Despite Federal Investment, Ohio 3C Corridor Under Threat from State Republicans

» Republicans on state board could overrule use of funds for new rail service between Cincinnati and Cleveland.

Of the corridors receiving multi-million dollar grants from the federal government last month for improved rail service, Ohio’s 3C line arguably provides the most bang for the buck. By 2012, at a cost of $400 million, the state will be able to reactivate passenger operations between Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati, via Dayton — a service that’s been out of commission for decades. It will provide the first trains to the state capital since 1977.

In the process, the state will be able to connect the nation’s 24th, 26th, 32nd, and 61st largest metro areas, creating a linear conurbation of almost seven million people. It’s one of the most promising new rail lines in the United States.

Yet the federal grant, which offers enough money to buy trains and ready tracks and stations for passenger services, has not yet convinced reluctant Republican members of the state legislature to get on board. Afraid of being saddled with operations expenses for an indefinite period ahead, they may prevent the project from being implemented.

Republican concerns may be primarily motivated by partisan rancor, but the claimed benefits of the 3C system as currently designed are legitimately worth questioning.

Governor Ted Strickland, a Democrat who is running for reelection this fall, has been a strong supporter of the project for more than a year. Under his leadership, the state department of transportation has focused on the 3C line as the core of a statewide rail strategy called the Ohio Hub, envisioned as a connection between the East Coast rail network and the proposed Midwest High-Speed system. “If there aren’t those who are willing to get in and join the fight,” Mr. Strickland remarked recently in reference to those skeptical of the benefits of the rail service, “then at least get out of the way.”

In face of Republican opposition, Wisconsin legislators approved the receipt of a similar $822 million grant for rail service between Madison and Milwaukee last week.

Ohio State Senate President Bill Harris, a Republican, sent a letter to Governor Strickland yesterday, arguing that he would move to kill the project unless his concerns were addressed. The Ohio GOP has focused on the expected $17 million in annual operations subsidies necessary to keep the line running as a point of confrontation. A number of state legislators have also questioned whether ridership estimates — currently put at about 500,000 a year — are realistic.

Commuters will be able to drive or even ride a Greyhound bus between the affected cities more quickly than on the 3C train, which will be limited to an average speed of 39 mph and a top speed of 79 mph because of insufficient improvements to the existing freight tracks to be used for the service. Trains would run four round-trips a day on the 256 miles between Ohio’s two largest regions.

To move into the implementation phase, the 3C project will have to be approved by the State Controlling Board, which requires a super-majority of five out of seven votes to advance rail spending. Senate President Harris inserted language requiring the super-majority last year because of concerns about the project. The Controlling Board currently has a 4-3 Democratic majority, not enough to prevent Mr. Harris from encouraging a Republican block on the system.

Some GOP concerns about the project’s implementation are worthy of consideration. How many people will choose to ride the train between Cleveland and Cincinnati when the journey will take 6h30 to complete and the bus trip only requires five hours? Even if ridership estimates do play out as envisioned, should the state subsidize riders at an estimated $35 per journey?

An express trip between Paris and Lyon, cities which are separated by a larger distance than are Cleveland and Cincinnati, takes less than two hours on the TGV high-speed train. That service is highly profitable for French rail operator SNCF.

But proponents of improved rail service for Ohio argue that the 3C investment is simply the first step towards a renewed and eventually much faster high-speed line. Advocates of the Chicago-St. Louis service, which received a $1 billion grant last month, make a similar argument, despite clear questions about whether a slow operation will attract many riders. The much larger capital costs that would be necessary to connect Cleveland and Cincinnati in two hours — and each to Columbus in an hour or less — would produce a rail system capable of financing its own operations costs because of its ability to attract many more choice riders. A train traveling at an average speed of only 39 mph will never be able to do the same.

Nevertheless, the $17 million Ohio expects to invest each year in operating subsidies for the 3C line represents roughly half of one percent of the state’s $3 billion annual transportation budget. This commitment is not akin to a drug “addiction,” as is claimed by one Republican member of the Controlling Board. Where is the GOP outrage about unnecessary road construction? I certainly don’t hear it. Nor have Republicans been pushing wholeheartedly for a big enough rail investment to avoid those operations subsidies altogether.

Indeed, this hypocrisy when it comes to transportation spending, expressed over and over not only in Ohio but nationwide, makes the “fiscally conservative” argument against rail difficult to take seriously. It sounds far more like an argument against alternative transportation, point blank.

The 3C line will offer all the advantages of rail service over intercity bus lines, including improved comfort and better stations. Though it’s a modest beginning, getting it in the ground will convince people to get out of their cars, and it will give people without automobiles an increasing sense of mobility around the state — those benefits should not be dismissed. The 3C project is far from a high-speed line, but at least it’s the first step in what will be a long process. It’s better to get started when the federal government’s throwing around grant money.

Image above: Ohio 3C Rail Map, from Ohio Department of Transportation

76 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • My belief is that Ohio should be building HSR right from the beginning, but I understand that we’re working with limited resources that make that possibility almost impossible. As a result, I think it is a good idea to get started with something and have a clear plan for rapidly improving travel speeds/times, frequency, and quality of service.

    It’s amazing how Ohio is often overlooked. Instead of building the premier HSR line from Tampa to Orlando, officials could have invested that money in the 3C Corridor which boasts population densities and distributions similar to many European nations including France.

    • Actually, officials couldn’t have invested $1.5b in Ohio rather than Tampa to Orlando – building the entire first stage of the Ohio Hub would come in at under $1.5b, and for the Triple-C that Ohio worked out (working closely with the DoT, it should be noted), only about $550m was applied for.

  • The 3C route is an artifact of state geography, not a rail corridor that would ever have been planned on its own. It’s a political project to connect the three largest cities in a single state, nothing more.

    Why not connect any three similar sized cities? How about a St. Louis-Indianapolis-Cincinnati line? Or a St. Louis-Indianapolis-Detroit line? If those cities were in the same state, you can believe there would be one. Similarly, if the the 3C’s – which are radically different from each other – were in separate states, no one would even be talking about linking them.

    • I don’t agree with you — it’s rare you see three major metro regions, each with about 2 million inhabitants, within 250 miles of one another.

      That doesn’t mean that a line between St. Louis and Detroit, via Indianapolis, wouldn’t make sense! Or, for that matter, a line between St. Louis and Cincinnati, via Louisville. Both fit many of the criteria to make them ideal for high-speed rail. The Midwest has so many large cities that deserve to be better connected.

      The Cincinnati-Cleveland corridor is one among many, but that doesn’t make it any less valuable. And in this case, it’s united by state borders, making it easier to implement.

    • Why not connect any three similar sized cities?

      You are ignoring the effect of Chicago in Great Lakes / Midwest routes. The natural alignment of the longer corridors are toward Chicago – Cincinnati / Indianapolis / Chicago, Columbus / Northern Indiana / Chicago, Cleveland / Toledo / Northern Indiana / Chicago.

      How can you look at that radial dendritic system with all the limitations of any purely dendritic system and argue against a cross-cut route?

      Especially one where at 110mph you have two legs each connecting metro areas in between 30th and 20th in size in the nation with trips of two hours or less?

