3C Rail Plan – Worth Saving?
Last year, many Ohioans (especially students, urban dwellers and young professionals) cheered loudly when it was announced that Ohio would receive $400 million to modify and improve freight rail tracks to accommodate a new passenger rail system called 3C which would connect Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and Cincinnati. Of course, Daytonians were a bit put off by the obvious exclusion of a “D” in the name, but the thought of passenger rail becoming a reality was enough to offset any hard feelings. Proponents point to the ability to work, read or relax while commuting that would be a huge plus with the many who currently drive between cities for work, and that with rising gas prices it would eventually be cheaper than driving. They argue that the necessary operating subsidies pale in comparison to the amount of public money poured in our roads and highways every year (which incidentally played a significant role in killing trains the first time). They claim that 3C would put Ohio in the 21st century and connect it with neighboring states (many with their own passenger rail plans). And they point to the opportunities for economic development that would likely occur near the proposed train stations – most being in struggling urban cores like Dayton. According to the 3C is ME section of the official ODOT website (obviously taking a pro-side), the train would reach speeds of 79 mph and also act as a boost for jobs and economic development:
- Ohio’s $400 million investment will result in 255 immediate construction jobs over a two-year period
- Well-studied U.S. Department of Commerce data also predicts the $400 million investment will create approximately 8,000 indirect and spin-off jobs in Ohio
Of course, that was before last Tuesday when Governor Ted Strickland (a champion for 3C) was defeated in his first
re-election bid by staunch conservative John Kasich. Kasich made no bones about his feelings against 3C during his campaign, and predictably and abruptly announced within hours of his win that “passenger rail in Ohio was dead”. He, along with many of his fellow conservatives across the state, insist that Ohio does not have the density necessary for passenger rail to make sense, and more importantly – Ohio cannot afford the estimated $17 million annual subsidy to keep the system running after it is built despite the once-in-a-lifetime federal grant of $400 million. Others against the rail plan claim that it will not be fast enough to compete with automobiles as a viable inter-city transportation option and will not have schedules that accommodate most peoples’ needs. They point out that added to the cost of transportation from train stations to final destinations (made more challenging by decades of sprawl patterns in Ohio cities), passenger rail will not be cost-competitive with simply driving. Not to mention that many if not most Ohians will rarely find a need to use the rail system anyway.
In DaytonMostMetro.com’s first debate column, we’ve invited Shanon Potts and Teri Lussier to share their opposing views on this hot local topic, which can be read by clicking on the tabs at the top of this story. We hope that this is the first of many op-eds about local issues to be featured here, and we invite you all to chime in with your own opinions in our comment section.
Hearing of plans to connect Ohio’s major cities with passenger rail service made me want to dance and sing, “Come on, ride the train, hey, ride it, woo woo!” High-speed rail is a key transportation component in the world’s developed countries and failure to make proper investments in a passenger rail system now is a mistake. Unfortunately, Ohio’s Governor-elect, John Kasich, recently proclaimed the train dead, stating, “Passenger rail is not in Ohio’s future.”
Young adults favor transportation choice now more than ever. Probably not unlike many other children of the eighties who grew up in small Midwestern towns, I was not aware of transportation alternatives. Amish traveled by
horse and buggy, only conductors rode trains, and everyone else traveled on roads in automobiles. Roads unfriendly to pedestrians and cyclists. I first learned of Amtrak from students from other countries while studying
abroad. Despite growing up with a narrow view of transportation, it is a mindset that can be overcome through education and life experiences, or simply a more open and creative mind.
Unfortunately passenger rail was dead in this state well before many of us (young adults) were born. Eighty years ago we had an extensive rail network. It was privately owned and operated and tax paying. In the name of national defense and security, the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 was signed into law. It was the beginning of the end for passenger
rail. Governments began subsidizing highways and roads by the billions while at the same time forcing rail out of business. Now the cost of some highways and roads are covered by taxes and tolls. Investment in highways, roads and bridges continue, mostly to the exclusion of all other forms of transportation.
Passenger rail failed because our government got in the business of subsidizing highways and roads. The possible unintended consequence was flight from cities as policy began to favor transportation by automobile over all other forms of transportation. There is no better time than now to level the playing field to restore prosperity, investment and business growth to Ohio’s largest cities and to allow all Ohioans to reap the rewards. It is time to move Ohio forward into the 21st Century by laying the necessary foundation for modern, high-speed passenger rail service.
