the first phase, to be running by September 2012.

"We will go to the controlling board to get approval, set agreements with the railroad and rail operator contract -- it's likely to be Amtrak," said Stu Nicholson, rail commission spokesman. "We're targeting construction for the second half of 2010."

Mansfield Councilwoman At-Large Ellen Haring, a member of the Fourth Congressional District Rail Task Force, said the group has worked for more than a year to convince state and federal officials to support rail in north central Ohio.

"This money will be a great boon to the areas close to the rail corridor," Haring said.

Shelby and Galion are in contention for a proposed station, after the second phase of the route is complete.

Gene Toy, Galion's acting city manager, said the city needs to build a depot, but has an advantage with a single southbound track.

"The depot at Pershing Avenue would be an area where there isn't a lot of CSX freight," Toy said.

All Aboard Ohio director Ken Prendergast said the $400 million in funding gives Ohio a chance to catch up with passenger rail competitors in other states. Crestline initially was under consideration, but was crossed off the list of potential stops in September.

"Passenger rail is good for our state," Sen. Sherrod Brown said. "Including a stop in north central Ohio would generate economic development and connect towns in the region to Ohio's largest cities. This is the type of infrastructure investment we need for long-term economic growth."

The amount awarded, short of the initial request of $564 million, means money will be focused on improving rail infrastructure, building stations and buying passenger rail cars.

State leaders hope expanding passenger rail in Ohio eventually will create more than 16,000 permanent jobs, in addition to tens of thousands of construction jobs. They hope it will generate more than $3 billion in development near stations and produce an annual $80 million windfall for the state's tourism industry.

Ohio is considered a key bridge for a national high-speed rail system: The route would allow riders to access the Chicago Hub and eastern seaboard.

At least six million Ohioans live within 15 miles of the proposed 250-mile route, which represents one of the densest corridors in the United States without passenger rail service.

A 2009 Amtrak study of the corridor projected ridership of 500,000 within the first year -- which would make it the 12th most traveled U.S. route -- and strong growth in the following years.

Brown has long advocated passenger rail service in Ohio. In April, Brown sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood urging him to devote federal stimulus funds to passenger rail in Ohio. Brown held a phone conference Thursday with LaHood.

"We were not in the ball game until today," Brown said. "It's a great day for passenger rail and a great day for our state."
Additional Facts

At a Glance

A look at Ohio's plan for passenger rail service, based on the October application for stimulus funding:

# Conventional-speed trains reaching 79 mph would connect Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and Cincinnati.

# Trains would make six stops on the 255-mile route: downtown locations in the four major cities along with intermediate stops in west Cleveland and Sharonville Park north of Cincinnati.

# Amtrak predicts annual ridership at 478,000.

# Annual Ohio subsidy to keep service operational: $17 million.

# Estimated time for trip from Cleveland to Cincinnati: 6 hours and 30 minutes.

Source: Ohio Rail Development Commission

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