Ohio 3-C+D train: Boon for residents and economy? Or boondoggle financially?

Advocates push for passenger rail in Ohio; studies to be funded by feds will examine projected usage rates, potential profit / loss of operation

Ohio has been awarded federal grant money to begin studying the launch of new and expanded passenger rail service in the state, which is an early but important step to one day possibly linking Dayton to Ohio’s largest urban centers with intercity railway.

“It’s very exciting news — we haven’t had anything positive for passenger rail in Ohio in a long, long time,” Erin Rosiello, chair of All Aboard Ohio, a statewide passenger rail advocacy group, said on Thursday.

Starting up passenger rail between Ohio’s four largest metro areas could add about $107 million to the gross state product, and the economic impact on Dayton could be about $27 million, according to a report commissioned by All Aboard Ohio.

Rob Moore, principal with Scioto Analysis, said the proposed 3-C+D route (Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Dayton) initially could create 1,200 jobs statewide, including as many as 280 in Dayton.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown’s office this week announced that the Federal Railroad Administration has identified four routes in Ohio as priorities for Amtrak expansion, including 3-C+D.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine earlier this year directed the Ohio Rail Development Commission to apply for a first phase of federal funding to study the feasibility of expanding passenger rail in the state.

The Federal Railroad Administration is providing $500,000 to pay for planning for each of the four routes.

There are three phases of the corridor identification and development program, and the first step focuses on “scoping.”

DeWine’s office said the state wants to find out whether the routes would be profitable or if they would require significant state subsidies to cover operating losses.

The state also wants to know how many people might ride the passenger trains, the frequency of service and whether the routes would save Ohioans time or money, compared to other modes of travel, DeWine’s office said.

Some people say they worry passenger rail service could negatively impact freight trains and shipments, since the 3-C+D service and other routes would use existing commercial rail lines.

The first phase, which should take about a year to complete, will determine how much work needs to be done to complete a service development plan (step 2), said Rosiello, with All Aboard Ohio.

The $500,000 is “seed money” to develop a scope, schedule and budget for a service development plan for new or expanded rail corridors, said the Federal Railroad Administration.

More than a decade ago, then-Ohio Gov. John Kasich turned down $400 million in federal funds for a passenger rail service project connecting Dayton and Ohio’s largest cities, saying it would require too much money in subsidies.

The Federal Railroad Administration’s corridor identification and development program is meant to determine if it makes sense for states like Ohio to pursue passenger rail, Rosiello said.

“By walking them through these three phases of development, the state can really know if this is going to be financially feasible in the future,” she said.

She added, “In the past, that was on the state to pay for it — so this is a really big deal.”

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Steps 2 and 3 would require some funding from the state, but the vast majority of the costs could come from federal grants, she said.

Rosiello said Ohioans who want new and expanded passenger rail service need to encourage state legislators, the governor and the Ohio Rail Development Coalition to keep moving forward with these studies.

Amtrak ridership is up across the nation, and fourth-quarter ridership this year exceeds pre-pandemic levels, she said.

Dayton City Commissioner Chris Shaw this week said Ohio is the most densely populated state in the nation that does not have significant passenger rail service.

“This could be a game-changer, especially for this community,” he said. “This is a huge opportunity for us and I hope we can finally take advantage of it.”

The Federal Railroad Administration established the corridor identification and development program in May 2022.

Grant funding comes from the bipartisan infrastructure bill that Congress approved.

The administration received more than 90 applications for grant funding, but only about 40 routes received awards through the program.

Credit: Provided

Credit: Provided

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