New report: restore passenger rail to Columbus, Dayton, Youngstown; expand service to other Ohio cities

In a new report, All Aboard Ohio is urging six Ohio passenger rail expansions to be included in upcoming federal passenger rail planning for the Midwest. A new funding program making its way through Congress could make the rail service expansions a reality. Shown here is Toledo's MLK Plaza, Ohio's busiest intercity passenger rail and bus terminal.

In a new report, All Aboard Ohio is urging six Ohio passenger rail expansions to be included in upcoming federal passenger rail plans for the Midwest. A new funding program making its way through Congress could make the expansions a reality. All Aboard Ohio proposes service to cities without passenger trains including Columbus, Dayton, Youngstown and more service to cities that already have it, albeit at inconvenient hours. Shown here is Toledo’s MLK Plaza, Ohio’s busiest intercity passenger rail and bus terminal, which hosted its 65th anniversary celebration on Sept. 22, 2015. (Bill Gill photo)


For Immediate Release

Contact: Ken Prendergast, All Aboard Ohio Executive Director, 844-GO4-RAIL (toll free)

What if Ohioans in small towns and big cities could access more frequent, faster, reliable and conveniently scheduled passenger rail services?

What if those trains offered low fares and on-board amenities like WiFi, conference space, cafe service, comfortable reclining seats, and a safe, smooth ride at 90 mph?

What if Ohio’s seven existing cities and towns with stations served by intercity passenger trains grew to 25?

What if the total number of passenger trains serving Ohio grew from 5 per day to 16?

What if if the State of Ohio didn’t have the responsibility to create (or chance to prevent) the new trains and instead there was a federally-driven and -funded planning process to identify the feasibility of these and other possibilities as well as a federal grant program to pay for new train services to and through Ohio?

Finally, what if there was a report that proposed new/expanded train services (six of them, actually) that would achieve a higher level, interconnected transportation system for Ohio, producing $4 billion in benefits over the 30-year lifetime of the infrastructure investments to create them?

Such a report was released today (DOWNLOAD REPORT HERE) by All Aboard Ohio, a nonprofit educational association of citizens and rail/transit users. All Aboard Ohio’s report was prompted by two important, emerging developments that could soon improve the prospects for passenger rail service expansions and improvements in Ohio:

  1. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) announced to Congress in August that it will lead multi-state feasibility studies of expanded short-distance (less than 750 miles) and long-distance passenger rail service expansions in the Southeast states and in the Midwest states, including Ohio.
  2. With bipartisan support, the U.S. Senate has passed a Surface Transportation Program reauthorization that includes a rail title that would for the first time since 1997 allow federal funds to be used for long-distance passenger rail expansion without a host state having to sponsor it. The rail title includes language originally introduced as S.1626, the bipartisan Railroad Reform, Enhancement, and Efficiency Act of 2015 (R2E2). The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to consider its own version of the transportation reauthorization bill in the coming weeks.

“With these ingredients coming together, the time is right for All Aboard Ohio to consider how best to utilize these opportunities for rail expansion in Ohio,” said All Aboard Ohio Executive Director Ken Prendergast. “All Aboard Ohio wants the rail passengers’ voice in our state to be heard as the FRA’s multistate plans for expansion are formed and Amtrak or other applicants seek federal grants to offer more transportation choices.”

Expansion funds would support longer routes (750+ miles) that were omitted from the national system or discontinued due to factors other than passenger usage, such as political factors or the neglect and abandonment of private railroad infrastructure. Except for Florida, no state has lost more Amtrak service since 2000 than Ohio. The FRA’s Midwest plan and the Senate’s R2E2 legislation offer opportunities to right past wrongs.

