Stars Aligning for Cincinnati to Chicago High-Speed Rail

4123288130_f7b778d9d5_bLocal and national developments show positive signs for America’s oft-criticized national passenger railroad company, Amtrak. A railroad reform bill introduced in the Senate contains many positive changes for Amtrak and local support continues to grow for increased service on Cincinnati’s tri-weekly train to Indianapolis and Chicago.

The Railroad Reform, Enhancement, and Efficiency Act of 2015 (RREEA, S.1626) was introduced by Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Roger Wicker (R-MS) to improve Amtrak service across the nation. The bill addresses several different issues for the railroad, including expansion, funding, and leadership. It also provides an increase in funding levels for the railroad through 2019.

In terms of leadership, the legislation would reorganize the board of directors for the railroad, with two representatives for the heavily traveled Northeast Corridor, two for long-distance routes (the Cardinal), and two for state-supported lines. There would also be one “floating” member.

The RREEA also includes several sections that fuel possible future expansion of the national rail network by establishing a committee to facilitate communication and cooperation between states and Amtrak on state-supported routes. In addition, it would require Amtrak to work with an independent agency to evaluate all routes and review possible elimination of routes, expansion or extension of current routes, or the establishment of new ones.

While calling this clause problematic, the National Association of Railroad Passengers acknowledges that this text includes a “comprehensive framework for analyzing a route that recognize the unique benefits rail service provides.”

Section 301 of the act explicitly requires that the Department of Transportation set up a program to assist the operating costs of launching or restoring passenger rail transportation. The section seems to be a nod towards the amount of routes cut from the system over Amtrak’s 40-plus years of operation.

Additional clauses provide mechanisms for cooperation between states and the federal government, when it comes to addressing the backlog of capital projects within the system, Amtrak’s money-losing food service, and the restoration of service along the Gulf Coast, a line that has been out of commission since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

After the deadly derailment in Philadelphia in May, safety across the network is a major component of this legislation.

Both sponsoring senators touted the bipartisan nature of the bill and Senator Wicker’s office released a statement identifying the national passenger rail system as an “integral part of our overall transportation structure and our economy,” and thanking Senator Booker for his support and help in creating the bill.

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation voted on July 13 to include the RREEA Act into the broader transportation bill, the Comprehensive Transportation and Consumer Protection Act of 2015 (S.1732).

In the Cincinnati metropolitan area, support continues to grow for the expansion of rail service in the area, especially to Chicago.

The City of Hamilton recently applied to Amtrak for a stop and has passed a resolution of support for increased service. Nearby in Oxford, home of Miami University, initial approvals have been set to create a station for Amtrak, and efforts are currently underway to identify the exact location for that facility.

The effort has also gained support from the University of Cincinnati Student Senate, when they passed a resolution 31-1 in support of increased rail service to Chicago, citing Chicago as “an important transportation hub for students’ co-op travels, as well as an economic destination for students, staff, and faculty alike.”

According to All Aboard Ohio’s Southwest regional director, Derek Bauman, the UC student government president is also coordinating with other local university student governments to obtain resolutions of support; and in addition to Hamilton, both Norwood, where Amtrak employs local workers, and Wyoming, where the Cardinal line runs through, have also passed resolutions of support for increased passenger rail service.

Hamilton County commissioners also unanimously approved a resolution pursuing a feasibility study.

Going forward, Bauman says that there will be a need for increased cooperation and support from local Metropolitan Planning Organizations along the route. In Columbus, the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) has actively supported the implementation of a Columbus-Ft. Wayne-Chicago rail line; and in Northeast Ohio, a consortium of local MPOs have banded together and formed a sub-group to support increased rail service to the region.

From here, leadership at All Aboard Ohio says that they hope the OKI Regional Council of Governments will take a similar approach on behalf of the Cincinnati region.

  • Jasomm

    If Amtrak commits to building High Speed rail from Cincy-Chicago through these spots It would be a perfect corridor to improve for the first regional commuter line.

