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Amtrak aims to connect Ohio cities, southwest region prepares for integration of routes

Elliott said putting an Amtrak stop in Oxford will help the city eventually reach its goal of becoming carbon neutral, and it will give Miami University students who hail from cities along the Cardinal route another way to travel home.

Oxford’s new stop won’t provide more routes to southwest Ohio riders, but it adds to the momentum of rail accessibility that is becoming increasingly popular for local officials.

“There’s an effort now to continue talking about expansion of Amtrak — not only in Ohio but throughout the nation,” Elliott said.

That conversation received new fuel in Ohio recently. In 2021, Amtrak released its “Connects US” map, which laid out a vision for inter-city rail improvements across the county. Its plan for Ohio included enhancing existing routes, building new stations and creating an all-new “3C&D” route that would connect Cincinnati, Dayton, Columbus and Cleveland.

Last month, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced a fund of nearly $2.3 billion intended to build out the country’s passenger rail network. The announcement directed states to apply for funding before the March 7 deadline.

In May of last year, Dayton Daily News reported estimates from Amtrak President Stephen Gardner, who estimated that the line would cost $100 million to build and a $130 million boost to Ohio’s economy every year.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said the state would consider the financial feasibility of Amtrak’s proposals before accepting the deal. A decade ago, then-Gov. John Kasich refused a similar Amtrak proposal, citing excessive cost to taxpayers, even with significant federal funding.

Ohio’s pending decision on inter-city rail expansion could have a significant impact on Hamilton’s Amtrak future — potentially putting the city at the crossroads of Amtrak’s already-existing Cardinal line and the proposed 3C&D line.

In Amtrak’s 3C&D proposal, the new line would run out of Cincinnati’s Union Terminal and head north to a proposed station in Sharonville. Twelve miles northwest, Hamilton officials, who have long been in talks with Amtrak about building a station to service the Cardinal line, are making a bid for Amtrak to bring the 3C&D line through town, too.

“When [Amtrak officials] came to town to talk with us, we told them, ‘If there’s any way you can swing this over through Hamilton, we can make this work, too,’” Ryan said.

Ryan said, at present, all Hamilton can do is wait for the decision makers; Ohio still needs to decide if it wants to invest in the project, and Amtrak needs to decide where it wants its new route to go.

“On Hamilton’s side, we’re just waiting for the state to make a move. But we’re ready,” Ryan said. “We can make this work if you run the line through town. We can make this work.”

Ryan said Hamilton being at the crossroads would be “huge” for the city. Amtrak’s 3C&D line would run significantly more frequently than its Cardinal line, theoretically bringing more passengers and a financial stimulus into Hamilton.

“We’re gonna be committed to this. We think it’s going to be a great economic development tool, it’s gonna give our residents additional travel opportunities,” Ryan said. “But also, it will allow our businesses to get folks in our town via rail, which I think would be huge.”

If Ohio decides not to invest in more Amtrak routes, or even if Amtrak opts not to bring an approved 3C&D through Hamilton, Ryan said the city would move forward with building a station that would only service the Cardinal line.

“We can take advantage of the advanced cardinal line that currently runs through town,” Ryan said. “So, no matter the plan, we’re gonna take advantage of any economic development opportunity we can get.”

As the March 7 deadline approaches, Ryan said he’s not sure what decision Amtrak would make if Ohio opts to invest, adding, “We’re pretty anxious about it.”

“We just gotta wait on the State of Ohio to make the right moves and we can get some stuff going here,” Ryan said. “We want to make sure it’s gonna work for everybody. We want to take our time, look at the right options, what’s the best fit for the city, and make this work for everybody — businesses and our residents.”

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