LIMA — Aiming to build a business case for the return of passenger rail service, an Indiana group has raised $80,000 to finance a feasibility study that will include an evaluation of a potential line from Fort Wayne, Ind., to Columbus running through Lima.
The Northeast Indiana Passenger Rail Association made the announcement Thursday for the study that will look at establishing both the Columbus line as well as a line from Fort Wayne to Chicago. Geoff Paddock, a Fort Wayne councilman and board member for the rail association, said the goal is to have the study completed by the end of the year.
“Our hope is this would be a business plan that would show some strong economic development data,” Paddock said. “Our hope is that it would give us a road map to show how investment in passenger rail service will create jobs and economic activity throughout Indiana and Ohio and the entire Midwest.”
Paddock said the study is the first step in trying to convince state officials in both states to commit funds that could eventually leverage federal dollars through the Federal Railroad Administration to make passenger rail a reality in the region once again.
“Those areas of the country that are receiving federal funds for upgrades have completed feasibility studies and have gone to the next step and that is applying for funding through the Federal Railroad Administration,” Paddock said. “This is an important step, completing a feasibility study, to show the FRA we are very interested in being perhaps the next priority. I think Fort Wayne and Lima and Columbus are in a good position because there’s more interest in getting more direct service to Chicago from cities 150 to 250 miles away which is where we think most of the ridership would be.”
Paddock said upgrades are currently underway for lines from Chicago to Milwaukee, Chicago to St. Louis and Chicago to Detroit. Chicago to Fort Wayne, Lima, Columbus and eventually Pittsburgh makes sense, he said.
The City of Lima and the Lima Community Foundation each donated $2,500 to help fund the study because of the potential impact locally, Lima Mayor David Berger said.
“We lost passenger rail service in 1990. Fort Wayne and Lima have been working to get it reestablished ever since then. The opportunity to try to do so with high speed rail is something we’ve been very interested in for a long time. I’m applauding the leadership of the folks in Indiana for actually bringing this about, and we’re glad to participate with them.
“We think it would be a huge benefit for our community but also for the region,” Berger said. “We know from prior work that was done by the Ohio Rail Development Commission that a line through our community would provide enormous benefit to the entire state.”
Berger said initially rail planners were looking at developing two new passenger lines in Ohio — a northern route through Toledo, Cleveland and on to Toronto and another through Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and Cincinnati. When studies were done looking at a third line, from Fort Wayne through Lima to Columbus, officials realized the third line would be the biggest contributor to ridership through the entire system, Berger said.
“I’m not going to predict what would be of interest to decision-makers in Columbus,” Berger said. “I do believe at the local level we can and should be continuing to explore these options, continuing to interact with all parties in order to ultimately develop a system that serves our communities and the states.”