      St. Louis / Indianapolis is 237 miles, line of sight, and there’s no metro area with a population of over 1m roughly halfway between the two on any alignment in between the two. If there were, then St. Louis / City X / Indianapolis would be a substantially higher priority alignment.

      • Woody

        Bruce — As discussed below, ANY added train giving daytime service to Cleveland should be a winner. And you suggest a quick way would be to add a second departure for the Lake Shore Limited NYC/Boston-Albany-Syracuse-Rochester-Buffalo-Erie-Cleveland-Toledo-Chicago. But why not tweak that second LSL to run Toledo-Detroit-(maybe Pontiac)?

        Of course, Amtrak barely has enough cars to run the trains it has got, much less expanding service, so getting news cars is urgent. Short term I’d be willing to take one of the Empire Corridor trains and extend it beyond Buffalo to Detroit, if the timetable would give daylight stops in Cleveland and Toledo. But extending a Keystone train beyond Harrisburg to Pittsburgh-Youngstown-Cleveland-Toledo-Detroit could also work.

        Amtrak always wants its ld trains to terminate in a city with a crew and maintenance base, and Detroit has that. So the train does not have to go to Chicago, where Union Station maybe doesn’t need or deserve another ld train.

      • Woody

        Excuse the garble. I addressed that Reply to “Bruce”, but it was meant for “Nathanael” right below. I missed a dose of my meds today and it shows! It’s also a limitation that the software does not allow Replies to Replies, and so I messed up.

    • Yonah and Bruce are right here. The reason 3C makes more sense than other circumferential corridors in the Midwest is that going through a junction near Chicago is a bigger detour in Ohio’s case.

      • Nathanael

        The other critically important non-Chicago-centered corridor is Detroit-Toledo; it’s well known that demand for Detroit-NY travel is very high and quite unserved. Detroit-Toledo-Cleveland-Pittsburgh-Philadelphia-NY? A winner of a route, surely?

      • Detroit-Toledo is the optimal route for Detroit-Chicago. Amtrak’s trying to leverage the existing Ann Arbor route because it owns it, but in terms of ROW straightness and intermediate cities served, the Toledo route is much, much better.

      • Woody

        Replied to Nathanael above, excuse the garble.

        Now to Alon, I agree that Chicago-Toledo-Detroit is optimal for 220-mph HSR. It’s just a short spur off Chicago-Cleveland as a true HSR route.

        Meanwhile, the upper route doesn’t look so bad at 110 mph. I understand that Amtrak owns a third or a half of the ROW, and it has invested much effort in upgrades — installing new signaling, eliminating grade crossings, etc. But all those intermediate cities could pile on the passengers: Niles (South Bend)-Kalamazoo-Battle Creek-Jackson-Ann Arbor-Dearborn (and perhaps a stop for Detroit Wayne County Airport), Further upgrades will also help the Blue Water route: Port Huron-Flint-East Lansing-Battle Creek-Chicago.

        On the other hand, making all those stops on a 220-mph train, would really hurt its time. So I say we go for both 110 and 220, with two routes for Chicago-Detroit.

      • At 110 mph, the Ann Arbor route is a-okay, but that’s it. If any of the routes converging at Toledo gets upgraded to 110 mph rapid rail, then a continuation to Detroit would get a lot of passengers from Ohio and from Fort Wayne or South Bend.

        The airport can be well-served on the Toledo route – in fact, it’s easier to access the rail line near the airport from Toledo than from Ann Arbor. It’s a detour, but it can be done on existing straight ROW. (The other alternative, putting a stop a few km from the airport and building a people mover, works better via Ann Arbor, with a stop at Wayne.)

        I don’t think the number of stops on the Ann Arbor route is that problematic for HSR. Not all trains have to stop at every station. The Shinkansen has some local stops at small towns, which most trains skip. If anything it’s a bigger problem for 110 mph diesel trains: the diesel traction makes acceleration and deceleration times not much lower than for HSR, the lower frequency makes it harder to run express trains, and the not-HSR setup hurts reliability, which forces longer dwell times.

    • Woody

      There surely is a political aspect. Even with the 3Cs planned to run within one state, we see in the above post the risks of obstruction by “the Party of No.” The risks of getting to “No” are higher the more states that are involved.

      Compare 3Cs with Cincinnati-Indianapolis-Chicago. By the numbers, the route is roughly the same distance, and the non-Ohio cities are much larger than Columbus and Cleveland. A natural for more and faster passenger trains.

      But most of that route would run through Indiana, where officialdom has little love for Chicago (or for that matter for the black citizens of Gary and the rest of northwestern Indiana), could care less about Cincinnati, and seems to hate the idea of passenger trains.

      • OceanRailroader

        North Carolina and Virginia are far better off in terms of funding in that none of the state goverments have started a bikering No war over rail. It was even sweeter in that Virginia and North Carolinia had already started several rail projects before the 8 billon was planned.

      • Chicago is obviously larger than either, but Columbus and Cleveland are both larger than Indianapolis. In the 2008 Census figures, Cleveland is 26th, Columbus 32nd, Indianapolis 33rd.

  • Paul

    Driving, when traffic isn’t bad, is faster than the train between Seattle and Portland. Sometimes driving can be about an hour faster. Yet the train manages to attract about half million riders between those points with four daily round trips. The full corridor between Eugene, OR and Vancouver BC gets more than 3/4 million riders.

    http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/News/2010/02/AmtrakCascades2009PerformanceReport.htm

    If Ohio can implement enough trips and keep them close to schedule, I don’t see why they wouldn’t be able to get 500,000 riders.

  • 電車男

    An average speed of 39 mph is too bad, but I agree that it’s a necessary first step towards better service in the future. Once there are people using the 3C line, then those riders will likely start demanding faster and better service, and they will get it–eventually. On the other hand, if the 3C line is put off until it can be built perfectly the first time, it will simply never get built. I would be happy to see far more railways being built with 39mph average speeds, so long as they had frequent service and had a chance at being upgraded in the near future. Besides, if my math is right, then this corridor costs a bit over $1.5 million per mile–a good rate, considering that the average cost of an interstate highway is $20 million per mile (see: http://www-pam.usc.edu/volume2/v2i1a3s2.html for a better explanation). More corridors like the 3C would be an excellent way to start developing modern railways in the US.

    • And note that the work that will be performed to allow service to begin running will be work that would be required in any event in a plan to start with a 110mph corridor at the outset.

      And as a 110mph corridor, with two hour trips to and from both Cleveland and Cincinnati, and one hour trips from Dayton to Cincinnati and Columbus to fill in the smaller Columbus/Cincinnati transport market, that corridor will certainly reach an operating surplus.

  • Woody

    Nobody wants a train that averages 39 mph. Damn, that would lower the Amtrak average!

    But obviously, the mid-range goal is to get the line up to 110-mph top speeds, improving those poor average speeds with each upgrade made along the way. That will take more money.

    In any case, at whatever speed, you’ll need stations. And you’ll need locomotives and coaches, whether the average speed is 39 mph or 79 mph with the top speed 110 mph. You’ll need maintenance facilities for slow trains or faster ones.

    Won’t that equipment and those facilities account for the lion’s share of the investments in this first step?

    Of course, without that first step, you won’t get a second step. The second step, dramatically improving the right of way –double-tracking, eliminating curves, etc. — could exceed $1 billion of the coming years.

