COLUMBUS — With details such as funding and logistics unknown, politicians remained divided about support for an Amtrak expansion in Ohio.
“I think we have to know more. We have to know what the state’s involvement would be. We have to know what the cost to the state would be,” said Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine on Thursday when asked about his support for the expansion. “I have to reserve judgment until we get more information about it. We’re much too early to make any kind of judgment on that.”
If the expansion does go through, it would be the first time Columbus would have access to a conventional passenger rail line since 1979.
DeWine’s predecessor, John Kasich, turned down $400 million in federal funds for a high-speed passenger rail project during the Obama administration in 2010. Kasich returned the money, saying it should go to reduce the federal deficit.
DeWine previously supported passenger rail projects when he worked as a U.S. senator. He co-sponsored the Passenger Rail Investment & Improvement Act of 2005.
Experts say passenger rail could return to central Ohio in as little as five years, but for that to happen, President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure plan would have to garner enough political support. Amtrak is asking for $80 billion to expand service throughout the country by adding 30 routes, including the one through Columbus, and an estimated 20 million commuters by 2035.
“This is just not the reality of how the overwhelming majority of Ohioans get around. This proposal is out-of-touch and is reflected in Amtrak’s ongoing struggle to attract both riders and revenue,” Rep. Troy Balderson, R-Zanesville told The Dispatch.
“Before the pandemic hit, Congress spent less than $2 billion per year on Amtrak. Now, President Biden’s “infrastructure” proposal is calling on $80 billion for Amtrak, without any type of plan to ensure it will ever be profitable. Instead, let’s get serious about roads, bridges, water, and sewer upgrades which are all crumbling before our very eyes.”
Sen. Sherrod Brown D-Cleveland, said he would work to build support for Amtrak’s buildout in Ohio and across the country.
“As we work on the American Jobs Plan to invest in Ohio infrastructure, I’ll be advocating for Amtrak service in Columbus and across the state,” he said in a statement to The Dispatch. “There’s no reason train service should be confined to the coasts, when we know that new transportation infrastructure leads to more economic growth and more jobs.”
If the expansion happens, a “three-C” corridor would be formed with routes running between Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland.
Columbus is the second largest city in the nation by population without rail service behind Phoenix.
Emmalee Cioffi, a spokeswoman for Sen. Rob Portman, R-Cincinnati, issued a statement on the senator’s behalf: “Rob agrees that we must invest more in our nation’s infrastructure, including modernizing our roads, bridges, transit and much more. He is committed to working in a bipartisan way on a responsible infrastructure package, and hopes the new administration will do so as well.”
However, she would not specify if Portman supported Amtrak’s ambitious plan.