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When the United States entered the fight in World War II, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill is famous for saying, “It may not be the beginning of the end, but it is the end of the beginning.”


The battle (if you will) for expanding passenger rail in Ohio made a big step forward when Governor Mike DeWine stepped up and ordered the Ohio Rail Development Commission (ORDC) to apply for funding from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) for a planning study of two rail corridors:


  • Cleveland-Columbus-Dayton-Cincinnati (better known as the 3C&D)

  • Cleveland-Toledo-Detroit (which parallels two of the busiest Interstate Highway corridors in the USA)


At this writing, the applications have been submitted to the FRA. So, we can all breathe easy and wait, right?


Wrong.


In fact, my emails, texts and conversations with advocates are peppered with questions about “what do we do, now?”


We keep up the fight. We are at Churchill’s “end of the beginning”. Now we begin pushing toward what for us will be a victory: the development of a statewide network of fast, frequent, timely and reliable intercity passenger trains.


A network? From two rail corridors? Hardly. But consider that Ohio’s metropolitan planning organizations (MPO’s, for short) are also applying for FRA planning grants for a total of 4 more corridors.


The Columbus-based Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) is supporting applications for both the 3C&D corridor and a second new corridor that would connect Columbus with Chicago and Pittsburgh. It’s called the “Midwest Connect”.


The Northern Ohio Area Coordinating Agency (NOACA), based in Cleveland is applying for FRA planning grants for expanding service in these three corridors:

  • Cleveland-Pittsburgh

  • Cleveland-Toledo-Chicago

  • Cleveland-Erie-Buffalo


Professional transportation planners and civic leaders are thinking ahead to what is possible for our future in Ohio and the Midwest / Great Lakes region.


Our job, as advocates, is to let them know we have their backs. Let the leaders at NOACA and MORPC that you support what they’re doing in a letter or email. And while you’re at it, let your Mayors, city councils and state legislator’s know as well. Educate them. Tell them your story about why you want the option of traveling by train to connect with whatever your need may be.


And if you’ve got a good story to tell, consider writing it down and submitting to us at All Aboard Ohio for our e-newsletter. Even if your rail trip was less than ideal, we want to hear about the good and the bad so we can advocate with Amtrak for better service.


And finally, thank you. We cannot do the work we do without your engagement. We are lucky to have active and growing All Aboard Ohio chapters at the local level in Columbus, Cleveland, Toledo and Cincinnati. What can we do to get you and others more involved? Let us know and let’s get something done.

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Updated: Feb 27, 2023

In the words of the legendary rapper Ice Cube, “It was a good day.”


February 8, 2023 was a “good day” for all of us who have advocated for more and better passenger rail under a plan announced over two years ago by Amtrak to expand service both nationally and in Ohio with its “Amtrak Connects Us” plan. It’s the day the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that Ohio Governor Mike DeWine gave the go-ahead for the state to pursue Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) planning grants to determine if adding intercity passenger trains to Ohio’s transportation system is feasible.


If the studies of two corridors, Cleveland-Columbus-Dayton-Cincinnati (3C&D) and Cleveland-Toledo-Detroit, can answer Governor DeWine’s questions about projected ridership, costs, and what needs to be done to put good service on the tracks from Day One, which should lead to federal grants to launch the actual construction and development of service.


So, what do we as passenger rail and public transit supporters do now?


First, savor the win. It was a long time coming. It’s what happens when motivated advocates keep an issue alive and make sure our state’s leaders know WE aren’t giving up and neither should they. Thank you to all of you who kept up the pressure by letting the Governor and his transportation staff know we need a better-connected Ohio and Great Lakes region, and they need to work to make it happen.


Second, be grateful and say thank you. Being an advocate means being a thorn in someone’s side at times. But it also means letting leaders and other decision-makers know that you appreciate their stepping up to take on a critical need for our state. I get that some of us were getting impatient and wondered if, yet another Ohio Governor would thwart efforts to expand passenger rail. But our message was heard, and action is being taken. Send an email, or letter or call Governor DeWine’s office and say thanks. He needs to know we’ve got his back on this.

Thank the Mayors and the leaders of Ohio’s metro planning organizations who showed great political courage in filing official rail corridor nominations with the FRA’s Corridor ID Program. They made almost a dozen Ohio corridors eligible for the program and future grant funding. They sent a powerful message to our Governor that they are prepared to seek grants and advance projects whether or not the State of Ohio joined the effort.


Third, let’s enjoy this “good day”, but let’s also realize the effort to expand passenger rail in Ohio is not over. Even if all goes well in the planning and service development studies, we are still at least 4 years away from establishing the best rail service possible on these corridors. That means:

  • Talking with your local officials about not just where to locate and build a station, but how to make that station stop the center of economic development and job creation for your community.

  • Letting the Ohio Rail Development Commission know we need an open and transparent study process that keeps us informed on progress and enables serious public input.

  • Contacting our state legislators and the Governor to urge them to create a cabinet-level, Ohio Department of Rail & Public Transportation that can better handle future federal grant prospects and take on more major rail and transit projects around the state.

  • They also need to establish a sustainable funding base for such an agency proportionately on par with what Ohio invests in our highways and bridges through ODOT. Again, this reflects what we are seeing at the federal level and Ohio needs to be able to respond nimbly and effectively.

  • Since we are seeing major new employers like Intel, Amazon, and others relocating to or expanding in Ohio, we need to be vocal that discussions over how to get our people to and from these good jobs must include how we tie in local public transit and expanded passenger rail service. Let your state legislators, local transit providers, and regional planning agencies know that moving people is every bit as important as moving motor vehicles, if not more so.

  • Finally, as grant applications come into the FRA to support Ohio’s corridors, we need to be writing and sending letters of support to the FRA as these applications are submitted. We also need to be sending letters to the editors of our local news outlets that show and encourage support as well.


There are more “good days” ahead of us. But they will only happen if we do the work and give it our best shot.


Thank you to all of you who have been and continue to be supportive of All Aboard Ohio. We are strong because of you.

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As I’m traveling by train, I often wonder during a late-night stop, “Who is at a station this late? And why are they here?” Of course, that curiosity wears off as the train starts up again and I go back to sleep speeding toward my destination.


When Amtrak discontinued the Three Rivers in 2005, a train that ran from New York to Chicago via the old B&O main line through Ohio, I was busily photographing its nocturnal trip across the state. I had an O. Winston Link flash-style shot of it by the retired interlocking tower in Nova and had watched it speed by with a group of railfans in Sterling. The time that really sticks out for documenting the train was when I came to the iron triangle on its last day of operation.


There I met with Bill & Phyllis Gerritsen, the unofficial ambassadors for Fostoria, Ohio. Every night at 3:05 a.m. and 3:35 a.m. (assuming the CSX dispatcher had the trains running on time) they greeted passengers who stepped off the Three Rivers, be it college students, Amish, old folks, or other passengers. The Gerritsens would help the passengers with baggage or give them a ride home if they lived in town.


They welcomed me into the station, which only half of it was open to us; the other was used as offices for the local maintenance of way department. The space we were in was very small, about the size of a college dorm room. In it, we laughed and joked, and it sure did beat hanging outside on a cold March night.


Throughout the night people came to the little station saying their goodbyes and thanking the couple for their time. We watched several episodes of Looney Tunes while waiting for the passenger’s DVD player to help pass the time since the westbound train was a couple of hours late. When the last Amfleets glided over the diamonds destined for the second city, a group of railfans had the Gerritsens stand next to the station in the still twilight of the morning to pose for a photo. After that we said our goodbyes and the Gerritsens locked up the station for the final time and mailed the keys off to the railroad.

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