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
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.