Recently, All Aboard Ohio’s board of directors unanimously recommended six service expansions on routes 750+ miles long, therefore making them a federal responsibility. These proposed routes would connect communities with limited transportation choices, that have high ridership potential rail and that might entail lower capital and operating costs. The report includes ridership projections based on average per route-mile usage of all existing long-distance trains nationwide:

  1. Expand to daily service Amtrak’s Cardinal (Chicago-Indianapolis-Cincinnati-Charleston-Washington DC-Philadelphia-New York City). This train currently operates thrice-weekly. Ridership is projected to grow 96 percent to 215,000 passengers per year (the equivalent passenger load of four full 737 jets or 10 full long-distance buses every day).
  2. Extend Amtrak’s Pennsylvanian service (New York City-Philadelphia-Harrisburg-Pittsburgh) to Chicago via Youngstown, Cleveland, Toledo and Dearborn, MI. Ridership is projected to increase 56 percent to 360,000 passengers per year (the equivalent passenger load of seven full 737 jets or 16½ full long-distance buses every day).
  3. Add a Tidewater section to the daily Cardinal to link Pontiac/Detroit to Norfolk, VIA via Toledo, Columbus, Charleston and Richmond. Ridership is projected at 175,000 passengers per year (the equivalent passenger load of nearly four full 737 jets or eight full long-distance buses every day).
  4. Inaugurate Cincinnati section of Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited (Cincinnati-Dayton-Columbus-Cleveland-Buffalo-Rochester-Albany-New York City). This new service is projected to carry 195,000 passengers per year (the equivalent passenger load of four full 737 jets or nine full long-distance buses every day).
  5. Restore Amtrak’s Three Rivers via Dearborn, MI (Chicago-Dearborn-Toledo-Cleveland-Youngstown-Pittsburgh-Philadelphia-New York City). This new service on a roughly 12-hour counter-schedule would provide daytime service where the Pennsylvanian extension provides overnight service. Ridership is projected at 200,000 passengers per year (the equivalent passenger load of four full 737 jets or nine full long-distance buses every day).
  6. Restore the best remaining route segments of Amtrak’s Broadway/National Limited (Chicago-Fort Wayne-Columbus-Pittsburgh-Philadelphia-New York City/Washington DC). This new service is projected to carry 220,000 passengers per year (the equivalent passenger load of four full 737 jets or 10 full long-distance buses each day).
  7. Restore direct Midwest-Southeast passenger rail (Detroit-Toledo-Columbus-Dayton-Cincinnati-Lexington-Chattanooga-Atlanta-Macon-Jacksonville-Orlando). This new service is projected to carry 350,000 passengers per year (the equivalent passenger load of seven full 737 jets or 16 full long-distance buses every day).

All Aboard Ohio urges Ohioans to reach out to your U.S. Congressperson in the coming days and request their support for the rail title (S.1626) in the Senate’s surface transportation reauthorization bill to provide more and better transportation choices in Ohio. We also urge you to share this report with business and tourism officials in your community, as well as your local, state and federal elected leaders in the coming months to encourage their participation in the FRA’s Midwest rail planning next year. Join All Aboard Ohio today to make sure you’re kept informed on where and how best to give input to this planning process!


33 Comments to "New report: restore passenger rail to Columbus, Dayton, Youngstown; expand service to other Ohio cities"

  1. Dwight Long's Gravatar Dwight Long
    September 22, 2015 - 12:50 PM | Permalink

    Think about rail service in southeastern Ohio (Chillicothe, Portsmouth, Athens, etc.). This area often gets ignored.

  2. KJP's Gravatar KJP
    September 22, 2015 - 1:01 PM | Permalink

    We propose a daily Cardinal serving the South Portsmouth station. When a daily Cardinal is provided, a section operating north from Ashland, KY to Chillicothe, Columbus, Toledo and Detroit using NS tracks is definitely worth considering. Please share your ideas with the Federal Railroad Administration when their planning gets underway next year.

  3. Dwight Long's Gravatar Dwight Long
    September 22, 2015 - 2:51 PM | Permalink

    Thanks for the reply KJP. I am glad to know this route is being considered. Chillicothe has become a retail hub for southern Ohio and we have been selected as a heritage area for our many ancient earthworks. Thanks again.

    • Jay Melrose's Gravatar Jay Melrose
      September 24, 2016 - 6:33 AM | Permalink

      A Columbus/ Chillicothe/Portsmouth rail link would be an excellent stimulus here in Southern Ohio!

  4. Ed's Gravatar Ed
    September 22, 2015 - 3:45 PM | Permalink

    Dwight: It will only be considered if people like you let the FRA know your views. The more people who participate in the process, the better chance there is of making it happen. Cheers.

