Cincinnati officials consider expanding rail service

The arrival of expanded passenger rail in Cincinnati has been eagerly anticipated for quite some time, and it seems that we are finally inching closer to its realization.

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine has taken the initiative to direct the Ohio Rail Development Commission to pursue two grants worth $500,000 each.

These grants will be used to conduct studies on new rail corridors within the state. One of the proposed corridors would stretch from Cincinnati, passing through Dayton and Columbus, and finally reaching Cleveland.

Amtrak is interested in expanding its Cardinal line to provide multiple daily services in Cincinnati. Currently, the line only stops a few times a week in the early morning hours.

To explore this possibility, Amtrak has applied for a grant from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to conduct a study.

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Efforts to connect Ohio and neighboring states through improved passenger rail are underway, although they are still in the early stages.

According to John Esterly from the rail advocacy group All Aboard Ohio, the process followed by the FRA is thorough and comprises three significant steps.

Currently, the state and various organizations are in the initial phase of the FRA’s Corridor ID Program. The primary objective is to determine the viability of different routes and assess the level of demand, which is expected to take approximately 12 to 18 months, according to Esterly.

Once this phase is complete, the focus will shift towards making decisions regarding additional stops, station designs, and the associated costs of constructing or modifying the routes.

During an information session held on January 17, he described the Corridor ID Program as a well-structured opportunity for states like Ohio, and even smaller entities, to propose new routes for new service. It also allows them to consider upgrades to existing routes and increase frequency.

According to Esterly, the 3C&D route, which connects Cincinnati and Cleveland, would likely utilize existing freight rail lines, minimizing the need for significant modifications to meet Amtrak standards.

However, the entire process is expected to be time-consuming. Esterly anticipates that the 3C&D route will not be operational before 2030.

According to advocates, the wait for the construction of the route would be worth it. All Aboard has recently commissioned a study by Ohio-based Scioto Analytics to evaluate the economic impact of the route’s development.

Mitch Radakovich is the head of All Aboard’s Southwestern Ohio division. According to him, the construction phase alone has the potential to contribute around $36 million to the economy of Greater Cincinnati and generate approximately 400 job opportunities.

But that’s still a long way off. First, Ohio, Amtrak, and other organizations are eagerly awaiting the outcome of their applications for FRA grants.

These grants would enable them to conduct studies on the viability of their proposed expansions. Until then, they must remain patient and hopeful for a positive outcome.

Transit professionals are optimistic about the future as Butler County builds a new transit hub in Oxford. The officials envision this hub as a potential site for an Amtrak station in the future, serving an expanded Cardinal line. However, for now, the hub will primarily cater to buses.

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