CINCINNATI — Gov. Mike DeWine is taking the first steps to expand Amtrak and passenger rail services in Ohio.
The governor has directed the Ohio Rail Development Commission to apply for funding to expand the rail service, and the Federal Railroad Administration's Corridor Identification and Development program would help Ohio decide possible corridors.
DeWine said this is the first step of many.
"We have a lot of questions that need to be answered before we make any commitments," DeWine said. "The information we gather from this effort will help us make informed decisions about federal opportunities for passenger rail in Ohio."
Two corridors have already been identified in Ohio: Cincinnati-Dayton-Columbus-Cleveland (3CD) and Cleveland-Toledo-Detroit.
If funding is approved, Ohio would get $500,000 from the Federal Railroad Administration per corridor, which would allow the state to bring in a consultant to help create a development plan.
Matthew Dietrich, the executive director of the Ohio Rail Development Commission, said the commission has been working closing with Amtrak to explore options.
"Our work with Amtrak was necessary for a federal application but it is just the first step," Dietrich said. "The Governor has been very clear that for this to work for Ohio, it is not just a matter of cost. It has to be done in a way that does not impede freight rail traffic in the state that is so important to our economy and our businesses."
Though it is just a preliminary step, passenger rail transit advocates are lauding the effort as a light at the end of a long tunnel.
"Where Ohio stands now is literally standing because we don't have any trains — most of Ohio doesn't have trains," said Stu Nicholson, executive director of All Aboard Ohio. "This is more than just being able, for any of us to get on a train and ride where we want to go."
The last time Cincinnati was connected to Cleveland by train was in 1967 and the last train to run through Columbus was in 1979.
Today there are three Amtrak routes servicing Ohio. Two run through Cleveland once daily and another runs through Cincinnati's Union Terminal three days a week.
Nicholson stresses the logistical and economic benefit improved rail transit could bring to the state.
"If we have companies that are based in Ohio — for instance Procter & Gamble or General Electric in the Cincinnati area — if they want to expand and add more people they want to basically draw upon the largest possible workforce to make that happen, rail does that," he said.
In 2021 Amtrak released Connect US, a comprehensive report on the future of rail transit across the county. It estimated a corridor connecting Cincinnati to Columbus would result in an annual economic impact of $129.6 million dollars for the state.
Senator Sherrod Brown applauded DeWine and said he was working with Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg to "make sure Ohio gets its fair share, or more."
"Expanding Amtrak in Ohio, whether along current routes or by connecting Cleveland-Columbus-Dayton-Cincinnati, would transform our state's economy and improve mobility for all Ohioans," Brown said. "I will continue to fight to make Ohio's transit more reliable and efficient so more Ohioans can access employment and education opportunities across the state."
The last time Ohio came close to expanding passenger rail service was in 2010.
The federal government granted the state $400 million to build the 3CD corridor but
Governor John Kasich killed the project over his opposition to state support for passenger rail.
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