  5. Anthony's Gravatar Anthony
    September 22, 2015 - 5:47 PM | Permalink

    What about restoring the Three Rivers to it’s former route via Youngstown, Akron, and Fostoria? That would open up rail service to Akron and provide service over more routes that don’t have it today.

  6. EricO's Gravatar EricO
    September 30, 2015 - 1:51 PM | Permalink

    How about expanding that section of the Lakeshore Limited past Cincinnati to Louisville? Would be great to have an I-71 alternative, especially in the Winter!

  7. Tom Collard's Gravatar Tom Collard
    September 30, 2015 - 2:18 PM | Permalink

    It would be nice to have a second train each way from New York to Chicago via Buffalo, Erie, Cleveland, and Toledo. I’m thinking nighttime between New York and Buffalo and daytime from Buffalo to Chicago e.g. NYC #59, the Chicagoan, leaving New York at 23:00 hrs, Buffalo at 0745 and Chicago at 1630. Returning NYC #6, the Fifth Avenue-Cleveland Limited (which made far too many stops between Chicago and Buffalo) left Chicago at 1000 hrs, Buffalo at 2223 hrs and New York at 0715 the next morning. Both trains had sleepers between Cleveland and New York, Dining Service between Buffalo and Chicago and coaches between all points.

    • Schmolik's Gravatar Schmolik
      October 6, 2015 - 9:26 PM | Permalink

      NARP has proposed multiple Empire trains to Chicago. But as Ken stated CSX is in the way.

  8. Harvey Kahler's Gravatar Harvey Kahler
    September 30, 2015 - 3:14 PM | Permalink

    1. Expanding the Cardinal to daily would be welcome. Maybe Indiana and Iowa Pacific Holding then would agree to a morning departure from Chicago for a second round trip to Indianapolis?

    2. Extending the Pennsylvanian to Dearborn would result in some late-night arrivals and departures at Cleveland, Toledo, and Dearborn. I would much rather see a roughly 11 hour later departure of a separate overnight train from New York to Pittsburgh continuing on a daytime Schedule to Youngstown or Ravenna (Akron), Cleveland, Toledo, and Chicago with a possible section to Pontiac or even Saginaw, MI. This would be similar to the Three Rivers proposal (4.), but offers faster service between Toledo and Chicago.

    3. Adding a Cincinnati section to the Lakeshore is a bad idea on two counts. First, the Lakeshore is a long train already. Second, the resulting Ohio arrivals and departures would be at inconvenient nighttime hours. A separate New York – Cincinnati train, a restored Ohio Limited, providing a daytime round trip between Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, and Cincinnati would seem to offer more convenient service. Furthermore, it would replace an Empire Service train.

    4. While a restored Three Rivers has merit serving a larger intermediate population in Michigan, this might be operated as a separate Toledo via Dearborn section of an additional New York – Chicago train (2.).

    5. An early morning westbound and evening eastbound timings at Columbus, OH would be a good idea for a New York – Chicago train. Whether a train via Pittsburgh, PA or Huntington, WV could be added would need more study.

    6. A Detroit – Orlando train certainly would serve Ohio. Maybe a Chicago – Chattanooga section via Indianapolis, Louisville, and Nashville would be feasible to reduce costs?

  9. Schmolik's Gravatar Schmolik
    October 4, 2015 - 7:48 AM | Permalink

    I’m actually from the Philadelphia area but I love the proposals that will create a direct Chicago-Philadelphia route instead of the Cardinal. I recently visited Chicago and the West Coast by connecting via New York going west and Washington going east. The Capitol Limited was delayed getting into Washington and I missed my connection back home. So anything to avoid the connection is certainly appreciated.

    Extending the Pennsylvanian (option #2) would be the cheapest.

    Options #2 and #4 together seem redundant together. I would push for #4 and have #2 as a fallback if you can’t get #4 although #2 allows connecting in Chicago for the West Coast and #4 does not.

