Apr 20, 2022 - News

Passenger rail expansion in Ohio will need governor's OK

Illustration of a shrug emoji made out of railroad tracks.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

The train hasn't left the station for the proposed expansion of passenger rail service connecting Ohio's biggest cities, and transit activists are feeling a bit of deja vu.

Flashback: A dozen years ago, Ohio was on track to receive federal funding toward a "3C line" connecting Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati before then-Gov. John Kasich rejected the project.

State of play: The bipartisan infrastructure bill signed into law last year offers another chance, with billions of federal dollars available toward maintaining and expanding rail service.

  • Amtrak wants that 3C line built once and for all ā€” featuring additional stops in Delaware, Springfield, Dayton and elsewhere around the state.
  • Other proposals include a new Toledo-to-Detroit route and increased service between Cleveland and Pittsburgh.

Zoom in: Columbus City Council passed a resolution in support of this plan last year, vying for local passenger rail for the first time since 1979.

  • Separately, Franklin County officials are pitching a two-level train station built into the Greater Columbus Convention Center, we reported in January.
An artist's rendering of a possible Columbus train station.
An architect's rendering of the entrance to a proposed Columbus Amtrak station. Image: LMN Architects, courtesy of the Franklin County Convention Facilities Authority

Yes, but: It's up to Gov. Mike DeWine to pursue this federal funding. He's stayed mum on the subject to this point.

  • DeWine spokesperson Dan Tierney tells Axios the state's rail development commission is looking further into Amtrak's proposals.
  • Tierney noted the Federal Railroad Administration ā€” in charge of distributing the infrastructure bill spending ā€” has yet to give formal guidance on applying for funds.

Meanwhile, other states like Pennsylvania have already committed to pursuing those funds as they await the application process, which is expected to kick off next month.

What they're saying: This is the biggest opportunity to shape local infrastructure since construction of the interstate highway system, says Stu Nicholson, executive director of the nonprofit transit advocacy group All Aboard Ohio.

  • This will likely become "a very competitive process" and Ohio risks being left behind, Nicholson tells us.
  • "This is a game-changing addition to the mobility of every single person that lives in Ohio."

What's next: Even under the rosiest projections, it will take years for Ohio to receive this federal money, complete the necessary feasibility studies and environmental reviews, then get the 3C line running.

  • That process could get underway with a "yes" from the governor.
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