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High-speed rail in Ohio? Strickland is optimistic

(The following story by Jessica Wehrman appeared on the Dayton Daily News website on June 9, 2009.)

DAYTON, Ohio — If all goes well, Ohio passengers could be riding the rails between Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and Cincinnati as soon as the first quarter of 2011, Gov. Ted Strickland said Tuesday, June 9.

Ohio;s governor was in Washington to try to ensure that all goes well. He met with the Secretary of Transportation and the president of Amtrak as part of his bid to garner $400 million in economic stimulus dollars to redevelop passenger rail service between the four cities.

The last time the state had passenger rail service between those cities was in 1971, according to the state’s transportation director, Jolene Molitoris.

The “Three-C” corridor, which Strickland called the “Three C and D” corridor, has already been selected by the Federal Railroad Administration as one of the nation’s designated high-speed rail corridors. Strickland said current best estimates indicate it will cost $400 million or less to relaunch passenger rail between the four cities.

Amtrak is currently studying the cost and interest in such a corridor. The economic stimulus bill set aside about $8 billion nationally for passenger rail, and Strickland hopes that fund will foot the bill entirely for the development of the rail corridor. Currently, Amtrak operates passenger rail between Chicago, Toledo and Cleveland. Strickland said Tuesday he’s working to expand that service as well.

He’s also been working with Norfolk Southern and CSX about using their right of way.

On Tuesday, Strickland met with Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and Amtrak President Joseph Boardman. Strickland has already talked to LaHood about the proposal. He said he’s also talked to President Barack Obama and Vice-President Joe Biden about passenger rail service in Ohio.

Molitoris, who served as the head of the railroad administration during the Clinton administration, said operating costs are $11 million or less annually in 12 of the 14 states with passenger rail service.

As for the high-speed: Molitoris said passenger rail initially would top out at 79 miles per hour. Over time, the state hopes to be able to ramp up to speeds as high as 120 miles per hour, she said.

State officials are hopeful that development of passenger rail could spur additional economic investment in the state. Ohio is among the states in competition to have passenger rail cars manufactured in Ohio, Molitoris said.

Strickland said a handful of states are clamoring for stimulus dollars to develop passenger rail. Ohio, he said, can’t be left behind or it will be an “island.”

“The fact that Ohio is largely devoid of passenger service is intolerable,” he said.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

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