    What if instead of extending the Pennsylvanian you ran your new Broadway Limited (option #5) to Philadelphia/New York via Pittsburgh rather than connect it via the Capitol Limited? Therefore it would be a standalone train going Chicago/Columbus/Pittsburgh/Philadelphia. You might even be able to terminate it in Philly if you still have the Three Rivers option for Trenton and Newark to go directly to Chicago (and of course New York can take the Three Rivers or Lake Shore Limited). So instead of extending an existing train from Pittsburgh to Chicago you are extending a proposed train from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia/New York. I think there should be at least one train that is Pittsburgh to Philadelphia/New York alone. If all trains along that route originate from Chicago then passengers boarding in Pittsburgh may have to wait for a delayed train from Chicago. Of course if #4 and #5 are not possible, #2 is certainly a welcome addition and the easiest to add direct service that does not exist now. If they are able to get a second Pittsburgh/New York train, you could certainly extend the Pennsylvanian without the issue of passengers boarding at Pittsburgh going east.

    So I would probably have:

    Lake Shore Limited: Chicago or Cincinnati to Boston or New York via Cleveland and Buffalo

    Capitol Limited: Chicago to Washington via Cleveland and Pittsburgh (I would probably keep the current route rather than reroute through Dearborn so passengers from Washington can get to Chicago at the regular time).

    “Broadway Limited”: Chicago to Philadelphia via Columbus and Pittsburgh

    “Three Rivers”: Chicago to New York via Dearborn, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia

    I would suggest a different name for the Three Rivers as your target audience isn’t just Pittsburgh. Maybe something relating to Michigan or Ohio.

    The Lake Shore, Capitol, and Broadway would run traditional schedules with the Three Rivers running the new schedule permitting better times in Michigan and Ohio (as well as the possibility of overnight service between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia/New York where one can get on the train on one end and wake up the next morning in the other end).

    I am intrigued about the Toledo/Dearborn/Chicago routing (you said Amtrak pays no track use fee along the Wolverine Corridor). If Amtrak does nothing else, why don’t they route the Lake Shore Limited via Detroit instead of the same route as the Capitol Limited through Indiana? Then passengers can go from Detroit to New York and Boston rather than have the Capitol and Lake Shore take the same route from Chicago to Toledo along schedules that hardly differ much. It looks like you are rerouting the Capitol through Dearborn instead because you added the Lake Shore addition to Cincinnati. Either would be a welcome addition for direct access from Michigan to the East Coast.

    But thank you for the proposal!

    • Howard Harding's Gravatar Howard Harding
      December 2, 2015 - 1:14 PM | Permalink

      Cleveland-Cincinnati service could benefit from a connecting train between Youngstown and Greenwich via Akron on CSX. One way to do this might be to split an east/west via Pittsburgh train at some point between Youngstown and Cleveland (Youngstown or Ravenna or Hudson). [Akron Metro RTA owns the Hudson-Akron trackage and is considering reactivating it to serve a few local industries, with service to be operated by NS.]

  10. Schmolik's Gravatar Schmolik
    October 5, 2015 - 1:49 PM | Permalink

    After thinking about your proposal some more, while I like the idea of a Cleveland/Columbus/Cincinnati train, it is totally wrong to attach it to the Lake Shore Limited. Your arrival time at almost 1pm means you have little chance of connecting to the Texas Eagle, California Zephyr, or Empire Builder. The Southwest Chief connection will also be very close (a little over 2 hrs). Eastbound, the 4pm departure would be almost impossible for trains coming west to catch. New York passengers could ride the Pennsylvanian but upstate New York would be out of luck. Plus the Buffalo times become if the middle of the night which really hurts your Buffalo to Chicago market.

    A better choice would be to expand one of the Empire Service trains to Cleveland, Columbus, and Ohio. The 280 train leaves Buffalo Depew at 4:46am, close to your proposed 3:40am departure. Move that train up an hour and you can use that schedule from Ohio. Going west, you currently have 3:01pm, 6:03pm, and 9:02pm with the Lake Shore at 11:55pm. One of the Chicago/Buffalo trains have to be shifted to arrive in Buffalo in the middle of the night to match the Ohio branch. This move would take away a reasonable NY to Buffalo train but they would still have two. The one disadvantage is you would have to add sleeper service to one of the NY-Buff trains. I would use your 848 and 849 schedules but probably move the 849 back two or three hours and the 848 ahead two or three hours to try to get better times in Buffalo.

