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Initial Planning Starts for Rail Corridor to Chicago, Columbus Not Part of Effort

 Brent Warren Initial Planning Starts for Rail Corridor to Chicago, Columbus Not Part of Effort
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The plan to build a high-speed rail corridor connecting Columbus and Chicago took a small step forward yesterday, although Columbus’ level of involvement in the project is in question.

A coalition of local jurisdictions, businesses and foundations – all located west of Lima, Ohio, and mostly clustered in the Fort Wayne area – have come up with $350,000 to start the first phase of planning for the project.

That is not enough to study the whole line, explained Ken Pendergast, Executive Director of All Aboard Ohio.

“It’s important to note that funding has come only from Lima westward to the Illinois state line,” he said. “If Central Ohio wants to be part of the plan, they need to come up with funding at their end; without it, they could start up service from Lima into Chicago, or even decide to route the line from Lima to Toledo and on to points east, like Cleveland.”

Former Mayor Michael Coleman joined other municipal leaders from cities along the route in signing a Memorandum of Understanding, which spelled out a general level of support for the Columbus to Chicago initiative. There has been no confirmation of that support from his successor, Andrew Ginther.

When asked if the City of Columbus will be involved – either financially or otherwise – in future planning efforts to connect Columbus and Chicago by rail, Robin Davis, Director of Media Relations for the Mayor’s Office, provided this statement:

“Mayor Ginther is committed to the future of mobility through the Smart Columbus initiative. He will be focusing his transportation efforts on smart logistics, expanded mobility options and an environmentally sustainable transportation system.”

The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) has been working steadily in support of the rail corridor for over three years, seeing it as a key transportation investment given the level of growth predicted for the Columbus region.

MORPC Executive Director William Murdock has reiterated that support in recent months, even as the Smart City grant win seems to have shifted priorities in Columbus away from rail and towards new technologies like driverless cars.

A statement from Murdock released by MORPC in response to the latest news on the Chicago to Columbus line indicates that that support remains, although uncertainty looms over the project given the lack of engagement from the Mayor’s office.

“On behalf of the Columbus to Chicago Passenger Rail project’s Columbus Region partners, we are pleased to express support of our Indiana and City of Lima corridor partners as they advance the Phase 1 EIS for the Chicago-Fort Wayne-Lima portion of the project,” Murdock said. “The Columbus Region’s expected growth… and maintaining our successful economic environment are at the core of our commitment to create a robust multimodal transportation system that features passenger rail service to Chicago and the communities along the way. However, we do not at this time have a timeframe on when we will be able to start a similar effort from Lima to Columbus.”

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  • Columbusite

    Once driverless technology comes online, any city will be able to use it. There is no advantage to being first by one or two years. We need to start now if we want to have high speed rail to Chicago, our region’s largest city. We need to encourage Ginther to get on board.

    • LuJohnson

      Well, old rail lines are the perfect NEW path for driver-less high speed express technology.

      Keep, or discard the rails, and put lanes either side for Personal Autonomous Vehicles and you have a win-win-win. Freight and passenger rail (as long as it will still be viable at some level) down the middle track or tracks, and personal autonomous vehicles (PAVs) on the outer. Good idea.

      In time, Freight travelling in FAVs (Freight Autonomous Vehicles) would be a very efficient way for large customers to ship regionally.

      • Bill hutchison

        Except that thousands of truckers will be out of a job.

        • MDWST

          Evolve or get left behind. I bet Blockbuster wishes they thought more about expanding their digital footprint with Netflix rather than losing jobs in their stores. Now who’s providing the jobs?

          • Currently, Netflix employs around 3,100 people.

            At its height, Blockbuster employed nearly 60,000.

            I’m all for technology and improvements to our lives, but you can’t ignore that job opportunities are lost in the process. 3.5 million semi truck drivers out of work is going to hit rural communities and small towns really hard, where it’s currently a viable way to make a decent living. It’s those people and those cities who going to be left behind. But maybe you just don’t care about those communities?

          • King Gambrinus

            I don’t think we should prevent technological progress because of potential lost jobs. As a consumer I can watch anything on Netflix, wherever I am, on practically any device with a screen, with no late fees. Netflix provides a better service than Blockbuster. It would have been a shame for someone to say no this DVD by mail (and future streaming) business is too convenient for consumers we better shut it down to protect some low paying jobs.

          • I didn’t say that technological progress should be prevented. In fact, I said I’m all for it.

