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Rail advocates say passenger rail could generate 8,000 Ohio jobs

(The following story by Jim DeBrosse appeared on the Dayton Daily News website on July 13, 2010.)

DAYTON, Ohio — Job creation has become a key argument for rail advocates, including Ohio Secretary of Transportation Jolene Molitoris, who got their chance Monday, July 12, at the Dayton Rotary Club to rebut an earlier presentation by state Sen. Jon Husted.

Husted, R-Kettering, and many other Republicans in the Ohio legislature say the proposed 250-mile 3C Corridor Passenger Rail Service from Cincinnati to Cleveland will be too slow and too little used to justify its taxpayer price tag of $400 million in federal stimulus funds and another $17 million in annual state operating subsidies. The plan includes stops in Dayton, Riverside and Springfield.

But Molitoris told the 300 or so Rotary luncheon attendees that “jobs (are) what this project is all about. That’s why it’s so important to take that $400 million we competed for (in federal stimulus funds) and have you help us invest it in a way to get the biggest (economic) benefit.”

In the spring, the State Controlling Board approved by a 4-3 vote $25 million of the federal stimulus funds to pay consultant Parsons Brinckerhoff for a detailed plan of the track improvements and coordination with freight service needed for the 3C Corridor.

The state board, where Republicans hold the deciding vote, still has to approve the additional $375 million in project money before construction can begin, probably within the next year or two. If the board votes no, the $375 million would revert to the Federal Rail Administration to be awarded to another state vying for passenger rail service funds.

As the Senate Majority Leader, Husted has said repeatedly that not enough Ohioans will ride a rail service that takes six hours and 30 minutes to travel from Cincinnati to Cleveland. Rail advocates, however, say those numbers are only preliminary estimates and that the results of the Parsons Brinckerhoff study will put the 3C Corridor service in a much better light.

ODOT officials estimate the new rail service and its eight train stops will generate 8,000 jobs. Longer range, they’re hoping it will help revive Ohio’s ailing rail manufacturing industry and get it back on track in time to take advantage of the rebirth of passenger rail service across America.

Molitoris cited a study released Monday by Policy Matters Ohio and the Appollo Alliance — both bipartisan green technology advocate groups — that show Ohio ranks fifth in the nation in the number of businesses serving the rail industry, with 226 companies and 26,000 employees. The study projected that Amtrak alone will need 300 to 340 new locomotives in the next 20 years and that the rail industry in general will need 250,000 train cars in the next 30 years.

Molitoris said 36 of those rail supply companies are in the Dayton region and 11 are in the Miami Valley, including the Dayton-Phoenix Group, a manufacturer of locomotive parts based in Old North Dayton.

Gale Kooken, chief executive of Dayton-Phoenix Group, said the 3C Corridor could help his company in the long run, but for now, it serves primarily the freight rail industry and it is being clobbered by what he called unfair foreign competition.

Since 2008, the company has lost 140 employees and its total revenues have dropped about 45 percent — from $100 million to about $60 million expected for this year. It currently employs about 320 people, including 270 in its Dayton plant, he said.

Kooken said his firm is hard-pressed to compete with manufacturers in countries such as India, where they have copied Dayton-Phoenix products and then imposed a 34 percent import duty to keep his own company from competing in their market.

“What government can do for us is to just give us a level playing field — that’s all we ask — and we can compete in those countries based on the reliability and quality of our products,” he said.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

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