    The Lake Shore is by numbers the most successful Chicago to East Coast train so why mess with it?

  11. KJP's Gravatar KJP
    October 5, 2015 - 2:48 PM | Permalink

    Additional trains east of Chicago will allow connections from the west to be maintained. Not every train to/from the East has to connect to western long-hauls at Chicago. We don’t every train to/from the east chasing each other in and out of the Windy City. Chicago is capable of producing its own ridership, and there’s always the many Midwest corridor trains to connect with. We need to provide a wider range of travel time choices.

    Sadly, extending an Empire train west of Buffalo to Cleveland will trigger all sorts of costly requirements from CSX for capacity enhancements. I seem to recall CSX told NYSDOT that it would demand a third main track from Buffalo to Cleveland when NYSDOT considered an Empire extension a few years ago as part of its Empire Corridor high-speed EIS. Until there’s new leadership at CSX, the only way we may be able to get an Empire train extended west of the Niagara Region to the west is link it up with a Wolverine train and run it closed-door overnight through Canada.

    CSX may be the most openly passenger-hostile Class 1 railroad. We may not even be able to get a 3C train to run on CSX from Berea to Columbus without triggering all sorts of costly CSX nonsense intended to kill it — again. Yes, CSX is who reached out to Gov. Kasich and urged him to kill 3C. So we may have to run a 3C train on NS via Bellevue or wait until new leadership arrives at CSX.

    As for messing with the Lake Shore — two years ago, the Lake Shore eclipsed 400,000 riders for the first time. It’s previous ridership record was in 1986 when it carried 390,000 riders. Back then, its eastbound train left Chicago in the late afternoon and the westbound arrived Chicago at 1 p.m. That was long before Americans started discovering passenger trains again. I think that schedule could be even more popular than the current schedule, especially if the Pennsylvanian was scheduled to be the train to make all western connections at Chicago. We have to provide more and better choices.

    • Schmolik's Gravatar Schmolik
      October 5, 2015 - 9:10 PM | Permalink

      Easy fix:

      Connect the Cincinnati-Cleveland leg to your new Three Rivers. Going east, one leg comes from Cincinnati and Columbus while the other from Chicago, Dearborn, and Toledo. The Three Rivers leaves Cleveland at 8:30pm for Pittsburgh and Philadelphia so the Cincinnati leg should leave Cincinnati around 1:45pm and getting into Cleveland at 7:30pm. Then going west, the trains split in Cleveland. The train gets into Cleveland at 10:30am so the 3C leg would probably leave around 11:30am and arrive in Columbus around 5:15pm. My Cincinnati-New York times would be 1:45pm to 8:58am (19 hrs, 13 min) along the Keystone route, yours are 5:05pm to 12:27pm (19 hrs, 22 min) on the Empire route.

      The Three Rivers cannot connect to western trains anyway so it works without disturbing the Lake Shore Limited. Plus, under your proposal the Lake Shore Limited would have to split/join twice, once at Cleveland and once at Albany. Do you have to then have three sets of trains, one Boston/Albany, one Cleveland/Cincinnati, and one New York/Chicago? Mine would have two trains connecting and splitting at one location.

    • Howard Harding's Gravatar Howard Harding
      December 2, 2015 - 12:58 PM | Permalink

      CSX anti-passenger train position demonstrates the need for a federally required independent determination of what infrastructure improvements are required — and who must pay what portion of the cost — for additional passenger trains. Maybe FRA; maybe consultant jointly funded by ALL freight railroads and FRA. However it is done, a third party must be involved in this process to prevent dumping excessive costs on passenger trains, and to wake up opponents to better understanding of what such service actually costs.

  12. Schmolik's Gravatar Schmolik
    October 5, 2015 - 9:44 PM | Permalink

    Summarizing my suggestions:

    Lake Shore Limited (48/49/448/449) – No changes except possibly a reroute through Dearborn.

    Capitol Limited (29/30) – No changes

    “Three Rivers” main (40/41) – New York/Phila/Pitt/Clev/Dearborn/Chicago, 9:50pm to 6:00pm going west and 11:50am to 8:58am going east.

