Oxford, Miami University pledge funds to construct new Amtrak stop

OXFORD, Ohio -- Nearly a decade after Amtrak nixed a proposal to build a train platform in Miami University's hometown, passenger train service is one step closer to rolling into Oxford.

This week, the city of Oxford and Miami University each pledged $350,000 toward constructing a 300-foot train platform, open-air canopy and access sidewalks, at an estimated cost of $700,000 to $1.2 million, according to Alan Kyger, Oxford's economic development director.

Amtrak essentially said, "Thanks, but no thanks," to a similar 2008 proposal that it didn't find economically feasible, Kyger said. What's changed in 2017? Young people's attitudes.

"Amtrak has realized that millennials are much more invested in trains and public transportation," Kyger said. "That’s a generalization, but Amtrak sees Oxford and Miami as a great opportunity to tap into millennials."

A seven-member committee of Oxford and Miami officials found the best possible site was south of Chestnut Street between SDS Pizza and the Oxford Township Police Department. Talawanda Local Schools' Nelson-Morrow Building is on the site, and Kyger said the funds would pay for a sidewalk and platform behind that building that could always be expanded in the future. The former Talawanda High School site nearby could provide restrooms and parking for passengers.

However, Kyger pointed out that the Chestnut Street location isn't set in stone, and the committee will continue trying to find the best place at an affordable cost. 

A conceptual rendering of the future Amtrak Platform, which was created in conjunction with the Butler County Regional Transit Authority and a Miami University TIGER Grant application.

"They’ll be bringing inter-city rail back to Oxford for the first time in nearly half a century and allowing 18,000 students and the residents of Oxford and the surrounding region to easily connect to Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Chicago as well as the east coast," said Derek Bauman, vice chair and southwest Ohio director of All Aboard Ohio.

A timeline for when passengers could start departing for Chicago or Cincinnati hasn't yet been set. That's because Kyger anticipates making agreements with CSX, which owns the physical railroad tracks that Amtrak leases, could take some time.

"Everything sounds like it should be nice and easy, but CSX is in the business of moving freight," Kyger said. "It takes a while to jump through the hoops of CSX."

The committee based its cost estimate on Arcadia, Missouri, whose own basic platform began service in November 2016 at a cost of just over $600,000. Kyger pointed out that Arcadia already had a basic shelter in place to help cut costs.

Amtrak's Cardinal Line runs across the Midwest from New York to Chicago

The Cardinal Line cuts through the southwest corner of Ohio, with the nearest boarding stops at Union Terminal in Cincinnati and Connersville, Indiana. It passes through Oxford during the early morning hours of Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays bound for Chicago, and on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays bound for New York.

Rail advocates in the region are hopeful the Oxford project will help propel forward plans to bring daily rail service between Cincinnati and Chicago. In addition to Miami University, Purdue University in West Lafayette also sits along the Cardinal Line, not to mention all the metro universities in Chicago, Indianapolis and Cincinnati.

"Energy continues to build in communities along the Cardinal route calling for daily service," Bauman said. "A daily Cardinal would then significantly leverage Oxford’s investment in a new station stop and be a boon to southwest Ohio."

WCPO Transportation and Development Reporter Pat LaFleur contributed to this article.

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