Will Ohio be left empty-handed when it comes to new $53B high speed rail plan?

Last week President Obama announced a bold $53 billion plan for high speed rail. The investment is proposed to take place over the next six years as part of the transportation reauthorization bill. If successful, President Obama (D) would place himself among the likes of Eisenhower and FDR in terms of infrastructure legacies.

Long-term, President Obama’s administration hopes to connect 80 percent of Americans with high speed rail within 25 years, but what does that mean for Ohio whose governor recently gave away a $400 million federal investment for such a system?

Well, what immediately is clear is that Ohio has gone from one of the nation’s leaders in high speed rail, to one of the last adopters in the matter of a few months. What may also be true going forward is hesitancy for the federal government to invest in high speed rail in Ohio while Governor Kasich (R) is in office – thus pushing Ohio further behind in the race to “win the future” and develop a nation-wide system of high speed rail.

“The Obama Administration understands that in order to win the future and grow America’s economy over the long-term, we must modernize our national transportation network,” said Secretary LaHood said in a prepared release. “We’re committed to repairing our existing infrastructure and building new ways to move people, goods and information around so we can strengthen our communities and our economy.”

The federal investment would provide money for both new infrastructure and critical maintenance and upgrades for existing intercity rail corridors. With Ohio boasting one of the best-suited corridors in the nation for intercity rail, but still lacking any existing intercity rail, it creates the possibility of the state receiving absolutely nothing from the $53 billion investment thanks to the decision by Governor Kasich to give away the original $400 million investment in intercity rail between Cincinnati, Dayton, Columbus and Cleveland.

For perspective, over the past 50 years, the federal government has spent more than $400 billion building the interstate highway system.

“A national high-speed rail system is not only an opportunity to redefine how we travel and how our regional economies grow,” said Reconnecting America President and CEO John Robert Smith. “It represents the type of innovation and progress that can secure a better future for our grandchildren.”

With the addition of 100 million citizens by 2050, Smith asserts that the nation needs new infrastructure that has the ability to move more people in more places and at higher speeds.

Reconnecting America research has found that investments between Harrisburg, PA, and Philadelphia have increased speeds to 110 mph, and the corridor has seen rail ridership rise by 57 percent. The corridor, Reconnecting America says, now boasts more passengers traveling by rail than by plane.

  • John

    Hopefully this will make everyone in Cincinnati realize just how small (albeit important) a role that the upcoming Cinci Streetcar will play, in the grand scheme of America’s rapidly modernizing infrastructural revamp.

  • Jacob

    I think the city could benefit from campaigning for an extension of the Hoosier State intercity train to Cincinnati from its current terminus in Indianapolis. This connection from Chicago to Cincinnati was ranked 4th amongst Midwest rail corridors for its potential as a high speed corridor. Given the anti-rail sentiment of the current state administration, improvements to an existing corridor, & improved service might be more palatable since it is not drastically increasing operating costs.

  • I agree Jacob. The current Amtrak service from Cincinnati to Chicago could and should be vastly improved. I think this is on the agenda for the Midwest High Speed Rail plan, but lower on the priority list than other lines.

    I also think the existing Cardinal line running from Cincinnati to Washington D.C. offers a great deal of opportunity. Being able to take high speed rail from Cincinnati to DC allows a rider to then hop on Acela up the East Coast and hit all of the major cities there.

  • Dale Brown

    Eh, it doesn’t even go south. How high speed, what are the destinations, and how much per ride? What are the places you can actually go and not need a car? Chicago, NYC, Boston, DC, maybe Philly.

    Basically everywhere but Pittsburg is a reasonable drive from Cincinnati that the graphic connects to; what’s the point?

    And for perspective, how much have we subsidized the utter failure that is Amtrak over the last 50 years? At least $13 billion.

    Yes, it would be cool to be able to jump on a train (a fast train) and go to Chicago for the week. Or Pittsburg. But is the demand there overall? Would people abandon their cars and flights to use it?

    I’ve traveled to about 1/4 of those terminals on business, and I’ve either flown or rented a car in everyone except NYC, Chicago, and Boston. Hell I can’t even figure out the bus schedule in NKY its so convuluted and mis-guided.

    If you want to do it right, you start small, recognizing transportation needs that exist and then surveying to see if the support is there for transit. Look at Cincinnati; where is the congestion, every day of the week? In three places. You build a train next to 75, 71, and 74, you meet demand that exists.

    And yes, I know gas is getting more expensive. But trains run on diesel, and their are severe diminishing returns when you travel with a family on a train versus a car.

  • Zachary Schunn

    The only thing that bothers me is, how did the routes get decided? What about the I-70 corridor from Pittsburgh to Columbus to Indy (and maybe to St. Louis); that’s heavily travelled, so why not include a rail line there? It would also provide those Midwesterners south of the Great Lakes (aka, basically everyone) with a more viable route to NYC and Boston.

    And, why is Tennessee completely ignored? I know the mountains make routes tricky, but isn’t the high traffic between Cincinnati, Columbus, etc. to Nashville, or Knoxville, or even Atlanta for that matter enough to make a route or two worth it?

    At this point, if you’re going to spend $53 billion on a pretty good system, why not add another $10-$20b to make it a great system?

    Finally, Dale, I’m not even going to address all the fallacies in your post, but diesel? Really? The vast majority of high-speed rail is electric, with maglev trains growing in popularity. I believe most of these routes are planned to be electric.

  • Dale Brown

    They aren’t fallacies, but you could try. I know that supply and demand are difficult to discuss, but lets have at it.

    The most heavily traveled interstate is…. 75. Why wouldn’t you re-create routes that already exist.

    And I’m sure that $53 billion will get you all the levitating trains you need.

    Its a politically drawn map, pure and simple.

  • Zachary Schunn

    I could discuss supply and demand until the cows come home, but I’d prefer not to, because I have a life to attend to. So don’t even waste your time.

    And I won’t debate you on the importance of transit along the current I-75 track. Cincinnati-Dayton is a heavy corridor, and running the 3C line between these two cities would do a lot to alleviate this interstate traffic.

    And [begin sarcasm] I’m glad you see just how political this plan is. After all, these high speed rails should make Obama a shoe-on in 2012 in states like, say, Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Alabama, right? (That, or it’s an intelligent proposal meant to downplay the future economic destruction that will be caused by our foreign oil dependency largely worsened by our current transportation system. Just a thought.)

    Finally, I find it interesting that you bring the subsidies for Amtrak into the discussion, because [begin sarcasm] we all know that the interstate system isn’t subsidized at all…