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Published: Wednesday, 12/11/2002

Amtrak to trim Toledo service

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Amtrak's Pennsylvanian train through Toledo has lived by the boxcar, and next month it will die by the boxcar.

Effective Jan. 27, a railroad spokesman said yesterday, the Pennsylvanian will revert to a New York-Pittsburgh schedule, after a little more than four years as a Philadelphia-Chicago train with stops in Sandusky and Toledo along the way.

The train's cancellation ends daytime service between Toledo and such eastern destinations as Cleveland and Pittsburgh that was much celebrated when it began in November, 1998.

Area passenger-train advocates hoped at the time that the new train heralded a future of trains available in Toledo at several times throughout the day, not just the overnight hours that have typified Amtrak's Ohio schedules during its 30-plus years of operation.

For Amtrak, however, express freight shipments riding in boxcars behind the train's three or four passenger cars were the main reason for the Pennsylvanian's extension to Chicago. Amtrak President David Gunn, in office since mid-May, decided several months later to eliminate express freight, which never became the profit generator previous Amtrak managers had predicted.

“The growth has not materialized, and the train schedule we had to implement [to handle express freight] impaired the train's performance,'' Kathleen Cantillon, an Amtrak spokesman in Chicago, said yesterday.

Indeed, while Pennsylvanian ridership declined after the train's extension, the supposed convenience of daytime service never translated into brisk business in Ohio.

One morning last week, only two people boarded the eastbound Pennsylvanian at Toledo, and none got off the train that had left Chicago at 1 a.m. One of the boarding passengers, Camden, N.J., resident Harold Monroe, said he had taken the train to Toledo to visit his sister because it was preferable to riding the bus.

But Mr. Monroe said he takes the train “maybe once a year,” and his sister, Julie Watts of Lambertville, said she couldn't remember the last time she had ridden a train. “We drive everywhere,” she said.

“I don't think [the train] was part of people's culture. We're an automobile culture,” said Robert Greenlese, director of surface transportation and logistics for the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority.

Slow schedules and erratic on-time performance didn't help either, Mr. Greenlese said.

Two daily Amtrak trains in each direction between Chicago and the East Coast - the Lake Shore Limited serving Boston and New York City and the Capitol Limited serving Washington - will continue to stop in Toledo. All four stops are scheduled between midnight and 5 a.m. Amtrak also operates the Three Rivers train along a Chicago-New York route that includes Fostoria; stops there are during the wee hours too.

Mr. Greenlese and Jim Seney, the executive director of the Ohio Rail Development Commission, both said they have heard that there are other changes in the works that would make the remaining trains' schedules more appealing to northwest Ohio riders.

Bill Gill, a Toledoan who is the northwest Ohio regional coordinator for the Ohio Association of Railroad Passengers, said he too hopes more positive developments will follow the Pennsylvanian's retreat.

Ms. Cantillon confirmed that other schedule adjustments are being considered, but would not occur right away. Amtrak normally makes major schedule changes in October and April, in concert with the seasonal transitions between Standard Time and Daylight Saving Time.

As to the adequacy of Amtrak's current Toledo schedule, Ms. Cantillon said: “We need to think about the ridership on the entire train. The service is not ideal for every city on the route.”

Mr. Seney said he has become sufficiently frustrated with Amtrak's nocturnal trains that he recently withdrew a resolution endorsing Amtrak that he had proposed to the Ohio legislature “It's very clear, under present conditions, that Amtrak's service to Ohio is irrelevant,” he said.



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