Ohio will be part of a multi-state planning initiative for the Midwest led by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) according to a recent announcement to Congress. While more details will be announced soon, the timing of this planning work (which is required by law before federal funding can be awarded to service expansions and capital improvements) could not be better.
The news comes as Congress is wrapping up work on a reauthorization of a six-year surface transportation law that includes passenger rail provisions under Senate bill 1626. That legislation includes 100% percent federal operating funding for new or expanded routes of 750 miles or more. All of Ohio’s existing routes fall into that category, as might future expansions such as those in Amtrak’s Performance Improvement Plans for its Chicago-Cincinnati-Washington DC-New York City Cardinal or the Chicago-Toledo-Cleveland-Washington DC/New York City Capitol Limited/Pennsylvanian. More significant expansions may be considered.
A more detailed, formal announcement of the grant award will soon be made by the FRA who notified Congress recently about the multi-state planning. The funding, totaling $2.78 million, is being used for FRA-led planning in the Midwest and Southeast. For the Midwest, the FRA approved an application submitted in November 2014. This planning will be similar to that which was recently conducted for the Southwest.
“The Midwest is the second-largest megaregion in the United States (trailing only the Northeast) and seventh largest in the world in terms of population and economic output,” said Ken Prendergast, executive director of All Aboard Ohio. “While the Northeast has an extensive and growing network of fast trains to enhance that region’s economy, the Midwest system is lacking especially in populous Ohio. Fast trains linking transportation hubs in small, medium and large cities will create jobs and regional connectivity, support educational institutions, and enhance productivity and Midwest competitiveness.”
Here is the FRA’s notice to Congress:
“The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is utilizing authority provided under Section 192 of the FY 2015 Omnibus Appropriations Act (P.L. 113-76) to retain $2,780,651 in funding made available to the agency to facilitate multi-state rail planning. Due to the complexities in coordinating among multiple states and other stakeholders, FRA is retaining these funds and leading the planning effort at the Federal level, rather than awarding funds to entities through a grant or cooperative agreement. In October 2015, FRA solicited statements of interest from states for participating in this FRA-led multi-state planning process. FRA is using these funds to engage stakeholders in both the Southeast and Midwest regions in forming more comprehensive regional governance organizations to sustain current planning work and develop a long-term passenger rail vision for their respective regions. Funding will also be utilized to enhance FRA’s passenger rail network planning tool with updated cost and trip table data, as well as new mapping and benefit-cost analysis features. These efforts will build off the pilot Southwest Passenger Rail Study that was funded under similar authority in FY 2010 and released in October 2014.”
There are several takeaways from this:
- The multi-state plan will include Ohio plus Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Kentucky. All Aboard Ohio encouraged the Ohio Association of Regional Councils to join the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission to retain Ohio’s voice in Midwest rail planning after the Ohio Department of Transportation withdrew its membership in 2012.
- Planning will be federally led rather than awarded to states, thus the FRA would conduct passenger rail planning in Ohio and other states.
- For Ohio’s short-distance corridor planning (ie: Columbus-Chicago, Cincinnati-Chicago, Cleveland-Toledo, etc), it means regional planning agencies no longer need to take the lead on sponsoring planning and instead take on a more traditional role of supporting the FRA planning work, notifying stakeholders of developments, and being conduits of stakeholder input.
- If S.1626 passes, there will be a framework for 100% federal operating funding of long-distance (750+ miles) rail components of the FRA plan. The total amount of available funding will be determined through Congress’ annual appropriations process.
Thus it is even more imperative that All Aboard Ohio and our friends make our long-distance service expansion preferences known and to get buy-in from stakeholders along routes. Check back here at allaboardohio.org for occasional updates and for an upcoming release of our long-distance expansion preferences. We will share more information about this Midwest rail planning work as we receive it.