Sunday, January 23, 2000

Site study sought for fast train

Station would be near river

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A proposed high-speed passenger train between Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Chicago appears to be closer to reality.

        Ohio Rail Development Commission (ORDC) member Thomas McOwen on Jan. 31 plans to seek the go-ahead on a $15,000 study that would look at building a train station just west of Cincinnati's central riverfront.

        The study needs to get underway soon so the property, known as the Crosset site, doesn't get designated for something else. There has been talk of making the site a parking lot.

        If that happens, people could lose the chance to hop on a train and get from Cincinnati to Chicago in about 4 hours, about half the time it takes to get there via train now and an hour less than it takes to get there by car.

        “Unless we get it officially designated and get moving on designs, it may go to other uses and not be available,” Mr. McOwen said.

        The Crosset site was identified last year as the best one for a train station. Business travelers would find it close to downtown. Leisure travelers would find it close to riverfront attractions. And it would be easy for people driving, walking or using public transportation to get to and from the station.

        The study, which would take about two months to com plete, would make sure the property is suitable for rail service and explore the possibility of moving the Greyhound bus station from the east side of town to the Crosset site. It would include an economic impact analysis and an artist's rendering showing how the site could be used as a transportation hub.

        Also, it would lay out the next steps in developing the station.

        “It's a very basic step, but we need to do it,” Mr. McOwen said.

        The study shows Cincinnati is serious about bringing high-speed rail into the area, said Cincinnati Councilman Todd Portune.

        “I hate to see Cincinnati get left out of something as important as that rail corridor,” said Mr. Portune, who earlier this week introduced a motion asking the city to preserve and advance passenger rail options. “Being a part of it will set those cities apart from those that are not. It will mean jobs and new development for people in the region.”

        About a year ago, the U.S. Department of Transportation designated the Chicago to Cincinnati corridor for high-speed rail. Trains would travel up to 110 mph. That's faster than the maximum 79 mph Amtrak passenger trains travel now, but slower than the bullet trains in Japan.

        The federal designation made Ohio eligible for federal money to upgrade crossings and tracks to help build the $300 million high speed rail system. Planners with the nine-state Midwest Regional Rail Initiative say construction could start as early as 2002 and trains could be running by 2005. But first, more money is needed.

        Nationally, proposals are being made to designate money to get high-speed rail going in states.

        Amtrak, which would operate trains in the corridors, is asking for full funding in fiscal year 2001 to continue building high-speed rail. It would bring the budget to $989 million, up from the $521 million it receives now.

        The additional money, which has the support of more than two dozen state governors, would help pay for high-speed trains.

        Also, a proposal has been introduced in the U.S. Senate authorizing Amtrak to sell $10 billion in high-speed rail bonds between fiscal years 2001 and 2010.

        The money would be invested in building new high-speed rail corridors and upgrading existing high-speed routes. States would be required to match at least 20 percent of Amtrak's share, according to the proposal. Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, is one of 30 sponsors of the proposal.

        By starting preliminary studies, Cincinnati is putting itself in a better position to get money as it becomes available, said Randall Wade of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. He is also chairman of the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative steering committee.

        “Our goal is to maintain our planning activities so when federal funding is available we are ready to go,” Mr. Wade said. “That's the momentum we need to maintain.”


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