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Report issued on Ohio passenger rail immediate needs

ohio amtrak routes n stationss

Ohio has yet to purchase passenger rail services to link its population centers and enjoy their economic benefits as most of its neighboring states have done. Ohio’s only trains are National System routes with trains on overnight schedules between Chicago and the East Coast. Click image to enlarge. Map by All Aboard Ohio.

All Aboard Ohio has issued an important, detailed report (CLICK HERE, 6.3 mb) and four-page summary (CLICK HERE, 1.3 mb) in time for consideration by Ohio’s elected officials as they debate the next two years of transportation spending.

UPDATE: All Aboard Ohio gives testimony Feb. 22 to the Ohio House Finance Committee

READ: AAO Testimony-Finance Cmte-022217

WATCH: OhioChannel.org-Feb22Hearing (AAO is first to testify)

The report, “Ohio Passenger Rail Assessment of Needs,” shows that Ohio can begin planning, constructing or completing $23.6 million worth of passenger rail improvements sought by Ohio’s communities within the time frame of the Ohio Department of Transportation’s 2018-19 biennial budget. Further, All Aboard Ohio showed that more than $80 million in state funding could be available under state law to passenger rail development. No operating costs, only infrastructure planning and construction investments, were included.

Passenger rail service continues to be a growth industry in much of the world, including in the United States. Amtrak now covers 94 percent of its costs through revenues and the railroad broke another ridership record in Fiscal Year 2016. Passenger rail ridership in the USA has grown 50 percent since 2000 (and grown anywhere from 29 percent to 76 percent at Ohio’s seven stations). If Amtrak were an airline, it would be America’s sixth-largest by passenger volume.

The first section of All Aboard Ohio’s report summarizes the stunning passenger rail progress of Ohio’s neighbors and should prove sobering in light of Ohio’s relative inaction to gain better rail service. Of Ohio’s eight largest metro areas, only Cleveland and Toledo have daily passenger rail service, yet is scheduled only late at night. Cincinnati has thrice-weekly rail service, again only at night. Akron, Canton and Youngstown are “served” by an unstaffed station in an abandoned railroad yard in Alliance, OH. Dayton has no service and Columbus is the largest metro area is the western hemisphere without any passenger rail service.

Ohioans deserve better. Ohio is the nation’s seventh-most populous state and its population density (Ohio, 284 persons per square mile) ranks with France (295 persons per square mile). France, of course, is home to an extensive passenger rail system a small portion of which includes the famous high-speed TGV network. Yet Ohio’s travel options are very limited, slow and expensive even by U.S. standards.

All Aboard Ohio, a statewide nonprofit association of more than 500 citizens and business founded in 1973, is committed to encouraging improvements to passenger rail and public transportation in and through the state of Ohio. Thus, we prepared the Ohio Passenger Rail Assessment of Needs report to familiarize Ohio Gov. John Kasich and the Ohio General Assembly with the following contents:

  • Rail Neighbors: Ohio’s neighbor states and Ontario have undertaken or are pursuing many millions if not billions of dollars worth of improvements to their passenger rail networks.
  • Ohio’s Immediate Rail Needs: We took inventory of passenger rail projects being pursued in Ohio that could see construction as a result of funding from the Ohio Department of Transportation’s (ODOT) 2018-19 biennial budget, now under legislative review.
  • Ohio’s Future Rail Needs/Concepts: There are also long-term rail improvements around Ohio that were considered by various public jurisdictions and railroads in recent years and may require new funding to achieve.
  • Ohio Public Policy Recommendations: All Aboard Ohio also offered policy recommendations that Gov. John Kasich and Ohio General Assembly could consider during its ODOT budget deliberations in order to better facilitate passenger rail and public transportation improvements in the next two years.

“We look forward to continuing our dialogue with Ohio’s policymakers in achieving realistic, near-term improvements to our state’s transportation system,” said All Aboard Ohio Executive Director Ken Prendergast. “We urge Ohioans to contact their state lawmakers in Columbus today and inform them with a short, polite message that they want better passenger rail service in Ohio.”



There is ample evidence, both in real-world examples from our neighboring states and economic impact studies of proposed Ohio services, of the benefits from investing in rail infrastructure and services. These real examples and Ohio studies show that investing in passenger rail generates long-term economic benefits that are 1.4 to 1.8 times greater than the initial investment.