            My point was that we need to take innovative steps to ensure that people and communities that are impacted by job loss have other options and alternatives, whether that’s workforce development or education/classes for other types of jobs.

            Maybe losing 57,000 Blockbuster jobs (whether low paying or not) wasn’t a big sting to the US economy, but 3.5 million truck drivers is gigantic. If you want to put your head in the sand and pretend that this won’t be a big deal because you’re not a truck driver, then I think we’re setting ourselves up for some big problems.

            Semi-related… while I personally enjoy Netflix, I feel that they’re stronger for watching TV shows and original series. Their movie selection is minuscule and constantly changing (I got a chance to have my kids watched Back to the Future Parts 1 & 2, but by the time we went to watch Part 3, it had been removed). While Blockbuster wasn’t a whole lot better in terms of selection, mom and pop video stores like Video Central in German Village had a gigantic catalogue of around 10,000 different DVDs for rent. Totally loved that place when we lived two blocks away and were in there several days a week.

            Alas, it closed due to Netflix, Redbox and other convenience-based services, and while that’s life in the way of doing business in a changing world, I think it’s worth pointing out that the replacement is convenient, it’s certainly not an apples-to-apples one.

          • King Gambrinus

            I agree the numbers are huge and likely even larger than the 3.5M when you include taxi/lyft/uber/bus drivers who are all really in the same boat. But as others have said the change won’t happen overnight. It won’t be an easy change, but it’s probably an unavoidable one with the current rate of technological progress. Maybe I’m just optimistic that people will be able to adapt. Let’s not forget that Columbus once had one of the largest buggy manufacturing industries in the country and we seem to have done OK.

          • urbanenthusiast

            Good point Walker. As much as I distain automobile pollution and think we need to figure out that equation, truck driving jobs are one of the best paying options for undereducated folks. It is one of the few jobs that pulls them up in terms of salary.

          • Truckers aren’t going to be immediately unemployed. The technology that is required is still in its infancy and from a liability standpoint, I can see insurance companies saying “yes, you need a warm body in that cab”.

            More than likely it will be things like lane keeping and obstacle avoidance that will take over trucking.

          • Bill hutchison

            That’s a pretty harsh response. Automation is becoming a very disruptive force in the economy and it will cause unrest.

    • Bill hutchison

      But, but, but…we can leapfrog light rail with the latest tech glitz!

  • DarkSkyFalcon

    “There has been no confirmation of that support from his [Coleman’s] predecessor, Andrew Ginther.” Ginther is Coleman’s successor, not predecessor.

    • Fixed! Thx!

      • jman

        Sad news here. Columbus should invest in many modes of public transit. We’re still badly lagging all of our peer cities (maybe Dayton and Toledo too
        ), and it looks like that will remain the situation.

  • JRemy

    I was also thinking we should invest in this because I for one don’t want to drive on roads with driverless cars. I seriously do not understand our infatuation with cars, especially with ones that drive themselves. Cars today are already costly enough, I can’t imagine driverless ones being any less expensive. Also, why can’t we do both, especially since we have a grant for the study of driverless cars. Does the grant require us to focus our finances on this one aspect of transportation?

  • Stu Nicholson

    Though SMART Columbus is has much good to offer, it has no element of rail-based transportation, whether light rail or intercity passenger rail: both of which move people off of the street grid. This means Columbus still adheres to a dead-end philosophy of just moving vehicles instead of employing better ways for moving people.
    By dawdling, the City of Columbus risks not only the opportunity to connect to Chicago, but it denies that opportunity to communities like Marysville and Kenton, as well as the development of business and jobs along the route at station stops. To be frank, I would have much more use for a 110-MPH train that can take me to Chicago for business or a ball game than a driverless car that I have no reason to use.

  • Bill hutchison

    “Mayor Ginther is committed to the future of mobility through the Smart Columbus
    initiative. He will be focusing his transportation efforts on smart
    logistics, expanded mobility options and an environmentally sustainable
    transportation system.”

    What does this really mean? To me, it sounds like a lot of high sounding phrases that are code for a lot of talk and not much action. For years, Columbus (and Ohio as a whole) have done the barest of minimums for public transportation: Meager support for buses; no support for any sort of rail, be it urban rail or intercity. Certainly no large scale expansion to provide mobility access for our citizens. We lag far behind other cities and I see no sign that will change anytime soon.

    Instead, we hear complaining about buses on High St or people going ga-ga over the latest technological glitz (driverless cars), which will do little to solve mobility problems. If you can’t afford to drive, are unable to drive or just don’t want to drive, the driverless car is not for you.

