Lima passenger rail route wins planning funds

LIMA — It has been the subject of speculation for years, but when it comes to the prospect of passenger rail service in Lima returning for the first time since 1990, there may be a train light at the end of the tunnel.

That light came Tuesday in the form of an announcement from the office of U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown outlining the selection of four Ohio passenger rail routes to receive funding for the planning stages of hopeful Amtrak expansion. One of the routes would run from Chicago to Fort Wayne, Indiana, to Columbus and ending in Pittsburgh. Other Ohio stops on this route would include Lima, Kenton, Marysville, Newark, Coshocton, Newcomerstown, Uhrichsville and Steubenville. According to the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, this rail line would link a total of population of 14.7 million people along that route.

The selection of these four routes also comes with a $500,000 grant per route from the Federal Railroad Administration under the administration’s Corridor Identification program for the first phase of planning.

“Today’s announcement is a great first step toward expanding Amtrak in Ohio,” Brown said in a statement. “Good Amtrak service shouldn’t be a privilege only for people on the coasts. These new routes would expand opportunity, help grow businesses and create jobs and connect communities in Ohio and across the Midwest.”

The other three routes included were Cleveland-Columbus-Dayton-Cincinnati, known as the “3C+D” corridor, a Cleveland-Toledo-Detroit route, and the increase of Amtrak’s current Cardinal route, which includes a stop in Cincinnati, from three days a week to every day.

The city of Lima has been working with other cities along the planned route for years to get funding for passenger rail, with the city of Fort Wayne and the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission taking the lead in advocating for the route along with the Northern Indiana Passenger Rail Association. Efforts in this area go back years, with a memorandum of agreement calling for this route signed back in 2014 by the mayors of multiple cities along the proposed route, including former Lima Mayor David Berger. Curent Lima Mayor Sharetta Smith submitted a new application in March 2023 which helped spark the project.

“Advocating for passenger rail to return to the Lima region is just one of the foundational needs for Lima that I picked up from [Berger] and have continued to prioritize,” Smith said in a statement. “The grant will enable Lima to take significant strides toward improving connectivity, transportation and efficient and sustainable travel options.”

Berger also issued a statement lauding the announcement.

“The City of Lima worked to prevent the loss of Amtrak service back in 1990, and we’ve continued to work diligently since to re-establish passenger rail for our community,” he said. “This is truly terrific news for Lima and for the region.”

This grant award also gives the four selected routes priority in future funding competitions for related capital construction projects, according to Brown’s office. The 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act provides $2.4 billion per year through fiscal year 2026 for this program, and each corridor can also apply for assistance from other federal programs, Brown’s office said.

Smith said the designation will help Lima skip some processes and help with the return of the route.

Reach Craig Kelly at 567-242-0391.