    Say the second step will take $200 million a year for five or six years to get up to 110 mph. If you think the Repubs in Congress will block any more investment in passenger rail, then you could end up with a half-baked line.

    But if you think that continuing appropriations of $2.5 billion a year will be possible, then Ohio could easily get 8% or 10% of that. Meanwhile, with the ongoing upgrades, as the trip time drops from 5 1/2 hours to 5 hours to 4 1/2 hours, ridership will increase and that $17 million a year subsidy will decrease and then disappear.

    At a trip time of 4 hours or less, the 3Cs route could start to throw off operating surpluses that could help pay for the extensions Cleveland-Toledo-Detroit and Cleveland-Youngstown-Pittsburgh, what’s that, the third or fourth step.

    But if Ohio turns down the $400 million, no problem for Obama and Ray Lahood. Michigan would be happy to take the money for more upgrades Chicago-Detroit. Pennsylvania would use it on the Keystone Corridor Philly-Harrisburg, where planning is moving along. New York could do more work on the Empire Corridor, NYC-Albany-Syracuse-Rochester-Buffalo. Ohio’s neighbors will be happy if the state turns down this grant.

  • AL

    The average speed is 39 mph and the top speed is 79 mph. Is there published info that shows the “slow sections” and how much incremental cost is needed to fix these over the following few years?

  • Andy K

    39mph – way to low. Any explanation as to why this could not be increased now – what are the bottle necks? Maybe this money should go elsewhere.

  • Don

    39 mph is slow, but the Downeaster does OK with a low 40 mph avg speed. Speed is not everything. A little time spent can be worth saving a great deal of aggrevation. I suspect the bottlenecks are getting thru Columbus and getting into Cincinnati. This quick-start plan is a good one. If ridership meets projections, should be easier to get money for incremental speed improvements.

  • DBX

    There’s a big difference between Ohio 3C and the Illinois/Wisconsin improvements. Average end-to-end speeds in Illinois and Wisconsin are already approaching 60mph even within the 79 speed limit and many trains are filled to capacity, and with 110mph HSR they’ll be around 75mph for end-to-end; putting it decisively ahead of driving, even for those who would speed when driving and/or must make local transit or taxi connections by public transport. 3C on the other hand is unique among the major ARRA projects in that it can’t even beat driving for people whose destinations are within walking distance of the train stations. Because of this lack of speed I have to say I’m concerned it won’t meet the ridership projections.

    I can see the argument that “you need to start somewhere.” But I think the better strategy is going to be building up the Chicago-based network in the Midwest. If you connect to the existing system, you can probably get away with starting at 79 because you have the added advantage of network connections. Let’s say Chicago-Iowa City, or Milwaukee-Green Bay. A standalone system like 3C has to effective on its own at least until it gets some corridor connections, and so for it to be successful there has to be a near-term plan for at least getting to 90mph or 110mph.

    • There has been a plan for getting it to 110mph in place for years.

      The reason that this is being done on the 3C alignment rather than any other alignment in the Ohio Hub network plan is that the 3C alignment is the strongest alignment in the Ohio Hub network plan, and so will hit operating break even the earliest in its upgrade path, and once completed will generate the strongest operating surpluses for revenue bonding for state matches to expand the network.

      In the area between Chicago and the Appalachians, it is clearly the strongest corridor for using as a free-standing seed corridor for a 110mph network.

      That’s why the Republicans are fighting it – not because they expect it to fail, but because they fear it will succeed.

  • crash-dev

    I’m curious about the France comparison. Is it really profitable for SNCF?

    It seems in terms of population and density, Ohio appears more promising for ridership. Ohio’s GSP is about a quarter to a fifth of France’s GDP.

    Who is going to be operator for these trains? Ohio?

    • SNCF makes large profits on its high-speed lines in terms of operations. Even in a bad economic year, 2008, SNCF made €575 million in profits (French article), primarily due to its TGV services.

      Because of the structure of French railways, SNCF no longer controls the tracks themselves, and construction is paid for by another entity, RFF. This in turn may cause problems because of heightened track use fees, but that’s a whole ‘nother question.

      I completely agree that Ohio is quite promising for ridership. But the problem is that no one is willing to pay for 220 mph trains there, starting with the citizens of Ohio themselves.

      • The 3C is quite promising for ridership at 110mph and 125mph … any segment of a new 220mph corridor junctioning with the Ohio Hub to provide access to NYC and Chicago would be a more useful improvement in transport options than duplicating the 3C at 220mph.

  • Chris G

    Well I really hate seeing the “per passenger subsidy” used. This is a pure BS statistic used to make things look and sound bad. It should never be used by someone supporting rail. A subsidy per available seat would be better and even that is not good. They all make the math lean towards reducing capacity will save you money.

    But as for the speed issues, 39 is an average speed. That’s slow for sure, but its not unthinkable. As mentioned above the Downeaster averages about 40 and does well.

    Get it started and things will be easier to move further.

    I too would love to see a report on the bottlenecks holding average speed down so badly. Fixing the slow points can have a much greater effect on average speed than going higher in top speed. So the first couple rounds of upgrades should be more cost efficient than most would guess.

    But you have to start somewhere. And a train running with 4 times a day frequency is better than most of the country gets. And average speeds? It once took me 24 hours to cross Texas on a detoured Sunset. The train is what it is right now. A wonderful way to travel and relax. The high speed networks will come, but only where existing rail culture is in place.

    It really is true. If you build it they will come.

  • jim

    The Amtrak report detailed the slow zones:

    - Around Berea, congestion from heavy CSX and NS combined traffic, plus Rockport Yard operations. There’s also a delay built in there from the hand-off from NS to CSX operations.

    - In Columbus, 5 tracks E of CP 138 and 3 tracks W of CP 138 come down to a double tracked segment.

    - East of Dayton, 59 miles single track without adequate passing sidings; speed limits of 15-25 mph through Springfield: curves and at-grade crossings

    - Approaching Cincinnati, congestion from freights waiting to enter Sharonville yard and low speed limits (35 mph for 11 miles, 25 mph for 5) on the IORY down to Boat House station.

    There’s a couple more operations hand-offs along the route, too, back to NS at Columbus and to IORY at Sharonville. Each hand-off creates delays.

    • Adam

      Thanks for the info jim. Yeah, it sounds like the situation in North Carolina in the late 80s before gov. Jim Hunt slowly started investing in incremental improvements in the Raleigh to Charlotte line. 300 million dollars and 15 years later, NC finally got rewarded with a doubling of the investment in one fell swoop. So yeah, I’m of a mind that Ohio has to start somewhere. Hopefully it won’t take over a decade to remove those bottlenecks like it’s taken in NC. My hope is that as CA and especially FL (since they’ll be done quickly) ramps up their operations, more states around the country will start to see the benefits and even republicans will finally start asking, “hey why aren’t we doing that here?”.

    • Don

      Berea shouldn’t be too bad and after looking at it, Columbus should be fair. Forgot about Springfield and cannot underestimate how much a mess Cincinnati is. Cleveland to Columbus should be a pretty good ride….

      • Even in the 110mph plan in the Ohio Hub, it is Cleveland/Columbus that is faster than Google’s downtown to downtown driving estimate, while Columbus/Cincinnati are basically equal.

