Although federal money is coming to help plan for Amtrak expansion in Ohio, don’t expect any passenger trains to come rolling though Columbus any time soon.
William Murdock, executive director for the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC), told The Dispatch that it will be at least seven years until Amtrak comes here.
“Our guess is if all the stars align, it will be 2030,” Murdock said.
Earlier in December, the Federal Railroad Administration said Ohio is in line for service expansion. Officials are looking at four corridors:
- Chicago-Fort Wayne-Columbus-Pittsburgh, including Lima, Kenton, Marysville, Newark, Cochocton, Newcomerstown, Uhrichsville and Steubenville.
- Increasing Amtrak’s current route frequency to Cincinnati from New York, Washington, D.C., and Chicago.
The federal government provided $500,000 for planning for each route.
Murdock said there are two more steps after the first in terms of the planning process. There is federal money for that, but there will be a need for state or local matches, he said.
“We don’t believe it’s competitive,” Murdock said.
MORPC is working with Fort Wayne, Indiana, officials on the Chicago-Fort Wayne-Columbus-Pittsburgh route. The Ohio Rail Development Commission is the lead agency on the Cleveland-Columbus-Dayton-Cincinnati route.
A likely spot for the Columbus station would be at the Greater Columbus Convention Center, the site of the former Union Station that served rail passengers for decades. The last passenger train left Columbus in 1979.
Officials in Hilliard, Dublin and Marysville have also expressed interest in stops in those cities, Murdock said.
In addition, officials have had discussions with those at the Columbus Regional Airport Authority and Central Ohio Transit Authority, he said.
The routes are important not just for more transportation options, but also for economic development. Not only is service desired for Ohio’s big cities, but also for places such as Lima, Newark and Mansfield, with regular, recurring service throughout the day instead of trains passing through in the middle of the night, which is what happens in Cleveland now, Murdock said.
“We view that as a competitive disadvantage,” he said. “When you look at maps, Ohio is poorly served by passenger rail.”
According to a survey of more than 2,000 respondents that MORPC released earlier this year, 92% said they’d like to see rail passenger service here.
“Any time Columbus can be connected to other metro areas, — Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago — it creates additional mobility in our workforce, another way for us to draw people here, actually moving our workforce around,” said Kenny McDonald, president and CEO of the Columbus Partnership/One Columbus.
“I think the business community, we’ve got a lot of curiosity about this, a lot of information we’ve got to gather,” McDonald said.
McDonald cited the new privately owned Brightline passenger train service that began in September linking Miami and Orlando in Florida, with trains reaching speeds of 125 mph and single tickets starting at $158. Fortress Investment Group plowed $5 billion into the venture.
“Major employers are going to be paying close attention. They want to be part of that conversation,” he said.