Will the Cleveland to Cincinnati Amtrak expansion ever happen in Ohio?

Posted at 4:20 PM, Mar 30, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-30 20:50:34-04

CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Amtrak station can be a quiet place during the day, trains passing through here for Chicago and New York do so under cover of darkness in the middle of the night. But Amtrak is hoping to change that in a big way with $66 billion in new funding under the Infrastructure Act.

"I actually think it's going to be a new day for passenger rail," said Meredith Richards, Chair of the Rail Passengers Association which advocates for the improvement and expansion of rail service in the United States. What Amtrak wants to do in Ohio in the form of 3C+D would do that. Restoring rail service for the first time in 55 years between Cleveland and Cincinnati with stops in Columbus and Dayton. Despite being less than 250 miles apart, the last time Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati were connected directly by rail was in 1967.

The three cities are the largest in the state of Ohio. Amtrak’s vision would turn both Cincinnati and Cleveland into new hubs for Amtrak service.

The idea first surfaced in 2010 when the Obama Administration offered the state $400 million to build what they dubbed a high-speed rail line. Then-Governor Ted Strickland initially said yes but when he lost his re-election bid new Governor John Kasich immediately said no citing the costs down the road to the state.

The difference rail supporters say is 12 years ago it was Ohio going to Amtrak with the pitch, this time it's the other way around.

"The 3C+D corridor is a priority for them, so this is a national entity coming in and saying Ohio if you work with us we can get this started," said Stu Nicholson of All Aboard Ohio. "The 3C+D is still the most densely populated and the most heavily traveled corridor in the state of Ohio. There's huge potential numbers there for ridership, literally right off the bat."

Last spring, DeWine said it was something that would need to be studied by the state before a decision was made.

"I think we have to know more, we have to know what the state's involvement would be, what kind of costs it would be for the state," the governor said in April.

Madison Butler of the Rail Passengers Association told News 5 "for Ohio specifically they're going to need to identify local funding sources that will be required for the funding match, those are about 20%. So there will kind of be a match between the state and federal involvement there."

Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg told News 5 in the fall his message to the governor would be let's talk.

"Well I'm definitely happy to engage the governor and any local decision-makers who are involved here because really it is in the midwest we see some of the best opportunities for unlocking economic growth through high quality train service," said Buttigieg.

Those are the two keywords supporters argue, economic growth. Columbus is the second-largest city in the nation without Amtrak Rail Service and Amtrak's proposal came last year before Intel announced it's multi-billion dollar entry into the state. Something supporters argue the governor will need to keep in mind.

"This is something that has a direct impact on enlarging the available workforce for employers like Intel," said Nicholson.

A spokesman for the governor telling News 5 only that "there are no updates at this time" related to the governor's decision making process. While supporters say they'd like a yes they appreciate that it is being studied and hopefully the conclusion the governor reaches will be different than the one 12 years ago.

"My hope is this doesn't become another political football," Nicholson said. "Ohio's got a second chance, you don't get many second chances and this is a good second chance."