When Marilyn Carlson imagines visiting her niece in Columbus, she pictures boarding a train in Cleveland, socializing with fellow passengers, snacking in the food car—and independence.
Her reality is different. “My husband drives me or I don’t go,” said the 58-year-old Bay Village resident who recently experienced a partial vision loss.
Carlson belongs to a growing group of Ohioans who support the restoration of passenger rail between the state’s largest cities—Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati. Passenger service along the 3-C Corridor disappeared nearly 30 years ago, but Ohio is pursuing a $250 million federal grant for its return. That money would cover track and signal improvements as well as the lease or purchase of passenger cars and locomotives. Cities will have to find the money to build and/or renovate stations.
“I don’t think we’ve ever been as close to getting passenger rail back as we are now,” said Stu Nicholson, Ohio Rail Development Commission spokesman.
With $8 billion in federal stimulus money available for rail projects and Ohio’s governor and legislature behind the proposal, Nicholson can almost hear the train whistles blowing.
The 260-mile route, which Amtrak could be operating in as little as two years, would utilize existing freight lines. An Amtrak study due in August will help finalize route and station details. The state hopes the 3-C will lead to a regional rail system with dozens of stops and some high-speed stretches.
AARP supports a well-connected, national rail network as one piece of its push for livable communities. “We want people to be mobile within their communities regardless of age and physical capabilities,” said Joanne Limbach, AARP Ohio president.
In a recent Quinnipiac University poll, 64 percent of Ohioans consider 3-C a good idea. Of those 55-plus, 41 percent said they were likely to use it.
The rail commission envisions two or three trains a day in each direction traveling 60 to 79 mph. Some smaller cities, including Dayton and Springfield, may also get service. Other stops being considered include a rapid transit stop near Cleveland Hopkins International Airport and one in Grafton.
Cleveland and Cincinnati have existing stations, although heavy freight congestion would make it difficult to route additional trains into Cincinnati’s historic Union Station.
AARP Ohio points out that passengers will need options once they arrive—safe sidewalks or bicycle trails, buses, shuttle services, commuter rail and taxi stands as well as “hover areas” or “cellphone lots” for cars where drivers can wait to pick up arrivals.
The lack of details on schedules, station locations, fares and operating costs makes some people hesitant to climb aboard just yet.
State Sen. Thomas F. Patton, R-Strongsville, chairman of the Highways and Transportation Committee, sees a significant difference between passenger rail, which is used occasionally, and commuter rail, which is used daily. He wants to make sure Ohio taxpayers don’t end up subsidizing the project once federal money runs out.
Ken Prendergast, executive director of the rail advocacy group All Aboard Ohio, points to potential benefits for the economy and environment. A study predicted the creation of 16,700 jobs and $3 billion in related development.
Sarah Hollander is a freelance writer living in Cleveland.
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