Dayton backs Amtrak proposal for expanded train service in Ohio

Credit: Carolyn Kaster

Credit: Carolyn Kaster

Dayton’s elected leaders are on board with Amtrak’s proposal to re-establish passenger rail service connecting the city to Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati, but they say the expansion project needs U.S. lawmakers’ support to get rolling.

City commissioners are asking Congress to approve billions of dollars in funding to pave the way for Amtrak to greatly enhance passenger service in Ohio, which they say right now only has limited routes and low ridership.

“This is just an idea now ― there’s some talk about it, but no legislation yet,” said Dayton City Commissioner Matt Joseph. “But we know that Amtrak is looking to bring service back to Dayton, and we just want to get on record saying we support that fully.”

Dayton city commissioners this week approved an informal resolution in support of Amtrak’s proposed passenger rail expansion plans to connect some of Ohio’s largest cities.

The resolution calls on U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman and U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, to support surface transportation reauthorization legislation and funding for Amtrak’s proposed corridors development program.

Ohio only has three Amtrak routes, and two are located mostly along the northern part of the state, the city said.

Ohio is the seventh largest state in the nation, and yet its Amtrak ridership is smaller than 26 other states, the resolution states.

Amtrak proposes increasing the number of passenger trains in Ohio nearly sevenfold, from 32 per week to 215, the city said, and Dayton could benefit from about 42 weekly train arrivals and departures, whereas right now it has none.

City officials say fast and reliable passenger rail service would be extremely convenient and would make Ohio a more attractive place to live, work and visit.

“It goes along with our transportation philosophy and it goes along with providing things to our citizens ― good transportation that other countries have,” said Commissioner Joseph. “There’s no reason we can’t (do this) now.”

The city says Amtrak currently has seven stations in Ohio but that could grow to 22 by 2035 under its expansion proposal.

Some community members, including tourism and economic development officials, say they are thrilled by the idea that Dayton could have passenger rail once again.

“Train travel can offer an affordable, convenient, unique and even nostalgic way to visit Dayton,” said Jacquelyn Powell, president and CEO of the Dayton Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Accessibility and connectivity are key to boosting tourism.”

Passenger train service has been unavailable to most Ohioans since the Penn Central Railroad ceased operations in 1970, according to information from the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT).

ODOT a decade ago said it wanted to resume passenger rail service connecting Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati, which is also known as the 3C corridor.

The state proposed a 260-mile rail corridor that would have multiple daily passenger round trips traveling between Ohio’s biggest cities, including Dayton.

In a statement, Amtrak said it is working with state partners, local officials and other stakeholders to gauge interest in new and improved service, and it will release a plan sometime soon.

Amtrak says it will call on Congress to fund its expansion plans to cover initial capital and operating costs for new and expanded routes.

“Frequent and reliable corridor routes of typically less than 500 miles represent the fastest growing segment of Amtrak service,” the company said. “Population growth, changing demographics, travel preferences and environmental concerns all point to new opportunities for intercity passenger rail.”

Amtrak, which began operations in 1971, says its service in dense urban corridors have been a catalyst for economic development and an alternative to traffic congestion.

Amtrak says its growing ridership and revenue reflects strong demand for intercity passenger rail travel.

But at this time it’s unclear whether Congress will support Amtrak’s funding request and expansion plans.

Sen. Brown, D-Ohio, is a vocal proponent of expanded rail service because it provides Ohioans with reliable transportation options and creates jobs, grows the economy and reduces congestion on the roads, said an office spokesperson.

“For too long we’ve seen cuts and underfunding of our transportation system as a whole,” his office said in a statement. “Now, especially with President Biden in the White House and a Democratic Congress, Sen. Brown is optimistic we can once again rebuild our nation’s infrastructure.”

Emmalee Cioffi, a spokesperson for U.S. Sen. Portman, R-Ohio, said, “Rob agrees that an investment in our nation’s infrastructure is needed, and with the upcoming deadline this September to reauthorize federal transportation programs, he looks forward to working with the administration and his colleagues on both sides of the aisle on a responsible infrastructure package.”

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