Cincinnati hosts EACC high-speed rail conference

The 2010 Urban and Regional Public Transportation Conference, held May 5 at The Westin Hotel and sponsored by the European-American Chamber of Commerce, featured presentations by over a dozen industry experts including a keynote speech by John D. Porcari, Deputy Secretary of Transportation of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

“America’s rail infrastructure is in shambles”, said Porcari, whose department is shifting policy away from a decades-old process that considered road or rail projects individually but could not easily approve multi-modal projects.

In working to rebuild “the squandered investments of our grandparents”, Porcari described a profound turnaround in federal transportation policy from one that encouraged sprawl to one that will promote walkable smart growth. He promised that America’s new generation of passenger trains will not be assembled here from components manufactured overseas, but rather be “100% American” in order to “capture every piece of the high speed rail value chain”.

Although the announced policy changes portend an increased opportunity for federal assistance for local rail transit projects, Porcari stressed that in the short term those places with their “act together” will be first to benefit from these changes.

Speaking on the matter of the $400 3C’s grant, Matt Dietrich, Executive Director of the Ohio Rail Development Commission, remarked that early in the planning of the 3C’s line, Amtrak offered to sell Ohio a variety of retired and surplus locomotives and passenger cars for $10-$15 million. But after grants were awarded to projects in other regions, that equipment has been directed elsewhere, and Ohio has now budgeted $175 million – almost half of the 3C’s grant – for new passenger trains.

The constricted budget means grant funds are presently unavailable for construction of a track connection to Cincinnati Union Terminal. A permanent suburban station is planned for Sharonville and a temporary terminal station is planned for Cincinnati in Bond Hill.

Cleveland’s station will be located on that city’s lakefront, with a convenient connection to its Waterfront light rail line. Both Dayton and Columbus will have stations located in their respective downtowns.

Dietrich also discussed plans for a station at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, possibly within walking distance of the National Museum of the United States Air Force. The base is the state’s largest single-site employer and the museum is, aside from King’s Island and Cedar Point, the state’s most popular tourist attraction.

The conference also featured speakers from France, Spain, Germany, and England, each of whom discussed not only the technical aspects of their high speed trains, but also how their networks are funded and administered.

Tom Stables, Senior Vice President of Commercial Development for First Group, discussed how England awards franchises to approximately a dozen different companies who for periods of seven to ten years operate the county’s various commuter and intercity train lines.

Juergen Wilder, representing industry giant Siemens, described how a ticketing and revenue sharing agreement was achieved with Lufthansa after a high speed rail line extended to Frankfurt’s airport drew significant patronage away from the airline. In the face of competition from passenger rail, Wilder suggested that American carriers might seek similar arrangements or even bid to operate the country’s envisioned high speed rail lines.

Herve Le Caignec, representing SNCF, the company that operates the French TGV network, discussed attempts at private-public partnerships in the construction of new TGV lines. He also offered evidence of the TGV’s staggering success – every day trains seating 750 to 1,100 passengers leave the French capital bound for Lyon and Marseilles every five minutes and do not just sell out individually, but all trains – more than 300 of them — often sell out each weekend as Parisians escape their drizzle and migrate en masse to the Mediterranean coast.

  • BQ

    So the high speed rail would only connect to Cincy through the suburbs? Seems ridiculous to me.

  • BKeller

    Sadly it would probably cost another 100 million dollars to get that final distance. 100 million that ohio doesn't have at this moment. You do what you can with what you have.

  • Leiflet

    Speaking of, if only we had a Mediterranean coast to escape to on the weekends!

  • Tony B

    I like the idea of the train. Especially since I'm dating a girl in Cleveland, but I think we should kick Dayton out of it. I'm for a spur between Dayton and Columbus and Dayton and Cincy, but this plan makes no sense.
    It'll take 6.5 hrs at best to get from Cincy to Cleveland, that's not faster or even more convenient than a car. Also the schedule is such that you can't get business done on either end without an overnight.
    I'm for it, just the current plan isn't going to work.

  • Don

    Do it right or don’t do it at all. They might as well stop the train in Dayton if it’s not going to come all the way into the city core. What’s the point? I don’t want to start a political debate but our government needs to get their priorities straight and start working for the people and to better our country. $100 million sounds like a lot but when you have Exxon Mobil, one company making $6 billion in the first quarter, it’s nothing. It’s a days earnings for them. I have read that a lot of the cost is for right aways and track construction. All this exists but it’s owned by CSX or other rail corporations. What ever happened to eminent domain? They seem to have no problem taking peoples houses to build Walmarts. If CSX has unused tracks or time slots available they should be made to give them up or at least share. The people, government and corporations need to start working together instead of fighting over the scraps. If you do things right instead of for selfish reasons it’s a win for everybody.