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Updated: Feb 27

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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I have been proud to serve on the Board of Directors of All Aboard Ohio since 2012. Prior to that, I just completed two terms as the first female township trustee in Hardin County. As a township trustee I participated in every training, workshop, and economic development and zoning meeting possible. I learned from Stu Nicholson, then with the ORDC and the 3C Corridor initiative that I was probably one of the only trustees in the state to attend the many local and regional passenger rail support meetings in my region of Ohio they were supporting.

Fast forward to January 2023. I have served as Vice Chair and am now ending my term as Chairperson. I was asked by the board to stay on briefly into 2023 to assist the new officers as they became oriented to their new positions. I have tried to put the strength and needs of the board first and foremost in all I did as well as ensuring the AAO advocacy effort is ongoing and meeting all of the new challenges of our ever-changing state and social media campaigns.

The last years have had many challenges. Like so many groups, we’ve been impacted by the pandemic's effects on our annual meetings. No meeting in 2020. A zoom annual meeting in 2021 and all of the new challenges and technical issues involved with that effort. Then, in 2022, an in person annual meeting while still respecting pandemic concerns and attendees’ health, safety, and wellbeing.

With a very high amount of board turn over due to retirements, health issues, moves, or personal or professional conflicts I made it a priority to assure we recruited new board members who understood the time commitment, dues obligations, and attendance requirements. We needed board members who are fully engaged.

Other accomplishments:

  1. We’ve gone from monthly teleconferences to zoom meetings.

  2. Officers and contracted employees are encouraged to have their written reports on the agenda. (A big help to new secretaries.)

  3. I developed an acronym sheet for new board members and an in-kind form for board members or anyone who donates time, goods, or services to AAO.

  4. We do direct deposit for our Executive Director and Public Affairs Director.

  5. We use a monthly meeting attendance sheet.

  6. We on occasion, utilize email vote for urgent business between meetings and that vote is added to the last meeting minutes.

  7. Continued a paper newsletter twice a year and the Public Affairs Director publishes a monthly e-newsletter supported by the Executive Committee, board, and members.

  8. Strive to do thank yous to large donors.

  9. Assured our two contracted employees have updated contracts annually that are appropriately signed. (Contracts include a statement on professional social media use, bullying and sexual harassment to meet current state and federal laws.)

  10. Reviewed bylaws annually prior to review and approval by members at the annual meeting. (This is an ongoing need to assure the bylaws meet the organizations ever changing needs and challenges)

  11. Assured all bills and invoices receive required board review and approval monthly, per standard business practices.

  12. Supported the purchase of WIX tool to update our website affordably(ourselves) and the addition of a social justice piece to add to our mission statement which was written by two board members.

  13. Supported existing local groups and the establishment of new local groups around the state.

  14. Supported WIX upgrade to business class and the purchase of an AAO dedicated computer, external hard drive backup, and QuickBooks strictly for AAO records and business.

There is still much to do, and I hope to stay on the board to support our Executive Committee, our Executive Director and Public Affairs director, our full board, and the organization as the recognized statewide advocacy group for passenger rail and mass transit in Ohio. Our board has many talented individuals with extensive personal and professional experience to contribute to AAO advocacy and its mission. Several our new officers and board members especially bring extensive professional, IT skills, business backgrounds and passenger rail travel experience to the team as well.

Thank you for working with me to advance our common belief and mission for passenger rail and mass transit in Ohio for everyone, regardless of zip code. I have been honored to help lead this advocacy effort and work with each of you! Together, all things are possible.

All Aboard!

Theresa Allen, AAO Chairperson

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