Getting high-speed rail back on track PDF Print E-mail
Written by JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN/Sentinel County Editor   
Tuesday, 26 March 2013 08:53
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After being derailed by Gov. John Kasich, local rail supporters are trying to get a passenger rail plan back on track.
Two years after the governor rejected $400 million in federal stimulus funds for a high speed rail project in Ohio, local residents are working to revive a rail plan that would make trains a viable option for those traversing the state.
“We don’t want to abandon passenger rail in the state of Ohio all together,” said Jerry Wicks, of Bowling Green, a member of All Aboard Ohio. “We want to resurrect that plan with a different revenue model.”
The new proposal is called the Ohio Higher Education Rail Network. Unlike the previous plan which just linked Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati, the new plan ties higher education and high speed rail together throughout the state.
Working on the plan locally are Wicks, his son Kelly Wicks, and Roger Shope. Kelly Wicks and Shope recently traveled to Washington, D.C., to attend a national transportation infrastructure conference and meet with Ohio legislators.
The new rail proposal has a different funding structure, different rate of speed, and different target audience.
First, most public transportation in the U.S. is funded roughly by one-third revenue from fares and two-thirds from tax subsidies, Jerry Wicks said. The OHERN proposals, which would link Ohio colleges together, would be funded primarily by university fees collecting from each student the average cost of a textbook — about $105 a semester, Wicks said. Consequently, it would be a “user fee” rather than tax dollars paying for the system.
According to Wicks, studies show the average college student pays about $1,000 a year for transportation between home and school. By using rail, the passengers would save money and reduce their carbon footprint, he said. Once they pay the annual fee, students could ride the rails at no additional charge.
Second, this train system would travel faster than the previous proposal. One of Kasich’s biggest criticisms of the former high-speed rail proposal was that it would average 39 mph.
According to Shope, the new diesel multiple unit trains would be much faster and would pull about three cars of passengers.
The rail supporters pointed out that the money Kasich turned down for rail went instead to states such as Michigan, California and New York. So a 105 mph train now pulls passengers from Ann Arbor, Mich., to Chicago.
Shope said 33 states already partner with the U.S. rail system for some type of high-speed passenger rail. “Ohio is clearly not one of them,” he said.
And finally, the former rail plan targeted people traveling between the 3Cs — Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati. The new plan is much more extensive, and uses the existing rail infrastructure already criss-crossing the state.
“We are not reinventing the wheel here,” Shope said.
The plan works closely with higher education, which is getting pressure from the state to increase collaboration between universities. “This is an easy way for them to do it,” Jerry Wicks said.
“Higher education is the backbone” of the new plan, Kelly Wicks explained.
The passenger rail, however, would be open to anyone. Local supporters envision all types of people using the rails — individuals, business people, athletic teams, senior citizens. Since the trains would travel through rural areas and could stop at small towns, they would be accessible to much of the state.
Both Wicks and Shope are optimistic that the new OHERN proposal could move ahead even though Kasich is in office.
“We have to retrench and rethink,” Jerry Wicks said.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 26 March 2013 09:13
 

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