High-speed rail proposal should include the Valley


After slamming the door shut on the plan to build a high-speed rail line between Cleveland and Cincinnati using $400 million from the federal government, Gov. John Kasich appears to have reopened the door a crack to another rail proposal.

Kasich, who took office in January and immediately made good on a campaign promise to return the $400 million to the Obama administration, has told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that he may be more receptive to a high-speed rail line along Lake Erie.

The line would link Cleveland with Chicago, Detroit, Toledo and Buffalo.

And, says Congressman Tim Ryan of Niles, D-17th, it would include routes to Youngstown and Pittsburgh.

“High-speed rail linking our Tech Belt communities [Pittsburgh-Youngstown-Cleveland] will help people create wealth and put unemployed people back to work,” Ryan said recently, after the Plain Dealer first revealed the details of the so-called lakeshore line.

Ryan is part of a bipartisan group of congressmen and women from northern Ohio who have been meeting to discuss the Lake Erie rail project. Last Thursday, Ryan and his colleagues sat down with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to find out how the project could fit into President Obama’s vision for a nationwide high-speed rail network. The president unveiled the $53 billion initiative in 2009, and Ohio was one of a handful of states that won approval for funding.

Former Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland was a strong proponent of a plan to build a rail line between Cleveland and Cincinnati and succeeded in persuading the Democratic administration in the White House to earmark $400 million for Ohio.

But during the gubernatorial campaign last year, Republican Kasich made it clear that he strongly opposed the plan. He said that if elected, he would return the money to Washington. Kasich argued that Ohio could not afford the operation and maintenance costs associated with the high-speed rail, and that trains would not travel fast enough to make them a main mode of transportation.

Secretary LaHood urged the state not to give up the money and warned that it would distributed to other states, rather than being used for other transportation projects, as Kasich had wanted.

Now, however, securing federal dollars for high-speed rail could garner Gov. Kasich’s support, Republican Congressman Steven LaTourette of Bainbridge Township told the Plain Dealer.

Rep. Ryan points out that if the line is built and Youngstown is included in the route, “Our workers will lay the tracks, build the right-of-ways, build rail cars, while others manage and maintain a state-of-the-art high speed rail system. These jobs can be — must be — in America and in our region.”

Three Rivers line

This region was served by Amtrak until 2005, when the railroad shut down its Three Rivers line that ran between Chicago and New York City. Akron and Fostorio also lost service.

Youngstown city officials and Mahoning Valley residents who used Amtrak tried to get the railroad to change its mind, but to no avail. The reason given at the time was a reduction in federal subsidies. The company made cuts in service throughout the country.

In 2008, then Gov. Strickland wrote to the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak) seeking an expansion of service.

Last year, Amtrak unveiled a $117 billion, 30-year vision for a high-speed rail line on the East Coast.

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