On the Chicago-East Coast Amtrak passenger rail route through Toledo, Sandusky, Elyria and Cleveland, ridership is booming. Today, more than 630,000 passengers use these trains each year, enough to fill every seat on more than a dozen Boeing-737 jets every day.
Despite Ohio’s middle-of-the-night service, ridership has expanded rapidly at Ohio’s four busiest Amtrak stations in the past five years. Annual ridership at Toledo grew 36%, Cleveland 38%, Sandusky 64% and Elyria 87%, according to official Amtrak reports to the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT). Each of these stations has 28 passenger trains arriving and departing per week.
More trains are needed to fill the void left by intercity bus services which now bypass smaller towns with new express buses; and by commercial airlines which have consolidated to survive. In the past five years, the USDOT notes that airlines have raised fares nationwide and cut 40% of all flights on routes shorter than 500 miles. That has left many Midwest airports with far less air traffic (Columbus down 9%, Detroit -9%, Fort Wayne -22%, Erie -28%, South Bend -29%, Cleveland -31%, Pittsburgh -59%, Cincinnati -70%, Toledo -71%).
Amtrak’s 79 mph trains mix with many slower freight trains – about 70 trains per day east of Toledo to Cleveland and beyond. West of Toledo through South Bend to Chicago, this number rises to 90 freight trains per day. That’s enough to fill more than 20,000 trucks per day – more than the number traveling on the Ohio and Indiana turnpikes.
How do we accommodate this growing passenger and freight rail traffic? All Aboard Ohio believes this should be answered by a programmatic assessment conducted by the state departments of transportation and/or the metropolitan planning organizations along the route, plus the Federal Railroad Administration, the railroads and other stakeholders. And this assessment for accommodating rail traffic growth must not end at Cleveland. It needs to look eastward to address the eastern origins and destinations of rail traffic, too.
In the meantime, some achievable steps can be taken to address inadequate stations that hinder rail traffic flow and to provide safer, more comfortable facilities for passengers. These stations must also accommodate connecting transportation – cars, taxis, local public transportation, intercity buses, bikes and safe pedestrian routes – to become community focal points for new jobs and business investment.
Indeed, All Aboard Ohio estimates that redesigning stations so a train can process station passengers from more than one track at Cleveland, Elyria and Sandusky will eliminate an average of 5 minutes from each train’s schedule per station (see the article “Any 4 a.m. at Sandusky, Ohio”). While the Toledo station can host two trains at a time, it cannot process passengers from more than one train simultaneously. All stations are need of improvements to achieve a state of good repair and full compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
To achieve ADA compliance, a state of good repair and reduce rail travel times, varying levels of investment are proposed at the following stations (owners listed):
- Toledo MLK Plaza (Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority) – $5.4 million
- Sandusky New York Central Depot (City of Sandusky) – $2.7 million
- Elyria Lorain County Transportation Center (Lorain County) – $5 million to $6 million
- Cleveland Lakefront Multi-modal Transportation Center (City of Cleveland) – $55.6 million
Of the estimated total of $69.7 million for all four station projects, up to $38 million in funding from Amtrak, Lorain County (via a federal grant) and the City of Cleveland has been pledged. Another $32 million appears to be needed. Funding should be sought from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to fill this gap so these four stations can become community focal points for multi-modal transportation and economic development. The FRA requires only a 20 percent non-federal match. A Toledo-Cleveland Corridor project could offer as much as a 55 percent non-federal match.
This could be funded via a single grant if all four station projects are aggregated into a single corridor improvement project sponsored by a single entity, or via an alliance of multiple entities such as the affected Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs), namely the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments, Erie County Planning Commission and the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency.
A similar alliance, called the Western High Speed Rail Alliance, was created by MPOs and transit agencies approving identical memorandums of understanding. This alliance is recognized by the Federal Highway Administration as a multi-jurisdictional initiative and was awarded planning funds by the Federal Railroad Administration. Other regions and corridors throughout the nation are following this model.
Contact All Aboard Ohio for more information at 216-288-4883 or firstname.lastname@example.org.