The cost seems so little for all that we stand to gain. Investment in the infrastructure for high-speed passenger rail equals job creation and economic growth. An estimated 255 new jobs will be created over the first two years. The United States Department of Commerce predicts an additional 8,000 jobs from organic growth and an $18 million economic impact on the Dayton Region. The cost that opponents are whining about subsidizing amounts to $1.50 per year for taxpayers and only 0.005 of our state’s transportation budget.
Failure to invest now will cost more in the long run. The State of Ohio competed against other states and received a $400 million dollar award to upgrade freight rail and to build a passenger rail system. In letters dated
November 8, 2010, Governor-elect Kasich asked Governor Strickland to terminate all contracts relating to his passenger rail program, and he informed President Obama that he would terminate all work on Ohio’s
passenger rail program. What Ohio stands to lose, another state stands to gain. In a November 5th letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, New York Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo volunteered to accept Ohio’s
$400 million award in anticipation of the position Governor-elect Kasich would take in order to create jobs for New Yorkers and to stimulate economic growth in upstate New York.
It is not only about the missed opportunity to create jobs or economic growth or the loss of $400 million to another state. As an advocate for young professionals in Dayton and Ohio, the worst pain is the thought of Ohio being left behind as other states advance further into the 21st Century.
Seventy three percent of Ohioans between ages 18 and 34 support passenger rail in Ohio. This support for passenger rail is evident in my own home and amongst young adults I talk with. My husband and I looked forward to reading a book or working on a laptop while traveling to Columbus from Dayton and back to visit family. Despite our concerns over slower speeds up front, we deemed it worth the investment over the long-term. Even if it took a little longer to reach our end destination, we would value our spare time. A young man opposing my viewpoint on rail changed his tune as he imagined taking the train from Dayton to Cincinnati for concerts or to watch professional sports teams while enjoying a few adult beverages.
Unfortunately, voter turnout among young adults ages 18-29 was especially low this year. Young adults who choose not to vote seem to fail to realize the role political policy and decision-making plays in their future, or are disenfranchised by the political scene. Regardless, more than 220,000 students are within less than 10 miles of the proposed train stations that compose the Ohio Hub. Young talent attraction and retention, also known as the brain drain, has been and still is an issue for Ohio. It would be nice if transportation policy reflected a desire to solve this issue.
As young adults we are advised to save and invest in our retirement despite other expenses in our lives, such as substantial student loan repayments. While we pay down our debts we still invest to secure our future. Similarly Governor-elect Kasich should at least consider investing in high-speed passenger rail infrastructure for our future, despite the budget shortfall he so desperately seeks to balance. It is time for Ohio to end its monogamous love affair with highways, roads, bridges and automobiles, enter into the 21st Century, and “Come on, ride the train, hey, ride it, woo woo!”
What is it that makes passenger rail so much sexier than cars? Trains have appeal, nostalgia, I keep hearing they are better for the environment, and besides all that, two words: Cary Grant. Trains? Oh yes. Every day of the week and twice on Sunday! The emotional appeal of the 3c Passenger Rail is strong, then. Undeniable. I don’t know a single person who wouldn’t want a clean, efficient, uber-sexy, train in their city to travel hither and yon. What kind of people are they that would willing force an end to a passenger rail? Neanderthals, no doubt. Uninformed, unimaginative, cretins? People who are secretly jealous of Cary Grant? How about “pragmatic”.
When I agreed to write this, I had to do my research. I didn’t realize the facts were so definitive against it, because I like the idea of passenger rail service in Ohio, but that’s just it- I like the idea of it. The trouble is that I can’t find a study that shows passenger rails in the United States are solvent. They could be, some day, maybe, depending. From Cleveland.com:
“Illinois — which has a similar population density to Ohio — paid $12 million a year in operating costs to its Amtrak regional services until 2006 when the state’s four regional rail lines were greatly expanded.
George Weber, bureau chief for Illinois state’s bureau of railroads, estimated that since adding seven state-sponsored trains a day to the four that were running, the state is seeing about 10 to 15 percent more riders per train.
“When you start increasing the frequency, you definitely begin to see the ridership curve start to rise,” he said.
Weber said the state subsidy of the four rail lines rose to $28 million a year, but could dip this year depending on the cost of fuel.”
The fact is that I cannot find any solid, measurable, definitive benefits of passenger rails for the vast majority of citizens, except for the warm and fuzzy emotional benefits: “We like it.” and “Europe has them.” However, I did find plenty of solid reasons not to build this. Here. And here. And here. And as much as a train ride with Cary Grant might give me a thrill… Hmmm. Not only am I happily married, but facts is facts.
“Let’s have a true accounting, of what the problem is here. Let’s put the money in that.” –Charlie LeDuff