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.