Rail Advocate Optimistic About Columbus to Chicago High Speed Line
Since a proposal for high-speed passenger rail from Columbus to Chicago was first unveiled last summer, interest in the idea has been strong. Mayor Coleman’s office called the idea “promising,” local advocacy group Transit Columbus saw an outpouring of support on social media, and the Mid Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) has since said that they are committed to exploring the feasibility of the concept.
Fred Lanahan, President of the Northeast Indiana Passenger Rail Association – the organization that spearheaded the original study – will be speaking at All Aboard Ohio’s annual meeting on May 17 in Gahanna. We reached out to Lanahan to see if he could provide some background on the proposal, the role that different stakeholders are playing in the effort, and his thoughts on the next steps needed to take the idea from dream to reality.
Q: This proposal seemed to really stem from the work of advocates in Fort Wayne – can you give some background as to how the idea started?
A: As a condition of eventual support from the State of Indiana, INDOT insisted on a “business plan” that would support a Fort Wayne to Chicago passenger rail corridor. Fort Wayne to Chicago, standing alone, does not have “independent utility” as the Federal Railroad Administration defines that term. Therefore, the corridor needed to be extended into Ohio for planning purposes.
The opportunity to participate in the Feasibility Study was offered to Toledo as well as to Lima and Columbus. At that time (2012), Lima and Columbus accepted and became participants in and contributors to the study. Mayor Berger in Lima has been a long-time supporter of a rail connection to his city.
Columbus was attractive as the eastern terminus of the corridor for several reasons:
- The Ohio Hub Plan, completed in the mid-2000’s by the Ohio Rail Development Commission, foresaw regional connections from Columbus to Chicago through Fort Wayne; and to Pittsburgh via Newark, Coshocton, and Steubenville.
- Columbus is the largest city in Ohio, and the largest city in the U.S. not served by any form of passenger rail.
- Columbus also has a major regional airport that could become the eastern terminus of the passenger rail line.
Q: What has been the response from the different cities on the route?
A: All of the cities identified as stations in the Feasibility Study/Business Plan are engaged as partners in preparation for the next phase of pre-development, which is the “Tier One” Environmental Impact Study. In addition, several of the counties are also participating (Allen Co, IN; Kosciusko Co, IN; Porter Co, IN) as well as business and industry groups such as OrthoWorx, Inc. in Warsaw.
Most encouraging so far has been the engagement of the colleges and universities. Grace College & Seminary in Winona Lake, IN; Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne, and Valparaiso University in Valparaiso have just made their commitments. There are over 140 colleges and universities along the Columbus to Chicago corridor with over 896,000 students.
Q: The next step is the Tier One Environmental Impact Study, are you optimistic that the funds will be raised to complete it?
A: Yes, we are optimistic that the necessary funds will be raised for the Tier I EIS study for this passenger rail project. The Indiana partners have taken the lead in fund raising, but the Ohio partners are now engaged and catching up in pursuit of funds for their portion of the Chicago-Fort Wayne-Columbus passenger rail project. We expect that funds and commitments for funds will be in place to launch the Tier I study by late summer to early fall 2014.
More information about the May 17th meeting is available at www.allaboardohio.org.
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