    • DC

      Come on! Driver-less cars are exciting- just a notch above pizza delivery in terms of real excitement!

      • Bill hutchison

        I’ll take a good pepperoni pizza!

  • Columbus is isolated from the passenger rail network in the United States. I believe that Columbus is a destination worthy of that connection. Click to add your support to the petition here if you’re interested. https://www.change.org/p/city-of-columbus-and-morpc-help-build-the-chicago-columbus-rail-line

    • DC

      Correct! With all of the growth and development going on in Columbus, one would think that passenger rail clearly figures into the equation. And although Amtrak is a dinosaur compared to systems in other countries, there is nothing better than being able to hop off in a city center and immediately begin enjoying the surroundings, walk to a hotel, check out a sporting event etc. It is sad to see that everyone but Columbus (from Tuscon, to San Antonio, Spokane, Salt Lake City, New Orleans etc) has this option. We all know that airports are inconvenient, stressful, more prone to weather-related issues, and often far removed from the city center. Even cities in poor, developing countries and regions can pull it together to build rail, but somehow Columbus cannot. It’s definitely a cultural thing, in many ways. But many do realize that no major city that is vying to position itself as a regional, national or global leader can be without rail. Please name one…

      • Bill hutchison

        It’s a paradox, really. Columbus is a mid-sized city that could really benefit from intercity rail passenger service and streetcars/light rail, but too many leaders have failed to realize this.

  • GwenHarris

    so maybe our grandchildren MIGHT see the beginning of this transit being built. Maybe. As in, it’s never going to happen at this point. Cool!

  • Matt W Oneal

    Columbus Westland and Eastland Mall are both dead for all intents and purposes. Why not redevelop those areas into terminals for this rail line. I’m sure grants or funding would be available and it would turn those areas from a blight into a productive area of Commerce. you could even pair this with an e-rail to run downtown both ends as well as a rail maybe to run out to some of the perimeter cities like London, Lancaster, Zanesville, Delaware, at cetera. The economic and job opportunities could be enormous

    • Brett Baker

      Would link a large number of communities to that failing casino as well

  • Steve Szuter

    As someone who lives in Chicago and goes back to Columbus often, I don’t think I can stress enough how perfect this would be. I am tired of the flights/security/travel to and from airports. We need a downtown to downtown and we need it yesterday! :O

    • Chas Chandler

      Love your logic Steve. We’re going to spend untold hundreds of millions of dollars on this choo choo train because you’re tired of that hour flight.

      • CB_downtowner

        The “choo choo” isn’t built just for Steve. But if it provides a convenient option that will bring more Steves to Columbus, good. I’m more intrigued at how much easier it will be for business. Commercial flights are extremely inconvenient for business travelers. And in that case, businesses are wasting money because their workers are wasting time “in the dark (no phone/internet)”

      • Bill hutchison

        I wondered how long it would be before some naysayer rolled out the tired “choo-choo” moniker.

      • Steve Szuter

        It’s funny how you don’t think we’re already spending hundreds of millions of dollars on subsidies for highways and air travel. Being tired of the 5-hours it takes for me to get door to door isn’t the only reason it would make sense. We need a full, comprehensive, multi-modal system that encourages competition (including cheaper flights). A system that encourages reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and increases productivity. It has nothing to do with me alone, but the economic regions that benefit from a better transportation option. This cute little “choo choo” will bring far more return from investment than subsidizing only roads and airlines.

        So my logic isn’t that I want to spend less time in security lines and less time cramped on a plane (I’d still much rather do it than driving), alone. It’s more so that I want the Midwest to start acting like the player it is and start investing in better, more efficient forms of travel.

  • CbusIslander

    I think Ginther is committed to a program that is currently funded federally and privately with a real timeline and is separate from this issue.

    I would like to know more details are involved through this project,
    Private / Public dollars committed currently?
    Does Chicago / Illinois have any money committed?
    Does Lima public or private have any money committed?
    What is Kenton and Marysville or any other community between Lima and Columbus reaction?
    What is Ohio’s current view of this project? (If Kasich thinks it is another 3C and tossed $400 million, there is no reason to proceed)
    What is Trump’s position of rail passenger funding (would this be backed by his administration)

    IMO, I don’t think it is the city sole responsibility to fund the lima to cbus link without some other funding support.