    A commuter route to Hamilton could piggy back on the High Speed Rail infrastructure with added stations in Northside/Cincy State, Carthage, Hartwell, Wyoming, Glendale, Springdale, and Fairfield.

    • Jasomm

      for example

    • matimal

      Can we build on the example of the St. Louis to Chicago line?

    • That is precisely the idea.

    • You are right. By running the corridor to the north along the existing path of The Cardinal you could pick up commuters from the northern suburbs with stops in Hamilton and/or Oxford. This would be a great benefit for ridership. I’m not sure you’ll realize the same benefits by running the corridor along the western riverfront, as some people are suggesting.

    • L Eric

      To benefit ridership, you need cars on the train! And service that is not only at 1am and 3am when it runs 3 days a week. More seats for sale would result in lower fares. Remember too small towns can out load cities.

    • Mark Christol

      Do any of the airlines carry cars?

    • L Eric

      They have drive it services. That drive your car ahead of you.

    • Neil Clingerman

      Cars on the train slow things down. There is the autotrain the amtrak actually runs if you are intersted in that concept:

      Also, rental cars. Though in Cities like Chicago you don’t need one unless you are out in the suburbs.

    • L Eric

      I mean railroad cars on the train, a auto train would be fine too. But the Cardinal is only 7 cars. Not much of a train running between the cities of millions. Extra unassigned equipment over the years is scrapped to keep Amtrak minimum in size. This keeps revenues and ridership to a minimum too.

    • JacobEPeters

      The correct term to avoid confusion is coach. As you add additional coaches you can lower ticket costs, but only if you have enough demand to fill these additional seats. Otherwise, you’ve increased the weight of the train and decreased the fuel efficiency, as Neil notes below. You add more seats as demand increases. If you ran at convenient commuter times then this might bring in enough riders to justify the extra seats…but you’d need a station in a convenient commuter location & a way to fill those seats on the sections of the line beyond Oxford. Otherwise you’re just running those seats empty for a majority of the trip length.

      Increased frequency through decreased travel times is the only way to build ridership in a way that both reduces operating costs & increases the appeal of a trip. This is why Randy states that emulating the Chicago-St. Louis success should be the goal of Cincy-Indy-Chicago.

      Although it is arguably a stronger potential high speed route than the one to St. Louis from a population & development perspective.

  • Tobie Sharp Arnberg

    Seriously this would be the best thing that could have to the tristate area. We really need to connect ourselves to Chicago and New York. The amount of flights for business travelers daily is astronomical. Especially to Chicago!

    • A daily connection to Chicago and Indianapolis would be a huge benefit for the region. Flights between Cincinnati and Chicago go for some of the highest prices in the region. There is high demand, let’s serve it.

    • Neil Clingerman

      Yeah, I’m really pulling for this too (or at least improvements to the megabus situation) the costs to Chicago are awful – prohibitively expensive for non-business flights unless your rich.

    • L Eric

      That’s the foreign owned bus company. Megafuss, that uses public terminals, public highways, Amtrak stations. And avoids road taxes under the IFTA system.

    • Neil Clingerman

      Ohhh scary foreigners. You know Greyhound is also foreign owned.

      Also, Europe does a heck of a lot better job at transportation including intercity buses than we do.

    • Brian Boland

      Ok, sure, Greyhound is foreign owned, but their US headquarters is right here in Cincinnati.

    • L Eric

      They lobby against trains. They used to show up at the hearings to pull the trains off. They are part of the highway lobby. They attended these hearings and took employees and their families to them. Many lies about services were told.

    • L Eric

      Not when they are working to kill our rail system. These are bus people part of the highway lobby. Profits go overseas away from US taxes. If you benefit from the US you should help the system that pays your way.

