Supporters of high-speed rail in Ohio are ecstatic that the state will seek federal funding to conduct a feasibility study on the topic.
The $2.3 billion grant for passenger rail in the federal infrastructure law of 2021 is the largest investment in Amtrak’s history, and its supporters are hoping it will benefit Ohio.
Two separate studies, one of the 3C+D corridor linking Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, and Cincinnati and another of the Chicago–Pittsburgh–Columbus corridor, are requesting a total of $1 million.
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Although the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission’s William Murdock called it “an exciting first step,” the organization won’t know whether or not the allocated funds are approved until next year.
The 3C + D strategy “looks compelling,” according to Murdock. The governor and our partners up and down the chain will advance an application process. At the conclusion of the study may lie our best opportunity for securing financial backing and moving forward.
According to Murdock, a new study would show what track improvements are needed and how much they will cost, as well as estimates of passenger demand, updating studies done before a passenger rail plan was rejected in 2010. Murdock adds that a route from Chicago to Pittsburgh via Columbus is also in the works.
Murdock explained that the FRA process they are about to enter would allow them to “dive deep” into the capital improvements, rail upgrades, and crossing upgrades that are necessary to improve service between the cities.
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Murdock said the FRA was going to look at whether or not freight and passenger trains could use the same tracks in Ohio.
He also noted that the population growth in the corridor since 2010 means that the study will be different from analyses conducted before a previous passenger rail plan was rejected.
This was the year that Democratic Governor Ted Strickland and state officials secured $400 million in federal stimulus funding to construct a passenger rail line connecting Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati.
In that discussion, ODOT had suggested that new rail lines be built in Ohio in order to accommodate 110 mph trains. At first, ODOT predicted the train would travel at a median speed of 39 mph, but they’ve since increased that estimate to 50 mph.
After defeating Strickland, Republican Governor John Kasich vetoed the passenger train plan and the federal money was returned to the government.
Construction of the line was projected to cost $564 million in 2010. In contrast, Amtrak predicted a price tag of $100 million back in May of this year.
If the plan is approved, the federal government would foot the bill for the first three years of the line’s operation, before gradually turning over responsibility to the state. The previous project estimated annual operating costs of $17 million from the state.
Consideration has also been given to travel times. Travel time by plane was projected to be 6.5 hours from Cleveland to Cincinnati in 2010, compared to just under 4 hours by car.
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According to an interview with “The State of Ohio” from last year, Amtrak spokesman Mark Maglieri said, “We estimated a travel time of about five and a half hours.”
While others may be pessimistic, Murdock is confident: “This is a time where if it’s going to happen, this is the time that it’s going to happen.”