    • The only reason the Smart Cities program is funded federally and privately is because a team of locals rallied around the cause, came up with a solid proposal and made it happen.

      If we want to see high-speed rail to Chicago, there’s no reason local leaders cannot do the same thing. The problem is that local leaders don’t care about high-speed rail. They’re more interested in putting all of their eggs in one basket (driverless vehicles) so that Columbus can have a pilot program running 15 minutes before some other cities have it running, which in the long term won’t matter one bit.

      Pop quiz: Which city in the US was the first to have broadband internet service?

      Turn your monitor upside down for the answer, below:

      ˙sǝɹɐɔ ǝuo ou ˙ɹǝʇʇɐɯ ʇ,usǝop :ɹǝʍsuɐ

      • CbusIslander

        Can you or Ken w/ All aboard ohio answer the follow up six questions I had about this project?
        That would be greatly appreciated.

        I am sure the second leg would need 400k also. Fort Wayne (hence its investment) stands to benefit the most due to proximity to Chicago and the fact that Route 30 isn’t even an interstate connection between the cities. heck passengers might get to Chicago quicker because of that alone.

        Another follow up question, is this line heavily used by freight?

        I see the Smart city challenge as a separate issue from this all together.

        I would recommend a go fund me page or contacting the mayor’s office to get behind this project if need be.

        I personally think with Ohio’s current GOP leadership and our soon to be national leadership this rail project is facing some steep climbs.

      • hometown

        Perhaps the reason driverless cars have caught the imagination of local leaders pertains to marketing and branding. “We were the first” might be seen as more advantageous to advertising than light rail because the latter requires cooperation across a region, diluting the glory. I’d rather have seen a movement to local rail, but I seem to be in the minority in this. People must like the bumper to bumper rush hour traffic to and from Delaware, Powell and Westerville.

  • it0322

    I really want the line, but I’m afraid it won’t be worth it. I’m sure that it will be vandalized and not respected amongst the users as well. I want to see Columbus thrive, but last time I checked, we barely use public transportation in a city with only buses.

    • Vandalized by users? Can you cite any sources about this being a rampant problem with Amtrak? Never heard of this being an issue of concern.

      • it0322

        Do I need evidence to cite the truth? There’s nothing about “Amtrak” in the article?

        • Yes, citing evidence is required to prove the factual truth. I’m kind of stunned that this is something I need to explain to someone.

          Amtrak is the organization that operates our national passenger railroad system in the United States. This line would be operated by Amtrak.

  • And seeing as how there’s been so much demand for a route between Columbus and Fort Wayne that no one has seen fit to expand the four lane version of US 33 from Bellefontaine to Wapakoneta…

    • Bill hutchison

      Frankly, I’m surprised this was never done, but I suppose the reason is that there are plenty of other routes, even if they are a bit more indirect. That does not mean people would not ride the train.

      • > That does not mean people would not ride the train.

        Actually it does. If there’s demand right now, there’s going to be traffic. The problem becomes “is the pain of getting there worth making the trip?”

        For the most part, no. There are plenty of trucks that run that route now, but probably just as many who avoid it.

        • Bill hutchison

          No, it doesn’t. We have no proof of that. Train services elsewhere in sparsely populated areas have done quite well.

    • Phartus


  • combs1ng

    For everyone criticizing the self-driving cars — you are looking at it the wrong way. As far as I can tell most people in the world hear self-driving car and go “meh”, so what, but there is a much larger game at play here. The brilliance is in the technology. The cars are actually just the catalyst, a potentially profitable one but still a catalyst. The beauty comes from the computer chips and processors needed to run trillion/sec data points thus providing us with a true basis of applicable, everyday AI. I’m sure there were many people who said they did not need light bulbs when Edison came out with it but they could not see the revolution occurring because electricity would become so much more than just bulbs. Obviously there is something more at play when the likes of Google, Facebook, Apple and every other enormous tech company jumps into the Auto sector seemingly overnight. They all didn’t just begin loving automobiles for no reason. Has anyone been watching Nvidia in the stock market? They have basically the most powerful mass-produced processor in the world and its because of the new “potential” capabilities in AI that their company stock is soaring. This previously game graphics-card company is now ahead of Intel, AMD and many of the other large semiconductor behemoths in the AI and self driving space. We are on the cusp of the “light bulb”, again but try to see well beyond what these new line of AI capable processors will mean in the future. I believe Columbus is following the right path with the cars – it will bring more jobs and techies to Cbus over high speed rail, especially as time progresses. If we can be one of the pioneer cities then it could lead to a potentially higher benefit ceiling than rail ever could.

