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Ohio governor seeks high speed rail dollars in Washington

(The following story by Sabrina Eaton appeared on the Plain Dealer website on June 9, 2009.)

CLEVELAND — Gov. Ted Strickland and Ohio Transportation Director Jolene Molitoris don't want to miss the federal stimulus funding train.

The pair spent Tuesday in Washington, working to snag $400 million in transportation money to create a high-speed passenger rail corridor that would link Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and Dayton with each other and the rest of the country. They were scheduled to discuss the issue today with Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

"Ohio and those cities represent the most densely populated part of the entire country that is devoid of passenger rail service," said Strickland, noting that other states are aggressively pursuing large slices of the $8 billion in stimulus money that President Obama has designated for high speed rail.

If Ohio gets the federal money it needs to create the project, Strickland said, Ohio's rail line could be operating as early as the first quarter of 2011. He said the results of an Amtrak study on the line's potential ridership and costs may be available next month.

He predicted the new rail line would benefit travelers, the environment, and the economy, and said many groups, including Ohio's professional sports teams, have expressed enthusiasm about the project.

Molitoris said the line would operate on existing CSX and Norfolk Southern freight tracks. Ohio would start by running trains that go up to 79 miles per hour, and eventually upgrade to trains that go as fast as 120 miles per hour, she said. The pair predicted the line's inclusion in a high-speed rail strategic plan unveiled in April by the Obama administration will boost its chances of getting federal money.

If it fails to pursue a high speed rail line, Strickland warned that "Ohio will be like an island, isolated from a system that is going to represent the future major mode of transportation in this country."

"The fact that Ohio is largely devoid of passenger service is intolerable," Strickland continued. "We are going to be very assertive in our efforts."

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

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