The ongoing support produces even greater quantifiable benefits. The Michigan Department of Transportation, for example, purchases Amtrak service at $25 million per year. Yet, according to a Grand Valley State University study (commissioned by MDOT) in 2009 before the state began upgrading rail infrastructure to 110 mph, Michigan enjoyed $62 million per year in community benefits from the passenger rail services.

“Investing in rail service will spark economic development in communities along a corridor linking Detroit and Chicago, two vital Midwest cities. Michigan can be the centerpiece of a broader logistical connection that goes all the way from St. Louis to Chicago to Detroit and continues on to Toronto and Montreal with Detroit right in the heart of it. Rail can solve some real problems. It can be economically efficient and contribute to sustainability and also an urban lifestyle, something our young people are looking for,” said Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder.


Boy Scouts seek daily Amtrak Cardinal


The Cardinal Conference, organized by All Aboard Ohio and Amtrak, was held in at the Cincinnati USA Chamber of Commerce on Sept. 23, 2016. More than 100 people attended the event, including representatives of the Boy Scouts of America. (Permission to use image with “All Aboard Ohio photo” as credit – CLICK TO ENLARGE)

PDF of the following press release on AAO letterhead is available HERE.

Dec. 20, 2016
For Immediate Release

Contact: Derek Bauman 513-262-0345

All Aboard Ohio and other passenger rail advocates seeking daily Amtrak Cardinal service have gained a major ally in the Boy Scouts of America.

In a Dec. 15, 2016 letter to Amtrak President Wick Moorman, BSA Chief Scout Executive Michael B. Surbaugh urged Amtrak to increase its Cardinal service from thrice-weekly to daily. He urged it on at least a temporary basis during July 2017 when the BSA will begin holding its quadrennial National Jamboree at Summit Bechtel Reserve at Mount Hope, WV. An even larger event will occur in 2019 when the World Scout Jamboree is held at that location, near Amtrak Cardinal stations along the New River Gorge National River, a 70,000-acre recreation area.

BSA had been using the Philmont Scout Ranch near Raton, NM and large groups of scouts took Amtrak’s daily Southwest Chief from Los Angeles, Chicago and points in between, to get there. The same large passenger loads will descend upon the Cardinal, but will be limited by its three-days-per-week operation.

BSA became aware of proposals and issues surrounding expanding the Cardinal to a daily schedule when BSA representatives attended the Sept. 23, 2016 Cardinal Conference. That event was organized by All Aboard Ohio and Amtrak, and hosted by the Cincinnati USA Chamber of Commerce in Cincinnati, OH, a station stop on the Cardinal route.

More than 100 people attended the Cardinal Conference,” said All Aboard Ohio Vice Chair Derek Bauman. “While stakeholders learned of the challenges involved in getting the Cardinal to run daily, we were also energized by the level of interest by people in the room to press forward and tackle those challenges. We are thankful to the BSA for its letter which shows that interest in this enhanced rail service remains strong.”

I hope Amtrak will consider the opportunity to take advantage of the Jamboree window to operate daily service on the Cardinal and to work with local tourism representatives to maximize this unique opportunity,” Surbaugh wrote in his letter to Amtrak. “I know I speak for all when I say that enhanced service would be a welcome addition offering the possibility of increased ridership and visitors to the New River Gorge.”

The West Virginia Governor’s Conference on Tourism unanimously passed a motion in favor of daily Cardinal service in the Fall of 2016. In a 2010 Performance Improvement Plan, Amtrak projected that ridership on the Cardinal route would increase by 96 percent if the train operated daily. While Amtrak estimated the operating subsidy could increase by several million dollars per year, the subsidy per passenger was projected to decrease.

Amtrak cannot legally expand service that increases its operating losses without identifying funding to offset it. Congress provided that funding program in 2015 as part of its Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act by authorizing Restoration & Enhancement Grants with a total program ceiling of $20 million per year. However Congress has yet to appropriate any funding to that program. States and other political jurisdictions may also sponsor passenger rail services under Sec. 209 of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008.

Amtrak estimates it has enough locomotives and passenger cars to run the Cardinal as often as five days per week. A long-delayed order of 130 Viewliner II passenger cars from CAF USA in Elmira, NY is finally producing the promised baggage cars, diners, sleepers and baggage dorm cars. Enough cars may be on hand by July to offer daily Cardinal service for the BSA, if funding can be found to offset the added operating cost.

