Federal, state and Toledo area officials agree that the time is right for the growth of passenger rail service in Northwest Ohio. While it will be several years before high-speed rail service comes to the Midwest, federal funding and public / private regional partnerships will help move those plans forward.
In a great spot
“Toledo has been, for years, the busiest (train) traffic location in Ohio,” said Derek James, director of government affairs with Amtrak. The city’s two Amtrak routes – the Capitol Limited and the Lake Shore Limited between Chicago and the east coast – pass through Toledo’s Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza daily. Opened in 1950, the station (formerly Union Terminal) is a transportation hub that also now serves as a Greyhound bus hub. In contrast, Columbus is the largest city in the nation without any train service or a terminal.
Both the City of Toledo and the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments (TMACOG) have completed feasibility and financial studies and the viability of public / private partnerships to bring high-speed rail through Toledo, focusing on two routes. The first is a route between Toledo and Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW), connecting with an existing Ann Arbor-Detroit route. City Council Legislative Administrator Ricky Verret said this route would be “a robust regional rail service (with) far more frequency for the scheduled routes.”
Connecting people around the state
A second proposed route would travel between Toledo and Columbus, using one of three alternatives along existing freight routes: Route #1, using CSX lines through Findlay and Kenton; Route #2 using the CSX route via Fostoria and Marion; and a Route #3 hybrid, combining the two routes.
The increased rail traffic would require replacement of the current Norfolk-Southern swing bridge over the Maumee River near downtown. The TMACOG study recommends a two- or three-track lift bridge that would better handle the traffic. Funding for these routes may be available from a variety of groups, including the Federal Railroad Administration, state governments or private financing and investment.
“There are also millions in Ohio who are not served by mass transit, and many don’t have adequate other transportation options,” explained Theresa Allen, chair of All Aboard Ohio, a group focused on better transportation choices around the state, adding “We have to look ahead with foresight, using federal money.”
Using existing lines is smart
“We need to be realistic about corridors through the state,” James Coston, executive chair of the Corridor Rail Development Corporation, a passenger rail developer, said. “It’s easier to start with existing lines [to develop plans to harness] the enthusiasm, support and coordination from Amtrak.”
Coston said that many states are using a combination of private and freight lines for high-speed service. “You have greater flexibility and lower costs while following the national regulations,” when you’re not using Amtrak lines, Coston said.
Increased access by rail can play a role in uniting educational institutions, according to Dr. Jerry Wicks with the Ohio Higher Education Rail Network (OHERN). A local route using existing track would link Bowling Green State University and the University of Toledo, along with Findlay College, Owens Community College, Lourdes University, the Toledo Zoo and downtown Sylvania. “This community system could link 45,000 students and more than 5,000 staff and faculty from these schools alone,” Dr. Wicks said.
Federal funding is available
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine has indicated that the state will participate in the national Corridor Identification Program, which has $66 billion committed nationwide for rail expansion from the $550 billion bipartisan infrastructure law passed last year. High-speed routes proposed for Ohio to utilize the funding include a Cleveland – Toledo – Detroit route, and a Cleveland-Columbus-Dayton-Cincinnati route. In 2010, then-Gov. John Kasich turned down a $400 million federal award for similar passenger rail line projects.
“Economic development is not political,” All Aboard Ohio’s Allen said. “It’s good economic sense and a great marketing piece for Ohio.”