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Federal funding jump starts planning phase for Ohio Amtrak expansion

The side of an Amtrak train at a station
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Several new rail corridors could be coming to Ohio.

Recently announced grants from the federal Bipartisan Infrastructures Law will allow local agencies to take the next steps in planning new passenger rail service in Ohio.

The routes under consideration would provide new connections between Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Dayton and Toledo, and other Midwest cities.

Planning is a three-phase process that includes developing design, budget and service plans for each new route , John Esterly board member of All Aboard Ohio, a passenger rail advocacy group, said.

"At the end of these three steps, we'll have a very, very methodically created final pricing and final schedule of of the build out," he said. "We're very, very early in the process."

Ohio will likely be using existing freight rail corridors for the expansion, Esterly said but will still need funds to construct train stations and other facilities.

The expansion is one that will transform Ohio in a similar way interstate highways transformed the country, Rail Passengers Association Member Stu Nicholson said.

"To be able to travel by rail for a lot of Ohioans, I think, like I say, is going to be transformational," he said, "It's going to have an impact on jobs, education, health care, everything that we need in life that requires a degree of mobility."

The routes are expected to benefit the economy across the state, and could create as many as 150 to 240 jobs in the Greater Cleveland, according to All Aboard Ohio's economic impact study.

The four recommended routes in Ohio include:

  • The 3C+D corridor connecting Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and Cincinnati
  • The Cleveland, Toledo and Detroit route
  • A route connecting Chicago, Fort Wayne, Columbus and Pittsburgh
  • The Midwest Connect corridor via Lima, Kenton, Marysville, Columbus, Newark, Coshocton, Newcomerstown, Uhrichsville and Steubenville

These routes are a start, Nicholson said, but additional routes will be needed to connect underserved communities.

"Something has to begin to service the Akron, Canton, Youngstown area, whether that's between Cleveland and Pittsburgh or Columbus in the Mahoning Valley there," he said. "There has got to be a way to work that out."

It could be five years before the new routes are up and running, Nicholson said, but the increase in service will likely spark demand for more.

The Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency serving Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, Lorain and Medina counties submitted applications for three routes connecting Cleveland-Elyria-Sandusky-Toledo-Chicago, Cleveland-Youngstown-Pittsburgh and Cleveland-Buffalo. However, the applications were not approved.

Routes that were rejected this time around could be reconsidered in the future as demand increases, Nicholson said.

"This is still good for Cleveland and Northeast Ohio. It could be better," Nicholson said. "I really hope that NOACA repackages their their applications and continues to go after it because I think it's absolutely worthwhile."

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Zaria Johnson is a reporter/producer at Ideastream Public Media covering the environment.