Development of a rail system in Ohio is worth pursuing

People who can remember excur- sions by passenger train from downtown Youngstown stations to Cleveland or Pittsburgh for a ball game or a day of shopping are fewer and fewer.

Seventy-five years ago, special events in Cleveland warranted special trains. Fifty years ago hundreds of kids who performed safety patrol duties near their schools would be rewarded by the Safety Council and Police Department with a train ride and an Indians game. Over the years, those special train rides, as well as daily commuter trains to Cleveland, disappeared.

America, it seems, had outgrown trains, at least for trips that could be made by car. And most longer trips were made by plane.

Meanwhile, Europe didn’t abandon trains. It worked to constantly improve them, making them more comfortable, faster and, almost invariably, running on time. In the United States, there is minimal passenger train service and only the largest cities maintain effective commuter rail systems.

So why are people talking about reviving rail service — in Ohio, of all places?

Maybe because everything old gets new again, and rail service just might something whose second time has come.

State transportation officials say Ohio’s planned passenger rail project could provide Cleveland-to-Cincinnati service in just over 5 hours, about 90 minutes faster than a previous estimate.

It was estimated that 478,000 would use the service each year, and that was based on the slower travel-time projection.

Stimulus grant

Ohio was awarded $400 million in federal stimulus money in January for a startup rail service that would connect Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and Cincinnati with trains running nearly 80 mph by late 2012 or 2013. It has already been cleared to spend the first $15 million on planning and environmental studies.

There are those who denigrate stimulus money, but this money will go to companies and their employees who do the work that is necessary before any major project can go forward. The money doesn’t evaporate; it is plowed back into the economy. And developing Ohio’s rail links with the rest of the Midwest and the eastern United States is a major project that deserves serious consideration.

Another leg of the proposed rail system would run from Chicago to Pittsburgh, through Youngstown.

Traveling by automobile is great. It is convenient, comfortable and it can be done purely on the traveler’s schedule. But it is also inefficient and relatively expensive. Traveling by air can generally be done on a low budget (at least if the traveler has no luggage) and is fast (once the plane is in the air). But the age of heightened security has added more time on the ground than some flights take, and it is hardly the carefree travel experience it was in those years that planes were supplanting trains.

Cost, time, convenience, security and comfort are all important considerations for a traveler, and changes that have come in the last 25 years make those some considerations an important part of why rail travel should get a second look.

Those who recoil from the government investing in the next generation of rail seem to overlook the government subsidies that go to roads, airports and airport security, as well as the myriad costs involved in relying on methods of transportation that are less energy efficient.

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