    “Three Rivers” Ohio through cars (440/441) – Cincinnati/Columbus/Cleveland hooking up to Chicago train at Cleveland continuing to PA/New York: North 1:45pm to 7:30pm, South: 11:30am-5:15pm.

    “Broadway Limited” (46/47) – Chicago/Columbus/Pittsburgh/Philadelphia/New York. Use current Pennsylvanian times between Pittsburgh and New York but continue trains to/from Chicago via Columbus. Leave New York westbound around 1pm (Philadelphia around 3pm), arriving in Pittsburgh around 10:30pm and Chicago around 9am. Leave Chicago eastbound around 6pm, arrive in Pittsburgh around 6:30am, in Philadelphia around 2:30pm and New York around 4:30pm

    Pennsylvanian (42/43) – Pittsburgh/Philadelphia/New York – Leave New York westbound around 7:30am (Philadelphia 9:30am), arriving in Pittsburgh around 5pm. Leave Pittsburgh eastbound around 1pm, arrive in Philadelphia 8:30pm and New York 10:30pm.

    The current Pennsylvanian times will be absorbed into the “Broadway Limited” while the new Pennsylvanian will be shifted away from the “Broadway Limited” and “Three Rivers”.

    I have combined your #2 and #5 into a single train (“Broadway Limited”) and your #3 and #4 into a single train splitting/joining in Cleveland (“Three Rivers”). The Capitol and Lake Shore will not change at all and there will still be a Pennsylvanian from Pittsburgh to New York only but at different times (the current ones will be absorbed into the new “Broadway Limited”.

  13. KJP's Gravatar KJP
    October 6, 2015 - 9:32 AM | Permalink

    Thanks for your suggestions.

  14. Schmolik's Gravatar Schmolik
    November 4, 2015 - 6:55 PM | Permalink


    What route do you propose from Dearborn to Toledo?

  15. David Aldinger's Gravatar David Aldinger
    December 1, 2015 - 8:58 PM | Permalink

    Here’s an idea worth considering. Restore service between Pittsburgh and Fort Wayne through Canton. I don’t know if Crestline would warrant restoration of service but Wooster and Mansfield just might. Canton was at least a fairly busy stop before the big rerouting. I thought of this only because of the proposal to start service from Chicago to Columbus by way of Fort Wayne and Lima. Should PA actually get another train or two running to Pittsburgh, that would also be a consideration.

  16. David Aldinger's Gravatar David Aldinger
    December 4, 2015 - 10:15 PM | Permalink

    What are the prospects for new cars in all this? Nobody recognizes the need for new coaches more than I do and they most certainly should be ordered if at all possible yet I still can’t help feel that Amtrak also needs to exercise the option on the present order with a modification to make up for the misguided reduction that was made in the number of baggage-dorm cars. When it’s all said and done Amtrak needs it all.

  17. Doug's Gravatar Doug
    January 16, 2016 - 12:19 PM | Permalink

    I like number six going from Columbus down to Atlanta and Jacksonville and Orlando but I don’t think that’s going to happen in my time

  18. Troy Kicklighter's Gravatar Troy Kicklighter
    March 28, 2016 - 9:05 AM | Permalink

    I would love to see a Detroit to Jax passenger rail route that includes the cities mentioned in #6. There are many colleges and universities on these routes as well as many of us who are retired and thoroughly enjoy traveling by rail. Hope these ideas do come into fruition.
    Troy Kicklighter
    Centerville, OH

  19. Mark Corriston's Gravatar Mark Corriston
    September 23, 2016 - 7:07 PM | Permalink

    It is unfair to grab it all. There should be due consideration of expansion evenly across the country with emphasis on broadening the network. Concentrating expansion in just a single locale eliminates most possibilious for attracting passengers from across the country and the connections

    • Philly Amtrak Fan's Gravatar Philly Amtrak Fan
      October 2, 2016 - 9:49 PM | Permalink

      You do realize this group is “All Aboard Ohio”. Do you expect them to be pushing for increasing service to routes that don’t serve Ohio? There are plenty of other groups who advocate for trains in other areas.

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