By Haley BeMiller
Published in Cincinnati Enquirer
Ohio will apply for federal funding to study the possibility of expanding Amtrak service in the state, the Ohio Rail Development Commission announced Wednesday.
The federal support would allow the commission to examine two potential rail corridors: One that connects Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and Cincinnati, and another that hits Cleveland, Toledo and Detroit. But state officials emphasized that this is the first step in a long process.
“We have a lot of questions that need to be answered before we make any commitments,” Gov. Mike DeWine said. “The information we gather from this effort will help us make informed decisions about federal opportunities for passenger rail in Ohio.”
The federal program is part of the bipartisan infrastructure law championed by Sen. Sherrod Brown and former Sen. Rob Portman.
“Expanding Amtrak in Ohio, whether along current routes or by connecting Cleveland-Columbus-Dayton-Cincinnati, would transform our state’s economy and improve mobility for all Ohioans,” Brown said in a statement.
Amtrak previously signaled that it wants to construct a new line connecting Columbus, Cleveland, Dayton and Cincinnati. The company agreed to cover the cost of construction, track upgrades and operating costs for at least five years, then split the estimated $17 million to $20 million annual operating costs with the state.
The roughly $100 million cost to build the line would come from the infrastructure package.
If Ohio’s application is approved, it would get $500,000 for each proposed route from the Federal Railroad Administration. The state could then use the money to develop a plan that details what’s needed to make the corridors happen. That includes information on everything from state funding to operating costs and track improvements.
Advocates have long called for Ohio to expand its passenger rail services.
Haley BeMiller is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.