COLUMBUS - At the request of Gov. Ted Strickland, the nation's passenger rail operator is looking at restoring lines to Ohio cities that have been without them for decades.
The governor asked Amtrak in a Feb. 26 letter to evaluate how practical it would be to restore a passenger rail line to Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati, with stops in other cities along the route.
Mr. Strickland wants Amtrak to work with the Ohio Rail Development Commission on the study, he said yesterday, and a commission spokesman said it should be completed within 18 months.
The governor said adding passenger service would help Ohio's cities create jobs and attract new business.
"Investment in a rail transportation system that links metropolitan areas with passenger rail service, while improving freight commerce, would represent one such [development] tool," Mr. Strickland wrote.
Passenger lines once were a major transportation source in Ohio but fell out of favor because of the rise in air travel and the opening of interstate highways.
Amtrak is using $300,000 in federal grant money funneled through the Ohio Department of Transportation to determine the cost of restoring service.
The state has studied the issue many times, most recently in 2000, when a study concluded that interest in rail service would draw an estimated 89,000 passengers a year.
But times have changed, with the price of gasoline double what it was then and highways getting more congested, and interest has been renewed, rail commission spokesman Stu Nicholson said.
"The object of the study is what does it take to get this done, not just look at the corridor, but to sit down with the freight railroads," Mr. Nicholson said.
If the study determines that cost would not be prohibitive, the state could have passenger trains running within four years.
The only trains offering passenger services to Ohioans originate in New York, Pittsburgh, and Washington. All have Chicago as the ultimate destination. Two trains have stops along Lake Erie and the Washington-Chicago train has a stop in Cincinnati.
Columbus is the second-largest market, behind Phoenix, without passenger service.
If Americans relied more on public transportation, including rail, they would save money, make the air cleaner, and reduce their reliance on foreign oil, said Morgan Keenan, a consumer rights advocate for the nonprofit Ohio Public Interest Research Group.
Instead of spending billions of dollars building highways, the government should put some of the money into public transportation and reward consumers for using less gasoline, Mr. Keenan said. The more travelers know about public transportation, the more they will support it, he said.39.96196 -83.00298