        Given the slowdown in the southern third of the Cincinnati/Columbus leg, if Dayton didn’t exist, the Triple C alignment would want to invent it.

    • Nathanael

      Dayton appears to benefit greatly from the plan.

      The bottlenecks are serious problems. East of Dayton should be straightforward enough to fix, and could be done in many little projects. The IORY track should be easy enough to fix, but expensive due to total track rebuilding. I wouldn’t worry too much about Berea, that’s relatively cheap to fix and there’s plenty of room.

      The two-track bottleneck through downtown Columbus is a really, really serious problem. The only real fix is to demolish half of the Convention Center in order to rebuild Columbus Union Station. I’m not even sure how they’re going to get any decent station into Columbus, and a good Columbus station is absolutely essential to a successful plan. This problem *must* be solved in order to make the 3C plan work. And frankly if this problem is solved the 3C plan will probably work, though it’ll need a lot of additional actions for long-term success.

      A 12-hours-off counterpart to the Lake Shore Limited, providing daytime Chicago-Ohio and Ohio-East Coast trains, is highly desirable. The Lake Shore Limited is already a very long train (16 cars including locos) and doesn’t fit at platforms — and it’s already one of the most expensive trains on Amtrak due to high demand. The natural next step is to run a second train, and it’s natural to put it 12 hours off to make Ohio service attractive.

  • John L. Clark

    I am very interested in having additional transit options linking Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Columbus, and I’m glad to see some support from the federal government for transit throughout the country, including here in Ohio. That said, I am very frustrated at the thought of a 6 hour and 30 minute trip across the state. I currently use the Greyhound for this trip, and at around 5 hours travel time, how would a train compete? Are there other factors to take into consideration?

    I long for a true high speed rail option, and I strongly encourage my fellow Ohioans to take this opportunity to add their own investment to the federal government’s initial offering. Over on the article about a similar discussion taking place in Illinois, a commentator mentioned that an Acela line on the East Coast cost about $3.5 million a mile; at that rate, it would cost around $900 million to provide truly attractive service on the 3C corridor, and perhaps we could do better still. As Yonah summarized there, “[a] minimal investment … won’t get Americans excited about fast trains.” Making a bolder investment, by contrast, would give Ohio something to be very proud of when it comes to transit in the United States, and could serve as an exemplar and a model throughout the country.

    The ODOT page about the 3C line that Yonah referenced indicates that 64% of Ohioans are in favor of the 3C line. What’s the best way to get the word out that additional up-front investment could substantially increase the value of the 3C line? Can someone provide some estimates (or links to same) for the cost of the investment required to truly modernize this route, perhaps at various grades such as a 4 hour travel time and again at a 3 hour travel time?

    • Woody

      I don’t think they could spend much more money in Ohio this year, or maybe even next, if they got another $400. They can start up 3Cs at average speed of 39 mph on existing freight lines. Additional time is needed to do the final engineering on the ROW improvements to come, and there’s plenty of them to do. Then if they’ve built the stations, and the maintenance facilities, and bought the locomotives and coaches, almost all the funds in the next rounds will flow directly to improving the tracks, raising speeds, cutting trip times.

      When Bruce McF weights in, he’ll know much more. I think the thought is that the portion Cleveland-Columbus can be upgraded sooner than the southern half. And that route Columbus-Cleveland could stand alone, without Cincy, and so it should get priority. Officials don’t dare say that out loud for fear of political blowback. The student market from Oho State could help fill those trains, and probably reduce some DUIs on the roads. Politicos, lobbyists, lawyers, and other having business in the state capital would be another strong market.

      Trains from Columbus could actually connect to some existing Amtrak routes at Cleveland if Amtrak could add a second departure from NYC or Chicago to pass through that city in daylight. Or a restored route could make a connection, like the Broadway Limited Chicago-Cleveland-Pittsburgh-NYC. A good feeder line from Columbus could help the numbers work on extending the Pennsylvanian that runs NYC-Philly-Pittsburgh on through Youngstown-Cleveland-Toledo-Detroit-Pontiac.

      Meanwhile Amtrak is “studying” how to improve the performance of the Cardinal, which serves Cincinnati. Of course, increasing the runs from three a week to daily would improve its performance more than anything else.

      So Ohio could quickly get a lot more passenger rail service, and the 3Cs, even at 39 mph, would really move that process along.

      • jim

        Cleveland-Columbus isn’t much faster: it’s 132 miles in 3:13. There is no connection at Cleveland, since the 3C trains will run during the day and the LD Amtrak trains come through Cleveland in the small hours (though Cincy’s even worse — the Cardinal comes in to Cincinnati Union Terminal while the 3C will come in to some other, newly created station).

        The capacity problems at Columbus are major. Ohio Hub depends on solving them, since it anticipates running trains from Columbus to Ft. Wayne, Toledo and Pittsburgh as well as Cincinnati and Cleveland. It’s not enough to just finesse them for this particular route.

        What strikes me here is the real difficulty of creating a rail culture when it’s been allowed to die. Ohio can be compared to France. But France, before SNCF built its first LGV, had a network of trains running all over the hexagon. Paris-Lyon could leverage that network. But Ohio has, today, two long-distance trains though Cleveland and Toledo and a three day a week job between Cincy and Indianapolis. There’s nothing there to leverage.

        Does anyone know what the $400M leaves out? The request was for $550M+: $235M for infrastructure upgrades (double tracking part of the stretch E of Dayton, for example), $35M for track upgrades, $55M for a maintenance facility, $30M for stations, $30M for “sealed corridor” at-grade crossing upgrades, $175M for rolling stock (five trainsets: locomotive, cab car, five coaches, cafe car). At $400M, what doesn’t happen?

      • Woody

        Jim — I’ll guess that the $175 million for the rolling stock could have been ‘postponed’ until next year’s round of grants. Because this year nobody, least of all Amtrak, has any spare passenger cars sitting around. It’s not like they can go down to the Seimens dealer and buy cars of the showroom floor.

        To special order just the five new trains for Ohio would be impossibly expensive. Meanwhile Amtrak has just released its plans to acquire hundreds of new locomotives and passenger cars — starting as soon as they can find the money. So why not fold the five trainsets for the 3C route into that national order.

        —————

        Yes, I understand that all Amtrak trains stop in Ohio in the dark. Maybe you missed this, I suggested “add a second departure from NYC or Chicago to pass through in daylight. Or a restored route” like the Broadway Limited could have a daylight stop, OR extending the Pennsylvanian to Pgh-Cleveland-Toledo-Detroit-Pontiac could provide a daylight connection. I’d like to see two trains a day on ALL of Amtrak’s long distance routes.

        ——————–

        Madness is having a different station for the 3C trains instead of Union Station where the Cardinal, which runs D.C-Cincinnati-Indianapolis-Chicago, now stops. Maybe the feds refused to fund that silly stuff in Cincy until they come up with a better plan.

      • jim

        Woody,

        Yes, I agree the rolling stock is the most likely not funded item.

        I did see your “add a second departure”. But one or two daylight long-distance trains passing through Cleveland does not constitute an infrastructure that can be leveraged.

