It has been a busy and positive year so far when it comes to passenger rail development in Ohio. Let’s sum up what has happened in recent months…..
> Ohio is “back” in the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission after ODOT withdrew from it in 2013. MIPRC is a compact of states to foster communication, coordination and information-sharing among member states and other Midwest partners to promote growth and improvement of passenger rail services, particularly in and between the current member states. Ohio again has a voice in the commission thanks to the Ohio Association of Regional Councils joining MIPRC for three years.
OARC is comprised of Ohio’s metropolitan planning organizations which administer federal transportation and air quality programs in their metro-area jurisdictions. MIPRC will help coordinate interstate rail projects, including all Ohio routes to Chicago. MIPRC will also help advocate for Midwest federal funding requests for rail projects through its parent organization, the Council of State Governments. All Aboard Ohio urged OARC’s membership in MIPRC. Thanks to Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA) Director Grace Gallucci for taking the lead on this initiative, and thanks to All Aboard Ohio Executive Director Ken Prendergast and AAO Cleveland Coordinator Marvin Ranaldson for approaching Mrs. Gallucci with the request.
> Three metropolitan planning organizations joined to form the Northern Ohio Rail Alliance. The Toledo Area Metropolitan Council of Governments (TMACOG), Erie County Regional Planning Commission (ECRPC), and NOACA signed an identically worded memorandum of understanding (MOU) to form the Alliance (also see next item in All Aboard Ohio’s blog). The Environmental Law & Policy Center developed the MOU by borrowing language from MOU’s that formed the Western High Speed Rail Alliance which is recognized by the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) as a “Multi-Jurisdictional Initiative” to address a specific issue in a megaregion. The Northern Ohio Rail Alliance will seek to develop rail transportation in the heart of the Chi-Pitts megaregion, the second-most productive megaregion in the United States.
The Western High Speed Rail Alliance, comprised of transit agencies and MPOs in the Intermountain West, received High Speed & Intercity Passenger Rail (HSIPR) funding from the Federal Railroad Administration to conduct route planning and ridership estimating. The Northern Ohio Rail Alliance is following this precedent. All Aboard Ohio Vice Chairman Ken Sislak and Executive Director Ken Prendergast made presentations to Northern Corridor stakeholders earlier this year to provide information about creating the Alliance.
> ODOT and the Ohio Turnpike will be a partner in the Northern Corridor. The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) recently sent a strong message by providing funding ($540,000) to help build Amtrak station facilities at the Lorain County Transportation Center in Elyria. This money is from a new funding source — $1.5 billion in toll credits administered by the Ohio Turnpike & Infrastructure Commission (OTIC), which is a part of ODOT. This is an important development as the presence of this funding source (for transportation projects related to the Turnpike) bodes well for the Northern Ohio Rail Alliance which seeks non-federal funding sources to leverage federal dollars for developing the Norfolk Southern Corp.-owned Toledo-Cleveland route segment which is part of a larger rail network.
The Elyria station is, by far, the most advanced station project. In the early 2000s, All Aboard Ohio successfully urged Lorain County to buy the historic New York Central RR depot and seek funding to renovate it for local & intercity bus and rail travelers. More than $7 million has invested in this project to renovate the building as a community asset, with offices, and for Lorain County Transit and Greyhound bus services. This was the first project sufficiently advanced in its development to apply for ODOT funds. It effectively determined ODOT’s willingness to support non-highway projects with Turnpike toll credits.
Procurement of additional funding for more planning and development of the Northern Ohio rail corridor is underway. This is the ideal Ohio corridor to pursue this innovative approach to developing a rail corridor because of its existing passenger rail services, large and growing passenger and freight traffic levels, and the presence of a new, multimodal funding source in OTIC.
This parallel rail corridor hosts 20,000 daily truckload equivalents of freight and enough passengers to fill a dozen 737s every day. Four stations along the route have seen their ridership grow 36-91 percent over the past five years, yet are designed to process passengers from only one track. This forces four nightly passenger trains to slalom among 60-90 freight trains, thereby slowing rail traffic arrival times by up 80 minutes per day between Cleveland and Toledo. Freight traffic is likely impacted more severely but specific data is not available. Keeping this growing, heavy traffic flowing smoothly on the private sector-owned rails will prevent losing it to parallel roads and thereby reduce maintenance costs on these roads and their bridges. That is a strong justification for OTIC investments.
Other states are watching what we’re doing with great interest — especially neighboring states where the Ohio Association of Regional Councils will be able to capitalize on the coordination benefits offered by its new membership in the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission. In its long-range plans, Michigan DOT has long sought better passenger rail service to the east, and is very interested in looking at a Detroit-Toledo-Cleveland route.
Similarly, Indiana DOT has planned for and pursued development of a route linking Chicago-Fort Wayne-Toledo-Cleveland to augment the existing freight-congested route Amtrak uses via South Bend. A Chicago-Fort Wayne-Lima-Columbus route has advanced more quickly thanks to the leadership of the Northeast Indiana Passenger Rail Association, Lima Mayor David Berger and the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission. But what this shows is that interest is growing in a multi-route rail network. The Northern Ohio Rail Alliance offers a model for other parts of Ohio to help develop the rail network and partner with other states, railroads and the USDOT.
To learn more about these developments, please join us at Toledo’s National Train Day event at 11 a.m. May 3 for a presentation and panel discussion by All Aboard Ohio, Amtrak, the Midwest High Speed Rail Association, and the Ohio Higher Education Rail Network. Also, please attend All Aboard Ohio’s Annual Meeting at 9:30 a.m. May 17 at the Golf Depot in Gahanna, OH (near Port Columbus Airport) to hear more about the Northern Ohio Rail Alliance and the Columbus-Fort Wayne-Chicago rail project. The latter will be the subject of a panel discussion by key stakeholders after lunch (provided).
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