    • We’re not a “pioneer city” though. All of the innovation around this new tech started a decade (or more) ago in Silicon Valley. Tesla and Uber and Google and Amazon (and a few others) are the innovators. Columbus will get to serve as a test market 15 minutes earlier than some other cities, but we’re not alone in that regard either. Boston and Phoenix and Pittsburgh and DC and even ANN ARBOR are also test cities for this new tech.

      So, once the test is complete and the tech is wide-spread it will become a part of daily life and the fact that we had it 15 minutes early won’t matter one bit.

      If it brings a few new jobs to the region, that’s great, but don’t set your expectations on Tesla opening a Columbus branch HQ with 5,000 new high tech jobs. And don’t forget that everyone currently driving an Uber and making some extra money will soon be out those jobs as well. Uber is working to get rid of drivers as quickly as possible so they can start turning a profit and stop bleeding money.

      Columbus doesn’t need high speed rail to be innovative. We need it as basic infrastructure so we can start to catch up with the rest of the country. At this point it’s more akin to building sidewalks in a neighborhood that doesn’t have sidewalks. You’re not doing it for the fame and glory of pioneering new sidewalk technology. You’re doing it because it’s a basic service for your population in a region of two million people where basic services are expected.

      • combs1ng

        I agree with most of what you say Walker but that still does not justify the spend for rail. Columbus’ traffic just isn’t that bad to justify the cost of implementing rail even though I think it would add to the romanticised vision many of us share.

    • Bill hutchison

      Columbus will not benefit more than any other community the minute driverless cars go into general use. Meanwhile, we still will have no real alternative to concrete. We need a fully balanced transportation portfolio, not a fixation on tech glitz.

      • combs1ng

        High speed rail could be considered expensive tech glitz

        • Bill hutchison

          Maybe in Columbus or Ohio, but not elsewhere in the world.

  • SSBucks

    Infrastructure is one of the few things our tax dollars actually SHOULD be used for.

  • Here’s the part I don’t get.

    A standard train is only going to run a few times a day. A high speed train “maybe” six to seven.

    A car can run 24×7. So can a plane and….a Hyperloop.

    • Planes don’t run 24/7. You have to plan your trip around plane schedules, with many destinations from Columbus only running a few times per day, just like a train would.

      So, according to your argument of car superiority, we should get rid of our airport.

  • JDS

    I love my old hometown, however it is just behind the times.
    Passenger Rail died when the Old Union Station was torn down and Amtrak stopped service to Columbus. The only viable commuter rail is in the Northeast corridor and I believe out in California.

  • J P

    Door to door air takes 5 hrs, driving 7 hrs and train about 9 hrs. Air and train require commuting, parking, shuttle, checkin, security, waiting and the reverse on arrival.
    Rail makes NO sense… air with the higher cost and hassle makes no sense for me for a 2 hour savings.

    • CB_downtowner

      It makes plenty of sense for business travel. 5-7 hours is a lot of time to spend dark on wifi/phone and both driving/flying are exhausting, which accounts for some of the remaining difference. I would gladly take the long option in many cases if it was cheaper and gave me more time to read or do something on my laptop and less time running around aimlessly. Plus, I would hope this opens up opportunities for additional rail.

      • J P

        MY tax dollars so you can read and update Facebook?

        • Bill hutchison

          Your tax dollars support every other form of transportation. Rail is no different.

  • Christopher Abnett

    I’ll jump on this Bandwagon.. Chicago is a vacation / hangout destination for me.. as of now I can make the drive then pay $40 a night or more to park my car in a garage, or I can book a flight then spend hoursi n the airport waiting and then often end up delayed, and then get to chicago where i take a train downtown.. I would USE this 110 MPH rail service.. for one, my work goes wherever i have a macbook pro and an internet connection.. so alas I could simply sit on the train in comfort and work away while I travelled to chicago…

  • lbl

    unfortunately, Ohio will most likely never allocate funding for wide-spread passenger rail. IF Columbus ever gets any kind of rail, it makes sense to start with an Airport connector. then the business community can see how popular it is and be brought on board as corporate sponsors of additional routes. as much as we the people may want it, the reality has been set for decades.

    we are eternally stuck with spending billions on interstate infrastructure and next to zero (state / local funding) on passenger rail. the leadership mindset just does not see the mass-transit benefit payoff.

  • it0322

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