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Politics creep into Ohio high speed rail debate

(The Associated Press circulated the following story by Matt Leingang on February 22, 2010.)

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Critics of Ohio's plan for a passenger train system have denounced it as a boondoggle and a money pit, and the project appears to be surrounded by political posturing as it heads to a vote this spring.

Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat who lobbied the White House hard to get $400 million in stimulus money for the project, has decried detractors as cheerleaders for failure. Republican state lawmakers have been particularly outspoken, raising legitimate questions but often ignoring credible answers.

Plans call for a 79-mph startup rail service that would run on freight tracks connecting Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and Cincinnati, beginning in 2012. It would serve as a down payment on a future 110-mph service, with branches connecting to a Chicago-based Midwest corridor and cities on the East Coast.

If anything, Ohio is playing catch-up. Fifteen states already have contracts with Amtrak to operate the kind of startup, conventional-speed service that Ohio is after, and Amtrak ridership is rising nationwide.

Yet Strickland, who is facing re-election, created confusion last spring by putting a $250 million price tag on the initial Cleveland-to-Cincinnati leg - well before Amtrak had completed an exhaustive study. Once Amtrak released its report in September, the state asked the White House for $564 million.

Now the state is making revisions to get the project within the $400 million awarded in January.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

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