The state of Ohio's noticeable silence on passenger rail

The following story was written by a student on the staff of The Jaguar Times as part of Hilliard Bradley High School’s Journalism Production course.

by Thomas Kitchen

Staff Writer

Amtrak Silver Star pulling into Raleigh NC an hour late, from Charlotte NC. Photo by Thomas Kitchen.
Amtrak Silver Star pulling into Raleigh NC an hour late, from Charlotte NC. Photo by Thomas Kitchen.

There is 66 billion dollars up for grabs as each state competes to take part in the largest expansion in history for Amtrak, the federally created passenger rail service for Americans. With the clock ticking down, the Federal Railroad Administration is expected to finalize the details of the new program by mid-May. States including Pennsylvania have already made plans in anticipation to receive federal funding to expand and build new passenger rail systems. Amtrak has expressed its great interest in expanding Ohio’s passenger rail network by linking Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, and Cincinnati (3C&D). For the state of Ohio the creation of the 3C&D line has been all but a wishlist, but with real money on the table Ohio’s silence on the matter has been deafening.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time Ohio has turned down passenger rail. In 2010 the federal government offered 400 million dollars to build passenger rail in Ohio. When it came time to vote to put the 400 million to use, democrats in favor of the bill claimed that if gas prices rise it could be cheaper to take a train in between cities rather than drive. At the time many were still recovering from the 2008 recession. The democrats also claimed that it would help grow local areas around stations helping the struggling urban areas of Dayton. Republicans on the other hand, claimed that “passenger rail in Ohio is dead,” stated by former governor of Ohio John Kasich in 2010. When the votes were counted, Ohio ruled in favor of not investing 400 million in passenger rail, leaving many Ohioans feeling defeated when it looked like Ohio officials would rule in favor of building passenger rail. This setback didn’t stop many Ohioans and Ohio organizations from continuing to advocate for Ohio passenger rail.

Amtrak has already developed a plan for Ohio passenger rail. Cincinnati and Cleveland would be made mini passenger rail hubs, linking central Columbus and Dayton to the rest of the US by rail. As for Columbus, it is the second largest city in the US without passenger rail. In 1979 the Amtrak Union Station was demolished. The site of the former Union Station is now where the Columbus Convention Center sits, and Amtrak wants to put a new station right where the old one used to be. If Ohio speaks up about receiving funding the Columbus Convention Center will have an Amtrak station built right in it. The Columbus Convention Center signaled in 2021 its support for the station to be built there. Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn said the corridor between Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and Cincinnati was the ideal distance for rail service. “There’s a real opportunity here. And it’s our goal to get this done.” Amtrak could still build the 3C&D line but Amtrak believes that it would be easier to build the 3C&D line if it received support from Ohio.

Ohio governor Mike DeWine has remained silent about his stance on passenger rail in Ohio, at least publically. But those around him have not. Ohio House Rep. Haraz Ghanbari, is the sole Republican co-sponsor on the House resolution supporting Amtrak expansion. Rep Ghanbari claims transportation is an economic development issue necessary to support population and business growth in the state. “The governor needs to step up,” said Stu Nicholson, executive director of All Aboard Ohio, a Columbus based organization advocating for Ohio passenger rail. Ohio has been given another shot at passenger rail and more money for investing in it. Although the clock is ticking down and other states are putting in their bids, it’s not too late for Ohio to speak up and invest in its future.

If you are interested in supporting Ohio passenger rail you can here, from the All Aboard Ohio organization.