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Government and Politics

The 3-C Corridor, a thing of the past
Rail travel from Cleveland to Columbus to Cincinnati

Paul Gaston
The Ohio House has approved a seven-and- a half billion dollar state transportation budget. Part of the bill calls for development of a passenger rail line connecting Cleveland to Columbus and Cincinnati: a three-C corridor. WKSU commentator Paul Gaston looks hopefully to the future from a perspective of 70 years ago.
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If this plan were to become a reality, passenger trains would roll between northeast and southwest Ohio for the first time since nineteen seventy one, the year that Amtrak was established. The plan is to begin the service with current rolling stock on existing tracks, the busy railbeds of the CSX Transportation Corporation. But the intent is to move eventually to trains traveling on dedicated tracks at one hundred ten miles-an-hour. The details are still¬"if you'll pardon the expression"up in the air. Over the next few months, Amtrak will attempt to predict how many passengers might use the new line and how much it might earn. Funding for that work will probably come from the federal economic stimulus package, which contains eight billion to support the development of high-speed rail nationwide. Last fall, Governor Strickland endorsed the idea of improved rail service for Ohio. He said that passenger rail could save money for Ohio families while having a positive impact on climate change and foreign oil dependence. This could be good news for the fifty million people who drive the 3-C corridor every year. And improvements in Amtrak overall, thanks to thirteen billion dollars provided by Congress, should improve service also for Northeast Ohioans looking to travel to Chicago, Washington, and other cities out of state. In fact, you would have to say that the news for Ohioans interested in better passenger trains is the best it has been for a long time. But even as we look ahead to the possibility of safer, more convenient, and more affordable travel options, we might want to take just another minute to look at the past. Let's imagine a time when you might have been able to travel from Cleveland to Cincinnati in about the same time it takes now to drive. But in this fantasy of mine, you would be able to relax. You could do paperwork or take a nap. You could find a good restaurant on board and enjoy a meal cooked to order""en route! You could even get a good night's sleep on the way to Cincinnati and awaken in Union Station ready for the day. How fantastic is that? But let's expand the fantasy by imagining trains to Columbus and Cinnati available around the clock, just about any time that suits. An optimist looking at the legislation being considered might turn the calendar forward and imagine a time when snarled traffic and high fuel costs would make frequent rail service profitable for everyone. Or we could turn the clock back. Seventy years, to nineteen thirty-eight. If we want to travel from Cleveland to Cincinnati, we have a choice between the New York Central and the Pennsylvania Railroad. According to the fifteen-hundred-page Official Guide of the Railways for that year, there were nine trains connecting cities up and down the three-C corridor. On the New York Central, you could leave Cleveland for Cincinnati in a sleeping car just past midnight for a 6:50 arival. Or you could wait until the morning and choose between departures at 5:20, 7:00, and 8:45. Afternoon and evening trains departed at noon, 3:05, 6:10, and 8:45. Except for number 47, which stopped at every little town and took all day, most trains took about six hours for the trip. Or you could choose between the two trains of the Pennsylvania instead. One departed Cleveland at ten-ten at night and Akron at eleven thirty five. The other rolled out of Union Station at seven thirty-five in the morning. What was the difference? The routes. The New York Central trains served Galion, Delaware, Springfield, Dayton, and Middletown. Not exactly as the crow flies. The Pennsy took a different route, through Akron and Orrville. It's not clear which route tomorrow's 3-C corridor would follow, but there is a great opportunity to build one that is more direct. So now let's go back to the future and improve on the past. It seems to be time to take passenger trains seriously again. And perhaps just in time. If we don't get on board with the rest of the world, we could find ourselves waiting at the station. I'm Paul Gaston.

Related Links & Resources
Transportation Matters

All Aboard Ohio

Daily Kos blog

Listener Comments:

On behalf of Tubular Rail Inc. (, I testified last Thursday before the Ohio Senate Highways and Transportation Committee. As an advanced train technology company who thinks Ohio should move forward into the future, not backward into the past with the rail technology it uses to move both passengers and freight, we think some Ohio officials and their supporters are pursuing the wrong plan at the wrong time that will cost hundreds of millions if not billions to reestablish slow (avg speed of 57-mph), costly train service along the 3-C Corridor. At a time when Ohio is hemorrhaging jobs, does it make sense to ship our precious taxpayer dollars to foreign companies who manufacture modern train systems when we instead could keep those jobs in Ohio, as we at Tubular Rail say can happen with our technology? Why would Ohio want to tell the world that it's pursuing an antiquated rail system that it little knows the cost of even though officials say they've been studying it for 35 years or more? If you had a choice between candles or light bulbs, stagecoaches or cars or balloons and airplanes, which would you choose? In the year 2025, when the state's shaky, unreliable rail plan says a system linking various Midwest rail corridors together comes to pass, why would we want to have trains whose average speed isn't all that much better than what 19th century trains traveled at? Ohio should grab all the one-time federal stimulus dollars it can, but it should invest them in new, future-leaning trains, like ours, rather than trains that will have to be dusted off from Ohio rail museum and put back into use. We are strong advocates for rail. It's the kind of rail that's at issue. The choice between no rail and slow rain is false, and the media has failed to inform Ohio voters and taxpayers that other options exist, leaving us to promote ourselves by posting comments like this one.

Posted by: John Spinelli (Columbus, Ohio) on March 18, 2009 3:10PM
I would much rather take a train, loose 25% of the time, but be able to work on the train as opposed to driving in a mindless manner.

Posted by: William Boone (Cincinnati) on March 9, 2009 12:23AM
Thanks, Paul Gaston, for a fine article on trains as "back to the future," and yes, they can be more than that.

I lived in Kent, Ohio decades ago and I can recall the many efforts to get the trains back in Ohio. Many studies over the years, no trains. However times really have changed in a number of ways. I think this time trains will actually happen.

Posted by: Robert van Wormer (Cedar Falls, IA) on March 5, 2009 11:24PM
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