        My guess is that Amtrak will keep studying the Cardinal until Byrd leaves the Senate and then regretfully cancel it. So, right now, I don’t see the need to run 3C into Cincinnati Union Terminal. But if and when Midwest HSR gets round to implementing Chicago-Indianapolis-Cincinnati as a 110 mph, reasonably frequent service (and I don’t know how high that is on their priority list) it will presumably run into CUT and 3C had better do so by then. The problem is that there are several overstretched yards along the riverfront and trains waiting to get into them back up along the regular tracks back to Sharonville. To get 3C into CUT, it may be necessary to build an expensive bypass.

      • They could spend another $160m or so … when they proposed about $560m, that was for the whole 3C starter line project.

        Looking at the Amtrak feasibility study (pdf: main only) at the ORDC Ohio Hub site, it is indeed rolling stock that would seem to be left out (p. 26, 28):

        Capital for Infrastructure improvement: $236.2m
        Capital for Track Upgrading: $51.4m
        Capital for Mechanical Facilities: $55.0m
        Capital for Equipment Procurement: $175m
        One-off mobilization costs: $6.3m

        In the application, it says:

        $236.2 million for capacity additions; $36.5 million for track upgrades; $32 million for grade crossing upgrades; $29.1 million for stations; $55 million for train maintenance and layover facilities; and, $175 million for five train sets

        … for a total of $563.8m applied for. This is all YOE and all included 20% to 30% contingencies, so if it comes in at close to planned Year of Expenditure planning cost, $400m will cover everything except a portion of the rolling stock.

      • As far as upgrades from the starter line, I’d assume a two-track program, one to raise operating speeds on the Berea to Columbus segment, first to 90mph then to 110mph, and a second one to speed up the extremely slow route between Dayton and Cincinnati. Since speed improvements between Dayton and Cincinnati would of course be inherited by the whole Cincinnati / Columbus leg, that’s a program that would both ease the worst bottleneck at the same time as proving out the higher speed services.

      • Woody

        Jim — Dunno if I’m ahead of things or behind the pace here. But I keep thinking that for most of this decade, most passengers will be aboard the conventional Amtrak network, not on the HSR corridors getting all the fuss. So I wish Amtrak were getting more attention in these discussions.

        The quickest way to get faster trip times is to run two trains a day. Otherwise some passengers will have to wait more than 23 hours for the next departure, and that makes for a very long trip. And Illinois’ experience adding two trains to the three running St. Louis-Chicago seems to prove that in some places, supply of more frequent departures will indeed call forth demand.

        The quickest way to get Amtrak service to more cities is to put on a second run about 10 to 14 hours later than the existing train, thereby getting daylight stops in all those cities from Cleveland to Cincinnati to Fargo to San Antonio. (Where currently the only stops are in the dead of night, I don’t call that ‘service’.) That’s much cheaper than spending a billion or so to restart the Pioneer or the Hiawatha North Shore.

        In the case of Cleveland, putting a second train on the Lake Shore Limited route NYC/Boston-Albany-Buffalo-Cleveland-Chicago could bring a daylight stop in Cleveland. It shouldn’t be too costly to do, if one of the Empire Corridor trains NYC-Albany-Buffalo-Niagara were simply extended Buffalo-Erie-Cleveland-Toledo-South Bend-Chicago.

        Likewise, a second run of the Capitol Limited could give Cleveland a daylight departure for/arrival from D.C.

        Then extend the Pennsylvanian NYC-Philly-Harrisburg-Pittsburgh to Youngstown-Cleveland-Toledo-Detroit-Pontiac. That move would restore the rail link for the East to/from Detroit, instead of routing via Chicago or taking the bus from Toledo. Two runs on that route, gives us three stops in Cleveland.

        Revive the Broadway Limited to run twice daily Chicago-Cleveland-Pittsburgh-Philly-NYC. Now we’ve got four daylight connections in Cleveland for passengers coming off the 3Cs.

        I know we have some purists who decry anything less than HSR (Alon, izzat U?) but I still see some life in the Amtrak long distance lines.

        Team Obama-Biden-LaHood-Szabo may be thinking that way too. As I read the grant to improve service Chicago-Detroit, almost all the money will be spent on a CREATE project or two in Chicago. And Indiana got a little money to speed up trains from Illinois to Porter City.

        Sure that work will benefit the five or six trains to Michigan. But it will also speed up the two trains to Cleveland and beyond (and I want to add four more eastbound trains out of Chicago). Better tracks for the Cascades will improve reliability for the Coast Star Liner. Faster times Chicago-St Louis will whittle away at times on the Texas Eagle as well as trains to or through Kansas City. Improvements Raleigh-Charlotte should peel an hour or two off the timetable for the Crescent.

        I’m not thinking that making a 24-hour long distance run into a 22-hour run will pull many people off the planes. But it could give Amtrak more flexibility in scheduling, and allow it to arrive in some cities an hour before midnight instead of an hour after.

        Since the rules were changed to, uh, encourage the freights to keep the passenger trains on time, Amtrak has shown substantial improvement in on-time performance. With investments being made to further improve reliability and shave minutes off the schedules, Amtrak is getting into a positive position and showing, at long last, some potential to grow.

        The proposal to order hundreds of new coaches and dozens of new locomotives is also promising. Of course Amtrak is talking about fleet replacement, because the aging cars need to go. But if there’s popular demand to add more trains, some of those old cars could keep on going. Then the order for new cars can be increased to reflect the greater demand.

      • jim

        Woody:

        We’re not that far apart. I, too, think that conventional or not very high speed rail needs to be expanded. There needs to be an infrastructure that HSR can leverage.

        I’m not sure, though, that the long-distance routes are the appropriate vehicle for expansion of conventional rail. Amtrak’s one attempt to run a daylight train along a route that is otherwise served only at night — the Palmetto along the Silver Meteor route — hasn’t been an overwhelming success. Alon is, I think, right to claim that even in the heyday of rail the long-distance trains were one per day. It might happen that several long-distance trains shared a segment: the Southern Railway ran three trains between Washington and New Orleans, all three ran between Washington and Lynchburg, two shared the Washington-Atlanta tracks, a different pair ran between Birmingham and New Orleans, but the three trains were distinct. If there was no percentage then in duplicating a route, I doubt we can justify it now.

        It’s the conventional corridor trains I see as creating the infrastructure. Raleigh-Charlotte, Downeaster, Hiawatha, Wolverine, yes, and 3C.

      • Woody, regarding the Cardinal, there’s enough service from DC to NYC that its east coast origin/terminus could quite usefully be placed in DC.

        Of course, that entails making running the Hoosier State independent of the Cardinal.

        Morning from DC could be: DC 8:00am, Charleston WV 5:00pm, Cincinnati 10:00pm, Indianapolis 1:30am, Chicago 6:00am~7:30am, depending on schedule allowance.

        Evening from DC could be: DC 10:30pm, Charleston WV 7:30am, Cincinnati 12:30pm, Indianapolis 4:15pm, Chicago at 8:20pm.

        Morning from Chicago could be Chicago 7:45am, Indianapolis 2:00pm, Cincinnati at 5:30pm, Charleston WV at 10:15pm, arrive DC at 7:55am.

        Evening from Chicago could be Chicago at 9:30pm, Indianapolis 3:40am, Cincinnati 7:15am, Charleston WV 12:00noon, DC 9:40pm

        On both sides, the schedule is less than ideal for the shorter trips close to the biggest cities … but the shorter trips close to the big cities can be served by their own trains.

