COLUMBUS, Ohio — Advocates of expanded passenger rail service in Ohio are cautiously optimistic and encouraged by Gov. Mike DeWine’s recent request to have the Ohio Rail Development Commission work with Amtrak to determine the feasibility and projected cost of new passenger rail routes in the state.
In a statement from his spokesperson, Gov. DeWine didn’t go as far as to endorse or announce support for Amtrak’s expansion proposal, but, instead, it marked the first time since Amtrak’s plan was announced that the governor has expressed interest in learning more about it.
“We’re very optimistic at this news. I should say that we certainly thank the governor for taking this step because it is an important step to get the process started,” said Stu Nicholson, the executive director of the advocacy group All Aboard Ohio.
Last year, Amtrak detailed future expansion plans, including a significant investment into Ohio through the creation of new passenger rail routes that would connect Cleveland, Dayton, Cincinnati and Columbus — also known as the 3C+D route.
Gov. DeWine’s request of the Ohio Rail Development Commission would kick off the state’s participation in some of the preliminary work needed to determine the most effective routes for new rail service as well as a cost estimate.
Amtrak has previously labeled Ohio as one of the most underserved states when it comes to passenger rail service.
“The lack of passenger rail connecting cities in Ohio — not just the lack of it but the lack of timely frequent service — is a huge hole in our transportation system here in Ohio,” Nicholson said. “They viewed the 3C+D corridor as a priority. They felt that it was the best unserved corridors that they could see in the United States.”
Amtrak’s expansion plans also include more regional rail connections to and through Cleveland, essentially turning the city into a hub.
Coinciding with the governor’s directive, the Federal Railroad Commission detailed the criteria and guidelines of how future passenger rail routes would be identified and developed as part of last year’s infrastructure bill. The legislation has earmarked more than $60 billion to improve rail transportation across the country as well as the largest expansion in Amtrak’s history.
“I think it is a good sign that [DeWine] shows the realization that we need to have the Ohio Rail Development Commission work with Amtrak and start putting together the answers that people are going to want to have answers for,” Nicholson said.
The feasibility and cost studies are expected to be completed sometime in 2023.