Last passenger trains leave Akron, Youngstown, Fostoria

(The Associated Press circulated the following story by Thomas J. Sheeran on March 8.)

AKRON, Ohio -- Mark Schwinn will have to find a new way to visit relatives in Ohio now that Amtrak has ended its Three Rivers passenger rail service between Pittsburgh and Chicago.

The train made its final stops at Nappanee, Ind., and Akron, Fostoria and Youngstown, Ohio, early Monday. The move comes as Amtrak fights to keep federal operating subsidies targeted by President Bush.

"It did give a travel option, a more comfortable travel option," said Schwinn, 35, of Chicago, who rode the train about every six weeks to visit family in his hometown of Ravenna, east of Akron.

Amtrak announced Sept. 3 that it would halt the service because the Amtrak system would no longer carry mail, which was the moneymaking rationale for restoring it in 1996.

The cut comes as the Bush administration tries to eliminate subsidies by 2006 for the 46-state, 22,000-mile Amtrak system, which loses more than $500 million a year. Amtrak serves more than 500 destinations.

Ross B. Capon, executive director of the National Association of Railroad Passengers, said Monday that it was hard to second-guess the end of Amtrak's Three Rivers service amid a fight over threatened federal aid cuts that could doom Amtrak.

"We're optimistic that Amtrak will be saved, but it's not a slam dunk," he said.

Steve McMullen, 24, a rail buff from Akron, rode the final Three Rivers train out of Chicago, and saluted as it passed the final westbound train south of Sandusky.

"We waved as it flew by at 60 mph outside Willard," said McMullen, who paid $64 for the round trip from the sparse Akron station behind the city health department.

The loss of Three Rivers service didn't sit well with the affected communities.

"Any amenity, anything you can have in your city to make life better is good," said Mayor Donald Plusquellic of Akron, which had 7,930 riders for the year that ended Sept. 30.

Dave Shreiner, 58, of Millersburg, travels by rail up to three weeks each month for his family owned printing-supply business in Killbuck. The loss of the Three Rivers service means he must travel farther to Alliance for Amtrak's Capitol Limited serving Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Chicago.

If Ohio keeps losing rail service, Shreiner said last week, "I might move my business to California or another state."

In Fostoria, Colleen Markeyrowe, manager at the Business or Pleasure Inc. travel agency, said the limited service and predawn trains were a tough sell. "They are terrible times but we've grown accustomed to that," she said.

The end of service at Youngstown, envisioned as a stop on Ohio's long-proposed high-speed rail line, could make such an idea harder to achieve, said Ken Prendergast, Ohio campaign manager of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association.

"It's easier to build on a service than to create a new one," he said.

Tuesday, March 8, 2005
bentley@ble-t.org

http://www.ble-t.org/pr/news/headline.asp?id=12980

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