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Published: Monday, 10/22/2012 - Updated: 1 year ago

Amtrak board chief makes Toledo stop for speech at forum

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The chairman of Amtrak’s Board of Directors will be the featured speaker at a passenger-rail forum scheduled today at the Toledo Club.

Thomas Carper, appointed to the Amtrak board in 2008 by President George W. Bush and its chairman since 2009, is scheduled to discuss “Amtrak’s Midwestern projects of significance” and its role in economic growth, according to a statement issued by the forum’s sponsor, the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments.

The council’s annual Passenger Rail Forum is scheduled to start at 11 a.m.

While no passenger-rail projects are imminent in the Toledo area — or anywhere else in Ohio — the metropolitan council views the rail forum as an opportunity “to keep passenger rail in the minds of northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan,” said Tony Reams, the planning agency’s executive director.

“We just want to keep it on the burner,” Mr. Reams said. “At some point, there may be a change in attitude in Washington, or in Columbus, and we want to be there if that happens.”

Derrick James, an Amtrak spokesman, said Mr. Carper would not be available for interviews about his presentation until the day of the forum. The board chairman is traveling to Toledo at TMACOG’s request, he said.

“We’ve always had a high level of interest and involvement from the Toledo region relating to rail, and he was asked to speak,” Mr. James said in an email interview.

Illinois is in the midst of a $1.1 billion upgrade to the Amtrak route between Chicago and St. Louis that is intended to raise top train speeds from 79 mph to 110 mph along most of the line.

Amtrak established 110-mph operation on part of the Chicago-Detroit corridor west of Kalamazoo that it owns early this year, and planning is under way for upgrades to track between Kalamazoo and Ypsilanti that the Michigan Department of Transportation is negotiating to buy from Norfolk Southern.

Track capacity improvements also are planned in Indiana on a connecting line the Michigan trains use to reach the Windy City — track used also by Amtrak trains that cross northern Indiana and Ohio on their trips between Chicago and the East Coast.

But after Ohio received $400 million in federal funds for track improvements, stations, and train equipment during the Strickland administration to start passenger train service between Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati, Gov. John Kasich last year canceled the project and released the money on the grounds that Ohio couldn’t afford the trains’ operating subsidies.

Passenger-train service in Ohio thus continues to be just the four overnight trains that stop daily in Cleveland and Toledo on their Chicago-East Coast runs, plus the Chicago-Cincinnati-Washington “Cardinal” train that runs three times per week in each direction.

Ohio rail planners have proposed developing a network of passenger routes in the state that would include lines linking Toledo with Detroit and Columbus while beefing up service on the existing Cleveland-Chicago corridor, but those routes’ development was planned as later phases to follow the Three-C corridor’s establishment.

Toledo has long been the busiest Amtrak stop in Ohio, although its passenger counts include substantial numbers of passengers who transfer in Toledo between trains and Amtrak buses that provide connecting service to Michigan cities that include Detroit, Ann Arbor, and Lansing.

“The Michigan folks are a little frustrated” that to ride a train from their state to the East Coast, they have to go to Chicago first, Mr. Reams said.

But while there is public demand for better trains in Ohio, he said, such service would not pay for itself.

“I don’t see a state initiative occurring any time soon,” the TMACOG director said.

Contact David Patch at:

dpatch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6094.



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