      • Nathanael

        I’d like to aggressively agree with Woody’s idea of a second frequency on the Lake Shore Limited route, 12 hours off.

        This route is only a single overnight. The trip times from either end to Ohio are already reasonable and attractive, they’re just not at the right time of day. The Lake Shore Limited is already one of the longest trains on the Amtrak system; it had 16 cars last time I rode (including the engines). That’s two engines, two baggage, one diner, two lounges, three sleepers, and *six* coaches. It could probably afford to be split into two trains running on opposite schedules even *without* the added ridership from hitting Ohio in the daytime and from more flexible trip scheduling options. With that added ridership, I think it’s a definite winner. Remember, it connects to extensive networks of trains at both the Chicago and New York ends already.

        Alternatively but equivalently, two day trains could be run, one Chicago-Cleveland and the other Cleveland-NYC or Boston. I think the through service is preferable, even though the majority of the traffic would be Ohio to either end; the only reason to split up long runs is to allow for recovery time and more reliable schedules, and I don’t think it’s necessary.

        And the route is only going to get faster. The end in Chicago is the biggest delay on the whole route, and is being sped up with CREATE projects and projects intended to help the Michigan trains. The entire New York section is going to be upgraded to high speed as part of the Empire Corridor, eventually anyway. Apart from the planned deviation to Fort Wayne, the entire route lies along planned high-speed corridor (although Cleveland-Buffalo is only in the Ohio Hub plan). Building the ridership by adding an additional train *at a different time* will help to get all these high-speed corridors built.

        Chicago-NY is fundamentally different from a “long-distance” train like the Empire Builder or Southwest Chief. For one thing, it’s a much shorter distance. For another, it has far more large cities en route.

        The Palmetto is an interesting comparison. First, note that it’s successful enough that it keeps running. Second, note what cities it provides unique daylight service to: Fayetteville, NC; Florence, Kingstree, Charleston, and Yemassee, SC; and Savannah, GA. That’s *it*. These are *small* compared to Cleveland and even Toledo. MSAs are 80th for Charleston, and 140th, 146th, 207th, and tiny for the rest. In contrast, Cleveland is the 26th largest MSA in the country, and Toledo is the 79th. Cleveland has rail mass transit; none of the others listed here do. The Palmetto provides service pointing towards the NEC, but not Florida; a second frequency on the LSL would provide service pointing towards the NEC *and* towards Chicago.

        If any form of the 3C gets going, it would only add to the ridership on this route. It would really be picking up passengers as two separate routes (east to Ohio and west to Ohio) but there’s no reason not to run it as one train if it doesn’t screw up the on-time performance.

      • aw

        Perhaps a daytime LSL could run from Chicago-Albany then use connections to get from there to Boston and NYC. Since it would be a daylight-only route, there would be no need for sleepers in the consist. Since there would now be an alternative to the existing Lake Shore Limited, perhaps 1 or 2 of those coaches from that train could be used on this new route. Then you would need to add more coaches, a cafe/diner and/or lounge, a baggage car and some motive power.

      • Nathanael

        “Perhaps a daytime LSL could run from Chicago-Albany then use connections to get from there to Boston and NYC.”

        With existing Albany-NYC service, it could simply run Chicago-Boston. (There is actually a pretty bad need for a second Boston-Albany frequency; currently the LSL is *it*.) Alternatively it could be structured to replace an existing Empire Corridor Albany-NYC service. Whichever seems better. It certainly doesn’t need to actually split at Albany.

      • The problem with piggybacking on the existing Empire Service is that people really don’t want to wait an hour for a connecting train. A more reliable operator than Amtrak could time the transfer at Albany, but Amtrak is incapable of sticking to schedule even for 3 hours on its own track, let alone for 16 hours on freight-owned track.

    • Wad

      John, if you are wondering how Ohio can possibly attract riders on a train with a distinct time advantage, the service must make it up on providing excellent service.

      Trains are very comfortable. They have lots of legroom, tray tables or stationary tables, and now, wi-fi access will be a given amenity.

      There’s also the chance to walk around in comfort, eat or drink something at the cafe car, or use the restroom — all without having to pause during the trip.

      The cafe car, in particular, will be the focal point for the train. If Ohio can, it should do better than a thinly stocked convenience store. It should look for a concessionaire that can provide a unique menu — even a cafeteria service like Aramark or Sodexo can run a surprisingly good kitchen — or perhaps promote Ohio-grown or Ohio-made food products on board.

      The Ohio cities should also offer travel enticements, such as lower-priced tickets to sporting events in Cleveland, Cincinnati or OSU games in Columbus. It could also offer hotel and/or arts packages in tandem with ticket sales or even aboard the trains.

      Service, though, would be above all else. Because the 3C trains cannot beat planes, driving or even Greyhound, it must find a way to stand out even despite its disadvantages. Travel is not a strict commodity enterprise. The lowest cost or fastest trip do not automatically win if the train can be the leader in a memorable service for the price. This is why companies like Nordstrom and Apple can thrive in a field where lower-priced competitors should be eating their lunch.

      The 3C service has a good chance to gain ground on the service front. Airlines have all but abandoned the concept of customer service with the advent of Southwest and the general mentality of the “Greyhound bus in the sky” where the carrier with the lowest price wins. And what about Greyhound? If aviation has become Greyhound in the sky, Greyhound itself has become Con Air on wheels. Despite having nice buses and low fares, Greyhound has the problem of being captive to riders that have stigmatized it.

      If 3C can win on the service front, and provide a pleasant ride, it could build the ridership base it needs before more money can be invested to speed up the trains or add more service.

      • Woody

        There ought to be a job for you at Amtrak. Or maybe on the staff of one of the Congressional Committees that reportedly micromanage Amtrak. You have some good ideas for marketing the product!

    • The Acela project didn’t have to do too much, because south of New Haven the route was already electrified and the tracks were in reasonable condition. To kick-start the Acela, Amtrak needed to introduce new signaling, buy the trains, and electrify the tracks north of New Haven; those items combined cost far less than constructing the tracks themselves and the associated infrastructure.

      For reference, recent French LGV costs about $22 million per mile; in the rest of the world building HSR costs more, because of the prevalence of tunnels and long viaduct sections, and the use of more expensive slab track.

  • OceanRailroader

    I’ve been though this area and when you drive though this section of Ohio I noice I see a lot of abaondoned rail beds that look like they run between some of these cities maybe Amtrak should look into finding abaondoned rail bed for the new rail line.

    • You are commenting as if this was an ad-hoc, spur of the moment plan. They’ve been working on this for over ten years now, including regular discussions with the owners of the rights of way.

  • Mad Park

    @ OceanRailroader – You’re right. Go to Feb 2010 issue of “Trains” and look at the Penn Central fold-out at page 35. Lots of ROW went into PC, while other railroads operated apart as well, including B&O/C&O, Erie, Wabash, NKP and so many others. There are hundreds (thousands?) of miles of former ROW not now in use throughout the mid-west, some of which could be used for higher speed and/or alternative routes around the bottlenecks mentioned above..