  • Mark Christol

    Fortunately we have Steve Chabot in Congress to kill any such legislation.
    I snark, but, seriously, are the people supporting this going to show up & vote Chabot & Wenstrup out of office?

    • matimal

      chabot’s supporters aren’t voters, they’re cult members. He was defeated in 2008 on Obama’s coattails. I don’t think Hillary will have the same political coalition, but it’s a chance.

    • Dennis Mullen

      the people supporting this need to show up and support the actual RR if this ever gets built. But they won’t’.. because Americans love their cars and the freedom that brings. This is just a typical group in a small town that keeps hollering until they get what they want. Economically speaking this Amtrak stop is DOA.

    • L Eric

      I know from your remarks you don’t take trains. Nor do you know how they sell out over all or part of the routes today. Small towns out load big cities because of the convenience of travel the train gives. A one seat ride. Economically speaking the fly and drive money pit transportation system is a hopeless loser younger people want less and less to do with. There is no new railroad to build it’s been there for over a 100 years paying those taxes. These taxes are part of the non road taxes to used to build the fly and drive system.

  • Norris Allen

    Amtrak needs to work on having a predictable price and schedule .
    The price changes with how far ahead you order ,and the time depends on the freight traffic .
    They could compete with the airlines if they get organized .
    Trains have more seat room , a choice of meals ,entertainment,less hassle with pat downs and carry on luggage even smoking cars .

    • skulbaka

      The “predictable prices” as you call them aren’t likely as countries in Europe that depend on train travel have fluctuating prices depending on the time of day. The prices will skyrocket on the busiest days/times when the train company knows people are wiling to pay more. The prices will be predictable in so far as the general rise and fall on such days due to supply and demand. This also means that buying tickets can be cheap if you buy them for the odd hours of the day that aren’t busy.

    • L Eric

      The rest of the world doesn’t have just 3 day a week service in the middle of the night either. There is no volume of sales at Amtrak to even begin to cover costs. Most business is turned away, most of the time. The Cardinal to Cincinnati has only 3 days of income from operations in the middle of the night. And 7 days of fixed costs!

    • L Eric

      Compete with airlines? Most of the travel on the long distance trains like this one is from the small towns the trains stop at between the major cities. There is NO need to even try to compete with air travel on a track bed from the 1870’s. Maybe if we ever have Tilt Trains. We are lucky to get the money to buy toilet paper on Amtrak. Most of the business is turned away. The reservations are to keep people from standing in the aisles during peak train times. Which is most of the time today. People use the train for fun and comfort. They can’t use it for speed it’s not there anymore.

  • L Eric

    This is the train the zips right by the Indianapolis Airport! New stations should be built to places people want to go. Stadiums, airports and shopping malls at Clover Leafs for major roads. Free park and rides are a must. Daily service on a train with twice the cars during daylight hours. Maybe Tilt Train equipment. High speeds are NOT necessary to cut hours out of the travel times. Just get up to 90 or 100 and stay there. Get rid of the endless 20-30- or 40mphs that are on the 1870 track bed. More service increases ridership lots more than a 3 day a week sold out middle of the night train. That only stops in major downtown stations.

  • Brian Boland

    Great comments here. I’d love to see these: First, Chicago via Indy; 2. Detroit via Toledo/Lima/Datyon; 3. The ever controversial 3C line to Columbus and Cleveland. Then how about Pittsburgh via Columbus; St. Louis via Louisville and Nashville via Louisville, and maybe even Lexington and Knoxville(and on to Atlanta?). Not sure the longer routes can compete with air fares, but the shorter routes certainly can. Anything where driving is an option over air could be filled by rail.

  • neroden

    I wish them luck. A good first step would be daily service on the Cardinal. It should make the Cardinal cost *less* to operate. Unfortunately, there’s hostility from CSX; it may be necessary to buy some of the tracks. And Ohio’s deranged governor Kasich won’t do it, and the crazy anti-rail nuts who run the Indiana government don’t seem likely to do it either.