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RAIL SERVICE Several use hearing to criticize Amtrak cuts



Published: Wed, February 23, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Loss of rail service is seen as a blow to the whole Valley.

YOUNGSTOWN -- The impending loss of Amtrak rail service in Youngstown brought Phillip J. Streby more than 300 miles from his home to discuss the situation.

Streby, an Amtrak conductor for the past 20 years and a Peru, Ind., resident, spoke at a public meeting Tuesday about the elimination of rail service to Youngstown and other cities. The session, held by city council's utilities committee, attracted about 30 people.

Streby said the Bush administration's plan to reduce Amtrak's federal subsidy from $1.8 billion in the last federal budget to $1.3 billion in the upcoming budget means more communities will lose their rail service.

"The federal government doesn't get it," he said. "Rail travel is more important than they realize. It's the lifeblood of this country."

Service ends March 4

Amtrak will shut down its Three Rivers rail line on or about March 4. The line goes between Chicago and New York City with one daily stop in Youngstown.

Amtrak officials say the line is shutting down because the company used it primarily as a mail shipping route, and it's getting out of that business.

Councilwoman Carol Rimedio-Righetti, D-4th, and chairwoman of council's public utilities committee, said she will urge council to pass a resolution to ask Amtrak to keep providing service to Youngstown.

Tom Anderson of Youngstown said he was part of a committee in the 1980s to bring Amtrak service back to Youngstown.

"Keeping Amtrak in Youngstown is a fight, but it's essential," he said.

Opponents speak out

Carol Gale McDonough of Youngstown said her first Amtrak trip was two weeks ago to New York City. Only days before the trip, McDonough said she didn't even know a train came through Youngstown.

"What started out as a lark turned into a memorable trip," she said. "Now I'm excited about train service, and I find out it's going to be gone."

Several of the 10 people who spoke at the hearing said that the elimination of rail service is another blow to the Mahoning Valley.

There are no commercial airlines flying out of the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport in Vienna, and Greyhound doesn't have many buses arriving and departing from Youngstown.

"It's important to have transportation to other cities," said Phil Kidd of Youngstown. "At this point, we don't need to be subtracting any services. We need to be adding."

Nancy Ault of Boardman said her past Amtrak trips to Colorado and California were wonderful experiences.

"It was just awesome to me to sit back in the observation car and see the country go by," she said. "I would hate to have that service discontinued."

No use mourning

The Ohio Rail Development Commission wants to build a high-speed rail service that would include stops in Youngstown. The system would be built in phases over the next 20 years, and would cost between $3 billion and $4 billion.

When the Amtrak cuts were announced last autumn, Jim Seney, director of the ORDC said, "We don't need to waste time mourning the loss of trains that weren't making the grade financially. What we need to be doing is moving forward on developing trains that make financial sense and get people where they want to go."




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