  • Matt Roberts

    As for abandoned rail lines out of Columbus we had the Columbus Akron and Cleveland line of teh New York Central, that basically followed State Route 3 (aka 3-C Highway) northeast out of Columbus but the line was abandoned in the early 80′s and in areas the R/W has reverted to adjacent land holders. It would have been good for a passnger line to Northeast Ohio.

    A problem that many have in this – especially in the 39 mph speed is that the rail lines are not direct like I-71 is. Between Columbus and Cincy you have the Miami River valley which effectivly blocked the direct route between the two cities and then between Columbus and Cleveland there is no DIRECT route either. Utilizing existing trackage we have to run west thru Springfield and Dayton and north thru Marion when I-71 runs no where near those cities. But that is where the railroads in the 1800′s were designed and constructed. The line as it now stands would be like traveling noth from Cincy on I-75 to I-70. I-70 to Columbus and then north on US 23 to Marion and thus towards Cleveland. Only in the last segment is it pretty close to I-71 which is the most direct route between the cities.

    When (or if) we get a HSR line directly between the 3-Cs the route should look much more like the current I-71 and completely bypass Springfield and Dayton, leaving those for a ‘Panhandle’ HSR line between Pittsburgh and Indianapolis. The Panhandle is the former Pennsylvania line that is roughly what I-70 is to the Interstate, Pittsburgh to St Louis.

  • As far as I can tell, the answer to the question of “how many people will ride the line from Cincinnati to Cleveland” (or visa versa) would be, “according to projections, not many”.

    AFAIU, the primary ridership bases are CLB/CIN and CLB/CLE, with the latter stronger because of the slowdown between Dayton and Cincinnati. OTOH, patronage on the CLB/CIN leg will be boosted by DAY/CIN and DAY/CLB ridership, and I would not be surprised if total Dayton originating riders in either direction outnumbered Cleveland/Cincinnati riders.

    Incremental upgrades would obviously expand that patronage, but would also expand the ridership on the shorter trips, so without an upgrade beyond the 110mph currently planned for, it seems likely that the share of ridership on Cleveland/Cincinnati trips would remain fairly low.

  • dejv

    Trains would run four round-trips a day on the 256 miles between Ohio’s two largest regions.

    This seems to be the biggest weakness of 3C because it leaves no flexibility for passengers. You can’t leave the other city when it suits your needs, you have to catch the train. If the service run in 2-hour takt (or higher frequency) it would be much more attractive.

    • But if the service ran a two hour frequency, it would require a far larger subsidy, since the increase in ridership at that speed would not generate anywhere close to the revenue to cover the operation costs.

      The weaknesses of the 3C are all well understood, but the point is that some $400m of the $1.2b required for a 110mph version of the 3C will be completed, and all of it is required to be done anyway in order to provide the 110mph 3C. Meanwhile, with a service in operation, it will be possible to apply for HSR funding and upgrade it as fast as the funding is received until it is a 110mph corridor, and each upgrade will allow an improvement in service and result in an increase in ridership.

      Indeed, providing the 60mph~80mph track in the Dayton to Cincinnati leg and upgrading Berea to Columbus to 90mph seems like it would allow upgrading from 3 CLB/CIN and CLB/CLE and 2 CIN/CLE services to 4 CLB/CIN and CLB/CLE and 3 CIN/CIN services with the same number of trains.

      • Bruce: yes, all else being equal, a clockface schedule requires more subsidy. But all else is not equal, especially at higher speeds. Even 110 mph pretend-HSR can reduce subsidy in the long run by running on a predictable hourly schedule. For one, it allows connecting transit to serve the stations better.

      • Max Wyss

        Does it require a substantially higher subsidy?

        Well, you might need more trains, but with a well set up schedule, it is amazing how much you can handle with a rather small number of trainsets.

        Also, speed and train density are two dimensions of the whole thing. They are insofar dependent on each other that it might be possible to operate with fewer trainsets, but only if you can reduce the round trip time that you can optimize the turning around times.

        Also, and that has been the experience and philosophy in Switzerland, it does not really matter to be as fast as possible, but be as fast as necessary (for reaching the next node of your network/schedule within the given times. Such a philosophy would allow to concentrate infrastructure spending on where it has the biggest effect for that service concept. Ideal times between nodes are 25 minutes, 55 minutes, 85 minutes, etc. and turning around times of 20 minutes are pretty reasonable and allow for efficient schedules.

        What now would have to be done with the 3C corridor is to determine what would have to be done to provide a 60 minute interval. Plus, what would be necessary to provide connecting services according to this interval.

        From earlier comments, I was wondering whether it would be, a) politically acceptable, and b) technically feasible, to have an hourly schedule with highly integrated local connections (which means, adapted schedules to keep changing times short, AND an integrated fare system.

        For the 3C corridor, I believe that the most serious operational problem would be to train the freight operators to learn to run their trains according to a schedule, and ON TIME…

      • Alon, we are talking about the starter operations, not the higher speed operations. At eight services per day, some Express and some all-stations, the all-stations services might be on a clockface schedule and the Express services tailored to Arrive Start of Business / Mid-day / Depart Close of Business.

        Max, for the starter line, yes, it would require a substantially higher subsidy. When the route gets under 4:30, then a round trip is 7:00, two round trips is 14:00, four sets can run eight trips each way with effective scheduling … nine or ten trips if a half route is tacked on the beginning or end.

        At 6:30, a round trip is 13:00, a round trip and a single leg is about 16:15 … but you can only get that 16:15 out of one train leaving Cleveland, one train leaving Cincinnati, and two trains leaving Columbus each way. Filling the clockface between the time that the morning train to Cincinnati leaves Columbus and the time the Cleveland to Columbus train arrives, and the same the other direction, and the same at Cleveland and Cincinnati, means eight sets, plus the spare.

        If each leg costs about the same amount, its its 80% more running costs and won’t gain 80% additional farebox, let alone a disproportionate increase in farebox.

        No, the upgrade path to cutting the operating subsidy is investments to cut the trip speeds CLB/CLE and CLB/CIN, gaining both more trips for a similar operating budget and more competitive trips as well.

      • dejv

        Bruce: if the project will serve as phase one to some larger scheme in terms of both speed and frequency, then it is good investment. If it gets stuck as it is now proposed, it’s waste of money, that could be better invested in bus lanes on congested sections of freeways to speed up long haul buses.

      • dejv, that is exactly what it is intended to be. By running an Amtrak speed service after completing 1/3 of the work for the 110mph project – with the planning long since completed to the point it can be until there is money available to start work – that means that the remaining 2/3 can be split into a number of individual projects each of which will speed existing services, and many of which would allow additional services with the same rolling stock.

        That’s why the Republicans are trying to kill it now – it’s their last real chance to kill it. And if Stage 1 of the 110mph is finished, then it will quickly reach an operating surplus, which means that state matches for the next stages can be financed with revenue bonds.

      • Max Wyss

        Bruce, I may be missing something with your numbers. With 6h30 one way, we slash a few minutes to make it a 13h round trip, leading to 1.5 round trips per day. 13 hours round trip is however not a very “good” number, because we lose one hour with a 2 hour interval, or 2 hours with a 3 hurs interval. The ideal round trip time would be 11h40, leading to a one way time of 5h40.

