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Monday, February 22, 2010

Lorain, Ohio, contemplating adding trolley system

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The time could be ripe to attract federal money for a trolley system connecting downtown Lorain, Ohio, with other parts of the community, supporters of Lorain Street Railway said, the Morning Journal reports. 

On Feb. 22, Lorain City Council committees will consider a presentation from Dennis Lamont, president of Lorain Street Railway, which advocates the streetcar system.

Not only would trolleys provide transportation, they would provide jobs as well, Lamont said. Lorain's heavy industrial heritage, factories and workers would be a good fit for restoring trolley cars for light rail networks around the country, he said.

"It sounds like a little touristy, gimmicky thing, but there's jobs available," Lamont said. "We have the skill sets."

In 2006, local leaders drew attention to the streetcars when they hosted representatives from the city of Kenosha, Wis., a city that gained success with its own trolleys.

 Since then, the Lorain Street Railway and Lorain Port Authority have sought state and federal funding to jumpstart the project. 

The trolley network in Lorain would take an estimated $7 million to build over two years. Once operational, the streetcars could create up to 64 operational jobs, Lamont said.

Meanwhile, workers could train to set up a shop restoring older railcars from around the country, he said.

 Lorain's steel mill would be an ideal factory for railcar restoration because of its heavy equipment already in place, said Rick Novak, executive director at the Lorain Port Authority, a longtime trolley supporter.

 Outside Ohio, light rail projects are growing, but new rail cars can cost up to $6 million. Restoration of an older car that is not handicap-accessible can cost $500,000, but that is a bargain when compared to new ones, Lamont said. He acknowledged his ideas already are in place and working in other cities around the country.

With the country in economic recession, rail also has become a hot topic among infrastructure improvement and job creation programs.

 Last month, the Federal Railroad Administration announced $400 million to create passenger rail between Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and Cincinnati. For freight rail transit, the U.S. Department of Transportation this week announced Ohio and three other states will receive $98 million to improve railroads to allow trains to carry double-stacked containers, increase freight capacity and make the CSX Transportation rail corridor more marketable to major East Coast ports.

Lamont hopes to round up city and regional support for the smaller-scale streetcar project, which also could be eligible for federal economic stimulus money, Novak said.

"We've dutifully been submitting the applications for a number of years now," Novak said about federal rail and transit programs. "Unfortunately, there's just so much money out there, but we're going to keep trying and we'll get there."

A Lorain trolley loop could be based at the Black River Landing station and stretch along Lorain's linear downtown, from City Hall to West 21st Street, Lamont and Novak said. A southerly route could connect the line to the Amtrak station in Elyria and run near Lorain County Community College.

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