Dec 19, 2022 - Business

Ohio Amtrak expansion still on standby

Illustration of a shrug emoji made out of railroad tracks.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

2022 became the year Ohio's passenger rail hopes went from pipe dream to realistic possibility.

  • But even with federal money now being dangled for the project, the state is still no closer to attaining it.

Driving the news: The Biden administration released guidelines this month for states to apply for $2.3 billion in passenger rail expansion funding.

Why it matters: No other project has the broad potential to meet Ohio's considerable workforce, transportation and tourism needs, especially with the booming infrastructure of recent years.

  • Its eventual completion would be among the most significant infrastructure developments in Columbus history.

The latest: Amtrak officials recently presented a new map of rail lines proposed by states and planning agencies across the country.

  • This "visionary map," as All Aboard Ohio executive director Stu Nicholson described it to us, has train advocates salivating.

Zoom in: If approved, all new train lines in Ohio would lead to Columbus.

  • Direct routes would connect a downtown Amtrak station to Cincinnati; Toledo, Cleveland, Athens and Chillicothe, along with two out-of-state destinations: Pittsburgh and Fort Wayne, Indiana.
  • It would also create relatively easy access to cities like Detroit, Philadelphia, Chicago and Louisville, Kentucky.

State of play: There's no doubt Amtrak wants to expand here.

Yes, but: The plan requires Ohio's OK, and Gov. Mike DeWine has offered neither public support nor opposition for it.

  • His office has said it is waiting for the results of an ongoing Ohio Rail Development Commission feasibility study of cost and projected ridership to guide his thinking.

What they're saying: Nicholson tells Axios he is still optimistic DeWine will pursue funding as a possible legacy project for his upcoming final term.

  • "If he steps up and does what he should do right now, he deserves every moment in the sun of cutting the ribbon when [trains start] rolling."

Between the rail lines: The funding application deadline is March 7, meaning DeWine will need to make a decision soon.

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