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BLET's Hagan criticizes Ohio GOP over high-speed rail stance

(The following story by Marc Kovac appeared on the Youngstown Vindicator website on September 21, 2010. In addition to serving as State Rep. for Ohio's 60th District, Bob Hagen is a locomotive engineer and member of BLET Division 757.)

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A Democratic state lawmaker criticized Republicans in the Ohio Senate Monday for playing politics with a plan to establish passenger rail service between the state’s largest cities.

State Rep. Bob Hagan, D-60th, of Youngstown said many of the same GOP lawmakers who now are opposing the so-called 3-C effort voted in favor of a resolution four years ago that urged federal support for passenger rail service in the state.

“I do think that it’s absolutely ridiculous for them to phrase their opposition as if they’re looking at trying to be fiscally responsible when just four years ago ... they were the ones who introduced it,” Hagan said, adding later, “They’re killing it for political purposes and political purposes only.”

Senate Republicans countered that the resolution adopted four years ago and the plan being pursued now are two different issues.

“It’s not politics; it’s common sense,” said Tim Kelso, a spokesman for the Senate’s Republican Caucus.

Hagan made the comments Monday during a Statehouse press conference with the Ohio Public Interest Research Group, a nonpartisan research group that released a new study touting the positive impacts of an Ohio and national passenger rail network.

The report states that a high-speed rail system in Ohio would create thousands of jobs and spur billions of dollars in economic development while saving millions of gallons of gasoline annually.

Proponents have said a first step in establishing high-speed service is the 3-C plan to create passenger rail connections between Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati.

Ohio was awarded $400 million in federal funding to help establish that system, and Gov. Ted Strickland supports the initiative.

But critics continue to question whether consumer demand will support rail service or how much future state funding will be required to sustain it.

And Republican gubernatorial challenger John Kasich said, if he’s elected, the project is dead.

Hagan, a longtime train engineer who has been working on passenger rail legislation since first being elected to the Statehouse, said Senate Republicans’ opposition is curious, considering their passage of a resolution four years ago seeking federal support for a study that included a passenger rail analysis.

According to that resolution, “This plan concludes that high-speed passenger rail is not only feasible but will attract over 3 million riders annually.”

But Kelso said the resolution sought federal support for an environmental assessment for a larger state hub plan that included passenger and freight-rail improvements.

“I believe strongly that we can get this done,” Hagan said. “Those that are standing in the way are the people that are members of the Republican Party ... and they’ve stood in the way for political purposes and political reasons only. It doesn’t have anything to do with how they really felt. ... They’re using it as a political tool to manipulate votes and, I think, to tilt the election toward Mr. Kasich.”

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

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