The last time Amtrak offered daily service on its Cardinal route was Sept. 30, 1981, when the train was discontinued due to federal budget cuts. Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) got some funding restored, bringing the Cardinal back on Jan. 8, 1982 as a thrice-weekly service. The train was rescheduled from serving Cincinnati in daytime so it could serve West Virginia at more convenient times. The train is named the Cardinal because that is the state bird in every state through which the train passes.


Chicago-Ohio rail corridor planning starts


Lima, OH Mayor David Berger announces at a Dec. 19, 2016 press conference at Baker Street Station in Fort Wayne, IN the start of federally compliant planning of a passenger rail corridor through Lima to Chicago. Expansion of this first step of planning work to more of Ohio will depend on the extent of funding contributions from those areas. (ROGER SHOPE PHOTO)

Dec. 19, 2016
For Immediate Release
Contact: Ken Prendergast 844-464-7245

All Aboard Ohio is grateful to the business and civic leaders along the Columbus-Lima-Fort Wayne-Chicago rail corridor for their leadership and vision in raising funds to start an Alternatives Analysis and Public Input process for high-performance passenger rail into Chicago. This phase represents a starting point for the Project Development Process (PDP) for all major transportation capital improvement projects.

We also thank the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) for submitting an application to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to support the analysis. INDOT offered the locally raised funds, totaling $350,000, to start the PDP as part of an arrangement with the FRA. All Aboard Ohio thanks the FRA for responding to this application with its support for this first step of planning work that is due to be completed at the end of 2017. All of this success was made possible due to the efforts of the Northeast Indiana Passenger Rail Association.

To All Aboard Ohio, the benefits of developing the Columbus-Lima-Fort Wayne-Chicago corridor aren’t limited to this corridor. Significant parts of this corridor can and should be designed and developed as a trunk route for more and faster passenger trains from/to Ohio’s largest cities, including Cleveland and Cincinnati as well (see map below).


Click image for larger map.

“There are only two rail corridors to the east of Chicago that lack heavy freight rail traffic and could offer the potential for frequent, reliable, 110-mph passenger trains,” said Ken Prendergast, executive director of All Aboard Ohio. “One already does – the Wolverine Corridor that was upgraded with infrastructure and safety improvements that allow 110 mph speeds for three state-sponsored Michigan passenger rail routes into Chicago.

“The other is the Fort Wayne Line,” Prendergast added. “With the support of more Ohio civic leaders like Lima Mayor David Berger, the Fort Wayne Line may someday be the route that all Ohio rail passengers use to enter Chicago safely, swiftly and reliably. We encourage more Ohio leaders to get on board the train to the Midwest’s economic capital.”

Trains from Ohio using the Fort Wayne Line into Chicago could travel to the Windy City from Columbus, Cincinnati or Cleveland in four hours or less. Travelers in closer-in cities like Toledo and Lima could arrive in downtown Chicago in three hours or less, regardless of bad weather while staying digitally connected and productive in their work. Passengers could relax on the train after a day of business in the Windy City with a cold drink or hot meal in the cafe car or by finishing up work so they can spend the evening with their family.

“With today’s announcement in Fort Wayne, we are now one step closer to realizing this vision,” Prendergast said. “Every long journey begins with a single step. That journey is now under way.”

A 2013 rail corridor feasibility study concluded that approximately 2.1 million riders would use the Chicago-Fort Wayne-Columbus route in 2020, with that number growing to more than three million in 2040. The study also estimated that for every $1 of investment, $1.70 would be generated in economic return through job growth and increased property values.


December 2016 e-Edition newsletter


Download the December 2016 issue CLICK HERE to read the following stories:

  • Gov. Kasich reportedly has ‘tight’ budget for ODOT in next 2 years
  • How will Trump affect rail & transit?
  • Daily Cardinal service gaining more friends
  • Without investment, Ohio rail jobs departing
  • Amtrak ridership, revenues hit record highs
  • New Viewliner II diners start hitting the rails
  • Cleveland RTA rail stations see improvements
  • Illustration of the month
  • Mad Jack Challenge fundraiser exceeds goal!

Please contact us at info@allaboardohio.org if you have any difficulties downloading the newsletter or if you have any comments or questions. Thank you!