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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Study predicts nearly 500,000 Ohio rail riders

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As the deadline to apply for a piece of $8 billion in stimulus funding for passenger rail service approaches, Ohio officials have cleared a major hurdle with the delivery of a ridership study that projects annual demand for rail service at nearly half a million Ohioans, the Dayton Business Journal reported.

Amtrak sent copies of a draft report to the Ohio Department of Transportation and its Ohio Rail Development Commission. ODOT said the report will be part of an application for between $250 million and $400 million in stimulus funding that will be submitted before an Oct. 2 deadline. Ohio is looking to build a "3C" passenger rail system that would run from Cincinnati to Cleveland through Dayton and Columbus. That rail system would be tied into the Chicago Hub Network, which connects with Toledo, Louisville, Ky., and Indianapolis and would serve as a gateway to the western U.S.

Amtrak in the study of Ohio's proposed 255-mile corridor says about 478,000 passengers would use the service annually if such a system were up and running this year. The company cites a heavy concentration of colleges along the corridor as a "major component for success."

Annual revenue from the service, including ticket sales, is projected at $12 million annually based on the initial ridership projection. The annual cost to run the system is projected at $29.2 million, with Amtrak recommending a state subsidy of $17 million.

Getting the rail system up and running likely will mean about $343 million in infrastructure, track and signal upgrades and maintenance facilities and about $175 million for five train sets, meaning a potential total investment north of $500 million. Amtrak in the report cautioned that railroad operators in the state haven't yet agreed to host passenger service, though talks are ongoing.

Amtrak in the report singled out Columbus as an extremely complex segment of the route, with some of the highest rail traffic congestion in Ohio. As a result, a big challenge for the city likely will be maintaining the flow of freight traffic upon adding passenger service. The city has proposed new tracks and platforms beneath the Greater Columbus Convention Center, the company said.

Amtrak is expected to accept changes and revisions to the study and submit a final report this year.

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