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How many times have we seen hopes rise and fall and proposals come and go to improve how we move our people in Ohio? How many passenger rail and local public transit plans are nothing more than dusty studies on some agency's planning shelf?


The bi-partisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act may have changed what has been a status quo of Ohio being the place where good rail and transit ideas and projects go to die. For once, there is serious funding on the table at the Federal level for both passenger rail and public transit. More importantly, we have public officials and agencies in Ohio not just taking notice of this first-ever funding pool, but actively supporting plans such as the Amtrak Connects US plan to greatly expand passenger rail in Ohio.


But the hard truth is there are zero funds at the state level for passenger rail and the current, small budget for the Ohio Rail Development Commission is directed entirely at freight rail projects. And Ohio has no dedicated source of funding for passenger rail or transit that can be used for a state match for grants offered by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) or the Federal Transit Administration (FTA).


Public transit funding remains both a biennial political football in the Ohio General Assembly and still inadequate because it must be debated every two years as part of the mammoth ODOT (Ohio Dept. of Transportation) budget. It took an intense effort by transit advocates, including All Aboard Ohio, to get legislators to retain an increase in general revenue funding for transit that was passed by the previous session of the General Assembly. That debate gets underway again next year.


And yet as Ohio sees an improving economy and major companies locating and expanding in our state, we face a growing crisis: the inability to connect new and existing employers with Ohio’s skilled workforce by any means other than by car.


When Intel Corporation announced it would build two computer chip manufacturing plants near the Columbus suburb of New Albany, the first response from state transportation officials was that they would have to increase lane capacity on State Route 161 and build two brand new interchanges. But what about rail and public transit connections as an option? (Cue the crickets) Not a mention.


It took an op-ed from All Aboard Ohio’s Board Chair, Theresa Allen, to help get at least a conversation started. Thankfully that conversation is growing among local planning agencies and the Central Ohio Transit Authority. Even local media have picked up the issue and are asking questions. That’s good.


But Ohio should not have to be in crisis response mode. We should have a rail and public transit development structure that recognizes and responds to the need to connect Ohioans with jobs and education and to move a skilled workforce without having to always depend on driving a car.


This becomes more critical as we consider both climate impacts and the fact that the annual national average to own and operate a car is now over $10,000 and perhaps more in some parts of Ohio. Simply adding highway lanes and new interchanges is not the answer. And it does nothing for skilled job seekers who don’t own a car, cannot afford the fuel costs of a long commute, or cannot drive.


This is why All Aboard Ohio believes that Ohio’s next Governor must advance a critical change to our transportation development system: a cabinet-level Department of Rail and Public Transportation with a dedicated source of funding support.


This may seem a radical move, but it really isn’t. Ohio can find an excellent model in the state of Virginia’s own Department of Rail & Public Transit (DRPT). What’s more, within Virginia’s DRPT there’s now a new and highly effective Virginia Passenger Rail Authority that is now advancing a growing network of popular passenger rail corridors and is about to develop another cross-state corridor. (Link to more at: https://www.drpt.virginia.gov and https://vapassengerrailauthority.org )


We aren’t asking Ohio’s next Governor to re-invent the wheel here. We are just stating the obvious, that rail and public transit funding and development need to be on an equal plane with how our state develops highways and roads.


Ohio needs better transportation options, whether it’s developing passenger rail projects to connect our cities, local rail and/or rubber tire-based transit projects like Bus Rapid Transit corridors, or safe, separated bikeways and safe walkable communities. The time is past for these important options to be considered second-tier priorities.


We need more and better options to travel in Ohio, whether it’s to connect with jobs, education, health care, tourism or just everyday wants and needs. The status quo can’t and doesn’t meet these new and growing demands for greater mobility.


Ohio needs a transportation portfolio that develops all options. And we need it soon!


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Feelings Of Deja-vu


In an ongoing effort to support our Executive Director and Public Affairs Director who have small contracts with All Aboard Ohio, since I have been Chairperson, I have tried to do some of those “extra” things so that their paid time can be best utilized and focused on Ohio passenger rail and mass transit issues. No one can be everywhere or do everything.


Therefore, since I am retired from my “nursing jobs” I have more flexibility and can attend some of the extra zooms and webinars and report back to them and the AAO Board of Directors. This also assures someone from AAO is representing our non-profit and has a place at the table. Some of those meetings are with the VHSRA (Virginia High-Speed Rail Association), NIPRA (Northern Indiana Passenger Rail Association), the RPA (Rail Passenger Association), NOPRA (Northern Ohio Passenger Rail Association), and NIB (National Infrastructure Bank).


But, the common thread from the 3-C corridor days, to high-speed rail development around Chicago, Virginia, and the entire country echoes what I heard in a recent webinar with guest speakers who were part of Germany’s high-speed rail development over the last 25-30 years. Deja- vu!


There are always political or business pundits who are naysayers, there are projected costs, construction project inflation setbacks, territorial issues, public vs private funding, easements or right of ways, zoning, public health and or safety concerns, and environmental considerations and impacts.


My point being, as we pursue passenger rail development in Ohio we should remember and voice that these issues are a very common part of most all infrastructure development and should be looked at with foresight in planning and not hindsight. Working together with public and private partners many of these concerns can be dealt with in a logical, structured, and fair way that uses consensus to deal with many of these economic development issues.


I ask you to remind our local and state elected officials to consider how other states and countries have advanced their infrastructure to promote improved and modern passenger rail and mass transit and model Ohio’s plan to do the same, whether it’s the Amtrak Connect Plan or any future plans, we need to meet the needs of all Ohioans, existing businesses and future economic development.

Let’s learn from this deja-vu moment.


Theresa Allen,

AAO Chairperson




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From the Toledo Blade, Published September 18, 2022

I continue to read daily about the Toledo airport and lack of progress in gaining new airlines.


Also, the relentless pursuit of electric vehicles in spite of the many shortcomings, including lack of recharging facilities.


However, I never see or read one article about trains.


When comparing America and its transportation system to the rest of the world, we are an embarrassment.


Trains are by far the most efficient and environmentally friendly way to transport large numbers of people. I believe this is a fact. China, Europe, and Japan all have high-speed, efficient rail systems. Why doesn’t America?


We continue to see ongoing road construction in and around Toledo, and one has to scratch their head and wonder how we pay for all this work. Can’t some of these funds be used to build an efficient train system?


Compare the cost of transporting several hundred people on a plane, the fuel, the pollution, the land used of airport, add security and you have a bundle of money that could be used in a far better way.


Japan introduced the first high speed rail system in 1964. The system has an impeccable safety record.


Currently the train system carries 1 million passengers every day at speeds up to 200 mph.


Compare this to America! I fail to understand why an industrial might like America cannot duplicate what other countries have accomplished.

How many reading this would like to board a clean, safe train with sufficient room to move around store your baggage in a relaxed manner?


With all the green folks out, we should be able to make this a reality.


DENNIS ISABELL

West Toledo


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