Project: Downtown Streetcar

2.8-mile new line, running from Downtown to the Ohio State University, along High Street

May be expanded into a 13-mile full line (as LRT/Streetcar combination) running north from Ohio State to Delaware County, via existing freight tracks, depending on funding

Costs could run from $100 to $650 million

Relevant article on the Transport Politic: Columbus Looks at Light Rail, 11 January 2009.

click photos to enlarge




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Cincinnati streetcar projects, take hits in fed funding denials

By John Michael Sp..., Columbus Government Examiner
October 22nd, 2010
..COLUMBUS, Ohio (CGE) - The bad news in the announcement Tuesday by U.S. Department of Transportation on who won $600 million in federal grant programs directed at innovative transportation ideas, is that Columbus, the middle C in Governor Strickland's 3C train corridor, and Cincinnati, where a capital intensive streetcar plan is underway, both took hits when projects for each city were denied federal funding.

For Columbus, denying help to build a proper train station in Columbus that Amtrak would stop at should the 3C project move forward beyond current planning and engineering stages leaves state and Columbus officials looking in the mirror about where to find construction costs for a modern ADA-compliant train station that Amtrak, the proposed operator of the plan to revive passenger rail along a 256-mile rail route whose end destinations are Cincinnati and Cleveland, can by law stop at.

For Cincinnati, which previously won federal funds for its controversial streetcar plan, transportation officials must seek funds elsewhere, as estimated project costs are not fixed and have risen considerably over time.

The only Ohio project funded - for $10.5 million - was the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority's project to reconstruct a heavily used light-rail and bus station.

The passenger train project remains a polarizing project, pitting Strickland, who argues it will create jobs and connect Ohio to a larger Midwestern network, against his GOP challenger, John Kasich, who says the train is "dead" if he's elected governor, and who has said the money awarded to Ohio by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) could better be spent on roads and bridges.

Ohio was awarded $400 million earlier this year from the FRA for the 3C train corridor project, about $163 million less than it applied for. Since then, nearly every major Ohio newspaper has editorialized that the 3C train plan isn't what its supporters say it will be, and that if Ohio spends the federal money on it, the state will be lashed to a project for decades to come whose optimistic ridership numbers have been questioned as inflated to win support for it, whose timeline to completion is vague at best, and whose operation by necessity will force the train to share freight rail tracks owned by companies that would rather have passenger trains run on their own dedicated systems.

Three other factors, transit time, average speed and Positive Train Control, have created a dividing line between supporters and critics.

Supporters say a transit time of less than six hours compares favorably with traveling the same distance by car, and that an estimated average speed of about 50 mph is an improvement over the initial projection of just 39 mph. A top train speed, a function of track safety ratings and track sharing with freight trains, is about 79, far slower than the sustained high speeds of trains in Europe, China or ones California and Florida are proposed that would run at 200 mph or more.

Critics argue that the train will be too slow, even at an average speed of 50 mph, to attract robust ridership enough to materially reduce highway congestion or carbon emissions, and that a lack of train stations and supporting transportation like buses or light rail in any of the eight stops on the line as proposed will strand riders at their train stop, increasing their out-of-pocket costs.

Amtrak, the proposed operator of the system, will not stop at stations that are not compliance with ADA standards. Since the FRA money can not be used to build train stations, a fact that prompted ODOT to apply for federal monies on behalf of Columbus, cities wanting to be a stop on the line need to look to their own budgets, which are generally not flush with cash, or other state or federal funding programs.

Positive Train Control, a sophisticated and expensive safety system congress has mandated be in place by Dec. 2015 to avoid accidents when freight tracks share their tracks, with passenger trains, has not been addressed by ODOT or any of its train consultants as to what the costs will be and who will pay for them. Another important ancillary issues is accident liability insurance. Freight railroads want the public to shoulder this burden, relieving them of the responsibility of paying claims when trains collide, people are injured or killed and lawsuits fly.

Moreover, the $17 million in yearly subsidies the system will need to bridge the gap between projected revenues and expenses, a figure many say is conservative at best and could easily be much more if overly optimistic projections meet the rigors of reality, provides a big challenge to state rail officials, and lawmakers who must balance a budget projected to be $8 billion or more out of balance in the coming months, to find sources for this on-going subsidy.

Press reports say more than 1,000 proposals totaling $19 billion for the money were received by federal transportation officials, who approved 42 construction projects and 33 planning projects nationwide, including $47.6 million to construct a new street car line in Atlanta.