Traveling by rail for residents of Ohio is an exercise in courage, patience, and luck.
I travel by train whenever I want to go outside of Ohio. Once I have boarded a train, I feel perfectly safe and comfortable, but the process of getting to the train does NOT make me feel safe or comfortable. Why?
Because you have no choice but to board Amtrak in the dark.
Every interstate train that stops in Ohio (the daily Capitol Limited and Lakeshore Limited, and the 3 days a week Cardinal) is scheduled to leave between 1:41 AM and 6:33 AM westbound or between 11:49 PM and 3:27 AM eastbound. It is always dark. The Cincinnati station, for instance, is only open from midnight until 4:00 AM, and the Cleveland station from midnight until 7:30 AM.
But even getting to Ohio’s Amtrak stations is tricky. Passengers who live in those cities can probably get a family member, friend, or neighbor to drop them off in the middle of the night. But it is much more difficult for someone who must travel from another part of Ohio to one of those cities. I cannot see to drive in the dark. So, I would have to drive up the day before, book a hotel room, find long-term parking for my car, and hope to be able to get a taxi or Uber in the middle of the night to get from the hotel to the station (that’s where luck comes in).
At least Toledo Union Station is open 24 hours a day. Amtrak staff are only on duty when it is time for trains to arrive and depart, but the station can be entered and passengers can wait there. So, for me, my best (though certainly not optimal) choice is Toledo. It takes me 4 hours to drive there, as I am too old to drive on Interstate highways. My reflexes are not quick enough, and my eyesight is not as sharp, so I present a danger to myself and other drivers on an Interstate. Four hours is a long drive for a widow in her mid-70s traveling alone.
If I am leaving from Toledo, I have to drive up the night before and try to get a ride to the station early in the morning or late at night. I have found it very difficult to do so. Both the taxi company and Uber say they will take a reservation, but they can’t guarantee that a driver will answer the request. I have a trip coming up this Fall and have asked the daughter of a friend if she will take me if I pay her $50 to do so. Thankfully, she said she’d be glad to.
Or, for a late-night eastbound boarding, I must get a taxi to the station early in the evening and sit for hours waiting at the station to be sure I can be there when the train arrives. Also, arrival time back in Toledo is either very, very early in the morning or late at night. I have had to wait several hours for a taxi upon arrival. I have to get back to where I will be staying to get some sleep before starting my 4-hour drive home.
Let this sink in.
Ohio’s population is rapidly aging. Today, 2.5 million Ohio residents are over the age of 60. Our 60-plus population is growing more than 20 times faster than our overall population.
By 2030, only 7 Ohio counties have fewer than 25% of residents over 60.
The need for more rail services to more cities will become more and more acute as the population continues to age. The preferred solution would be to expand Amtrak service frequencies to enable daylight hours for trains traveling through Ohio.
Amtrak’s ConnectUs plans for Ohio would make this possible, but only if Ohio’s civic and private sector leaders push hard for the state to aggressively pursue federal grants now available under the new Infrastructure Act. That plan exp[ands services on all existing Amtrak corridors serving Ohio and creates a brand new corridor between Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, and Cincinnati.
But until that happens, Ohio’s Amtrak stops need longer station hours so passengers can arrive during daylight to wait securely indoors. We should also have better cooperation from both local cab companies and ride services like Lyft and Uber to get to and from stations.
Marilyn Sheck is the wife of the late All Aboard Ohio Board Chair and former state transportation official Ron Sheck, who directed state railroad, public transportation, and traffic safety programs and led research and development on urban transportation projects in Florida, Texas, Ohio, Montana, and Colorado.