        IMHO, this should be the one-way transit time to build for. With a 4 hours interval (likely to become a failure), we could provide 4, maybe 5 trains per day and direction (one of the trains would have either a very early departure or a very late arrival), requiring 4 operational train sets.

        For a three hour interval (maybe getting closer to success), we have 6 trains per day and direction, requiring 4 operational sets (yes, we get one to two trains per day and direction for incremental costs.

        For a two hour interval (that’s what made the German IC network a success, some 40 years ago), we would need 6 operational train sets to provide 8 or 9 trains per day and direction.

        And just for the fun of it, for an hourly interval, we would need 12 operational train sets in order to provide 16 or 17 trains per day and direction. Here, it might definitely be worthwile to look at measures to reduce the one-way transit time to 5h20 or below, as this would reduce the number of trainsets by 2.

        For the currently planned 13 hour round trip time, we need 4 operational trains for a 4 hour interval, and 8 operational train sets for a 3 hours interval.

        The conclusion from these number is that the current situation can not be more than the mere beginning, and that it would definitely be worthwile to get transit time down to 5h40 at least.

      • Max, this is the “least capital cost to get a service running”.

        They are targeting arrival on each side of the two main legs by start of business, departure from each side of the two main legs after end of business, and a mid-day arrival/departure in each city. As far as “success”, Amtrak has made its projections on ridership for that schedule.

        Each substantial incremental step toward the planned 110mph Ohio Hub Stage 1 offers opportunities not only improved trip speed but for increased numbers of services.

  • poncho

    I’m just amazed that this Ohio 3C route was never an Amtrak route. How can such a major corridor like this have been overlooked in the Amtrak plans circa 1970-1971? Plus back then Ohio had more of a population. There are a lot of holes in the Amtrak system map but this has to be the biggest.

    • Adirondacker12800

      Ohio’s population is higher than it was in 1970. Higher than it was in 1980 and higher than it was in 1990 or 2000. It’s just that it hasn’t been growing as fast as other places.

    • It is the biggest hole in the Amtrak system, since its the most densely populated corridor that lacks regular intercity rail service … but its a dramatically different population distribution today than in 1971 when Penn Central went bankrupt and the 3C service was halted.

      Back then, Columbus’s urban population was around 500,000 – well up in the ranking of 1970 urban populations … but municipal Columbus had a very aggressive annexation policy, and was a much larger share of its metro area population than Cleveland or Cincinnati, and its metro population was well under 1m.

      Now, Columbus’ metro population is over 1.7m.

      And that’s what makes the difference for the corridor, since the Cleveland/Cincinnati needs a 125mph corridor with dedicated track most of the way to get down to three hours, while the Ohio Hub plan with 110mph between Berea and Columbus and Columbus and just south of Dayton gets Columbus/Cleveland and Columbus/Cincinnati times down to 2 hours.

      Without the 1.7m population of metro Columbus in the middle, the Cleveland/Cincinnati corridor would be more like Indianapolis/St. Louis, as the Urbanophile inadvertently brought to our attention up above.

  • Jane

    I must say my piece with regard to the 3C corridor. I live in Dayton, but work in Cincinnati. The amount of traffic from daily commuters between the two cities is unbelievable. Even at 5:30 a.m. the traffic is noticeable. By the time I arrive at 6:30 a.m. I’m in rush hour traffic. I would love to get on a train at 5:30 a.m. and arrive in time for work. It would be even better if the trains arrived at Union Station in Cincinnati where mass public transportation could distribute the riders. The problem with this planned corridor is the trains will not work for commuters. The times for arrival and departure are absolutely unacceptable to be used by the masses. We need mass transportation that will maximize fuel consumption, and eliminate polution. Personally, I would be happy to eliminate wear and tear on my vehicle. The reason the trains work so well in the Baltimore and DC areas is because they can accommodate the masses traveling to work. This is another prime example of poor planning by Ohio. I don’t know where they anticipate getting their 500,000 riders per year. Surely they must all be retired to accomodate the departure times. I encourage the decision makers to make the commute between Dayton and Cincinnati during prime rush hours to see the need for the 3C corridor. These are the two cities in the closest of proximities. We are truly one big suburb in this 45 mile region. I want commuter trains, but they need to work for the individuals still employed.

    • dejv

      In other words, 3C project isn’t enough for you, you need additional commuter short-haul expresses on 3C’s infrastructure.

    • Don

      I sure hope that very few of the 500,000 anticipated riders are Dayton-Cincy commuters. I doubt the fare structure would be too kind to short-haul traffic on the route. You don’t want to eat up seat miles on the short haul to the exclusion of longer haul (higher fare) passengers. (Like Amtrak pricing itself out of the NY – Phila lane). Sounds like the Dayton-Cincy sprawl might be well serves by an HOV lane on I-75 and some nice express bus service, at least to start.

    • As several people have noted, it won’t be useful for commuting to downtown Cleveland, Cincinnati or Columbus from stations up the line until it hits 110mph in its main segments, and even then it will only be for fairly upscale commuters.

      Of course, the same improvements for what would be an early target for incremental upgrades between Dayton and Cincinnati could easily be used for a commuter rail service … indeed, since the improvements would cut the required operating subsidy, one might even argue for shifting that subsidy to a commuter rail service sharing the same infrastructure.

    • Nathanael

      Cincy needs an astounding amount of rail work to get anything decent. A Dayton-Cincy commuter rail would satisfy your needs and dovetail beautifully with the 3C plan (running no the same tracks). Has anyone proposed it? :-/

  • tony

    i cannot believe that anyone is on board this project, regardless if you are a democrat or republican. this project would sound amazing if we were living in the 1860′s. Has anyone asked the question why someone in Columbus would ever need to go to Cleveland? Ask anyone you know who lives in Cleveland, Columbus, or Cincinnati if they ever travel to the other cities for anything and they will tell you no, they dont have a need. There is new technology out there to solve the transportation problems in Ohio, why is it that Ohio can’t be the first to take advantage of them?

    • Woody

      Well, here’s a refreshingly different take: Nobody travels between Ohio’s biggest cities. Well, different at least.

      Funny, on the Comments at the Columbus newspaper, all sorts of folks weighed in to claim they drive these routes frequently, and of course, faster than the speed of this starter train. Others claim to take the bus.

      Tony, there’s an Interstate connecting the 3Cs and some people want to add lanes to it. Where are all those cars on I-71 going anyway?

      I figured that people would need to travel to and from Columbus — legislators, lawyers, lobbyists, government officials, and citizens with business at the Capitol, fans going to the pro games in Cleveland and Cincinnati and the semi-pro games at Ohio State, students at Ohio State going home, sick people and family going to Cleveland Clinic, art lovers going to the Museum of Art, aging groupies visiting the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, etc.

      But I dunno. Why do people travel between cities anyway? For whatever reason, they do. And lots of us prefer to ride the train.

  • Ken

    Woody, don’t forget Dayton has University of Dayton, Wright State University, USAF Museum (largest tourist attraction in Ohio) and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base as generators/attractors to corridor ridership. Ohio let the naysayers kill the excitement around the X-2000 visit in the early 1990s, but there is an energy building in Ohio to support forward-looking efforts such as Third Frontier and now the 3C. Too many pieces of the puzzle are falling into place. My guess is politicians who try to stifle the 3C now will wish they hadn’t.

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