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Ohio High Speed Passenger Rail Plan Depends on Columbus for Approval

By Eric Vantiegham on 06/12/2017

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Will Columbus residents finally see passenger rail service connect their Midwestern hub to nearby Chicago?

After years of empty promises, the 850,000 residents of Columbus may finally gain access to a passenger rail system. Ohio’s capital is considering a nascent plan to build a high-speed rail track between the Buckeye state capitol and Chicago. The city’s mayor has yet to fully endorse the plan, but if completed, the train will carry passengers between Columbus and Chicago in under four hours, hitting top speeds of 110 mph.

Laying the Groundwork

Although the railway is still in a preliminary planning stage, the initial blueprints envision high-speed rail running between the two metro areas, with stops in Fort Wayne, Lima, Marysville, and other points in Ohio, according to the Columbus Dispatch.

Late in 2016, the Federal Railroad Administration green-lit a $350,000 preliminary engineering and environmental impact study focused on the proposed stretch of rail between Chicago, Fort Wayne, and Lima. The study is expected to be completed sometime in the fall.

Much of the funding for the preliminary study came from cities and companies that stand to benefit from the rail project, as Lima mayor David Berger raised $58,000 from businesses throughout his city. A strong proponent of the plan and passenger rail in general, Berger nevertheless stressed that the study merely marks the first step in the process and doesn’t indicate full approval for either the route or the project (which, according to one estimate, would cost $1.3 billion all-in).

The Missing Links

WCMH-TV reports that the city of Columbus was conspicuously absent from the study’s scope, mostly likely because Mayor Andrew J. Ginther has not committed to funding a similar impact study to cover the proposed stretch of rail between his city and Berger’s.

When asked about the study, a spokesperson for Ginther told the Dispatch that the Mayor supports making Columbus a testing ground for innovative transportation technology, as evidenced by the $50 million Smart Columbus internal mobility initiative for self-driving vehicles.

“That is where our immediate focus is,” Spokesperson Robin Davis said. “We’re not ruling anything out. Our focus is transportation in Columbus and a smart mobility system that can grow into the future.”

Questions about the final cost and the railway’s ability to attract enough riders further cloud the plan’s future. “They never come in on budget, they’re always over budget, and the other problem is, once they finally come in, they don’t typically move the number of people they were projected to move,” the Buckeye Institute’s Greg Lawson told WCMH-TV.

Rail advocates counter that Columbus cannot continue to serve as the largest metro region in the country without passenger rail service, which they see as vital to the area’s economic development.

“It opens up opportunities that we don't currently have,” Director of the Union County-Marysville Economic Development Office Eric Phillips told the Columbus Dispatch. "Having options for transportation is key."

And by starting the process now, the region signals its readiness to acquire federal funding when it becomes available. “These projects take a lot of work and study and collaboration and planning to pull them off," noted Executive Director of the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission William Murdock. "We want to be ready if there's an opportunity to fund it.”

Passenger Rail on the Move

If and when the Columbus-to-Chicago high-speed rail is built, passengers will expect to be transported to their destination in a timely fashion regardless of inclement weather. Fortunately, when snow or ice form on railways, rail operators can turn to Midwest Industrial Supply, Inc. to keep trains running on time.

Midwest’s Glidex and Glidex MC keep switches lubricated, last longer than graphite, and prevent delays and accidents without the need for repeated applications. They withstand the elements, resist wash-off, won’t pack and harden, and do not attract dirt and sand.

In the wintery Columbus-to-Chicago corridor, Midwest’s suite of patented deicing and anti-icing products will help trains like these speed uninhibited to their destination, even in the harshest conditions. For instance, Ice Free Switch® prevents ice buildup on switches and vertical surfaces with an environmentally safe, non-corrosive liquid solution can be applied in temperatures as low as -70 degrees Fahrenheit. For every rail operator’s track and switch maintenance needs, Midwest is ready to help.

About Author

Eric Vantiegham

Written by Eric Vantiegham

Eric Vantiegham is the Rail & Transit Specialist at Midwest Industrial Supply

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