Monday, February 8, 2010

Widespread Agreement Against 3C Snail Rail Boondoggle

Throughout Ohio, editorials lambasting the 3C Snail Rail Boondoggle have been abundant. Below are some excerpts with links to source articles. First, some background:
"Three times -- in 1975, 1976 and 1982 -- Ohioans have decisively rejected the use of public money to finance passenger rail in Ohio, twice by breathtaking margins. In 1982, a proposal to build a high-speed rail system was defeated, 2,420,593 to 775,605. And there isn't the slightest doubt voters would react similarly if given a chance to kill the ridiculous rail plan now being pursued by Ohio's leaders -- a plan that would waste hundreds of millions in tax dollars.

High-speed rail remains an enticing idea for Ohio. But this is a state where political expediency almost always trumps what's best for the taxpayers. So the rail plan rolled out by Strickland will be such a colossal failure that when the time is ripe for Ohio to consider a rail idea that is clean, fast and thoughtful, voters will still be so furious over the debacle of 2010 that they'll probably reject it."
Brent Larkin, Cleveland Plain Dealer
High speed?!? 79 MPH is not high speed.
"Yet that's the fastest that passenger trains between Cleveland and Cincinnati will go when they start running, possibly as soon as 2012. This puzzles and disappoints some Ohioans, especially because President Barack Obama announced new rail lines on Jan. 28 as cogs in a national "high speed" network.

A week later, a number of Ohioans, including lawmakers from both parties, are describing the eventual three-hour trip between Cleveland and Columbus as life in the slow lane. The $400 million-plus Ohio railroad would be slower than car travel, because the 79 mph top speeds cannot be reached consistently on a line that shares rails with freight trains.

"Why are we bothering with something that's low-tech?" asked congresswoman Marcy Kaptur, Democrat of Toledo, in an interview with The Plain Dealer.

Higher speeds could be possible eventually. The Ohio Rail Development Commission says that with modifications, speeds of up to 110 mph on the 3C line could be reached by 2022. Anything faster than that, however, would require different tracks and could cost tens of billions of dollars."
Stephen Koff, The Plain Dealer
The devil really is in the details.
"Never mind, if you can, the money. The federal government doesn't have the $400 million. More than likely, our children and theirs will end up paying back the Chinese for the loan. And Ohio, with an impending $7 billion hole in the next two-year budget, can hardly afford the $17 million annual subsidy to operate the rail system.

From the start, the details have been squishy. Last March, the Ohio Department of Transportation said the project would cost $250 million. Several months later, the estimate was revised to $400 million. And after applying for $564 million in stimulus funding, ODOT now says $400 million will do the job.

Amtrak's self-serving estimate that 478,000 passengers a year will ride the Ohio trains, and Strickland's projection that restarting passenger-rail service will create at least 8,000 jobs and pour $1.2 billion into the state's economy are not grounded in exhaustive studies. More important than the boast that 6 million people live within 15 miles of the so-called 3C Corridor is how many live within 15 miles of those three train stations.

That's the rub. People will take the train if it is convenient and economical. As currently planned, this system is neither.

The four trains traveling the 3C corridor will average 39 mph, topping out at 79. Promoters tantalizing the prospect of 120-mph bullet trains eventually speeding along the corridor rarely mention that to accommodate those trains the tracks would have to be replaced.

The estimated $36 to $50 roundtrip ticket between Columbus and Cleveland or Cincinnati seems reasonable until you factor in the inevitable $120 hotel bill. The way the train schedules are structured, you could not travel to a Reds, Bengals, Indians or Browns game and return the same day. Ditto for Clevelanders and Cincinnatians taking the train to a Buckeyes football game.

The schedule also is not conducive for business travelers. Under a typical scenario, someone boarding the train in Cleveland would spend roughly 13 hours and 45 minutes away from home, with a maximum of about four hours and 45 minutes of meeting time in Columbus.

For those of us who romanticize about taking the train, reality has us stranded at the station."
Joe Hallet, The Columbus Dispatch
Cleveland says screw Cincinnati and Dayton.
"For starters, state planners should begin with just 2Cs -- Cleveland and Columbus. If the same number of passenger train cars were to be purchased -- the biggest single projected expense is $175 million for five new trains, each with five passenger cars, a food car, a locomotive and a control car -- the service would be faster and the trains more frequent.

Local cost-sharing Requiring communities to pony up a good portion of the costs for any new stations or local upgrades would add to the political buy-in and free up money for extra rail and signal improvements to allow the trains to run a lot faster than the advertised maximum of 79 mph. Some of the federal grant could then be set aside for future expansion to Dayton and Cincinnati. Having local communities pay for train stations had been part of an earlier plan.

More frequent service and smarter scheduling into Cleveland would allow Ohio passenger rail to connect to the soon-to-be-high-speed Amtrak trains running the Midwest corridor from Chicago to New York and Washington, D.C., across the northern tier of Ohio.

Keeping the initial investment confined to 2Cs would probably contribute to a more amicable and seamless integration of passenger and freight in Ohio, too.
The Plain Dealer Editorial Board

Newark doesn't think it will work, but can't bear to say "No".
"Ohio's initial rail offerings will be quite weak in the eyes of consumers who almost always will pick the easiest, fastest and cheapest option for travel, especially in our quick-paced modern world.
From a Licking County perspective, at least, we seriously doubt many will drive to Columbus, pay to park their car downtown, buy for a train ticket, wait for the train, then ride either direction at a maximum speed of 79 mph for about three hours and still need transportation to their final destination. One could argue even residents of Columbus might not desire so much trouble when they just can hop in their cars.

Thus, there's a real chance this entire project, despite its ability to create new jobs, could become a major drain on state coffers at a time when Ohio faces a budget deficit of at least $7 billion for 2011-13.

With that said, Ohio's rail project might be worth the financial risk."
Newark Advocate
Will anybody ride this train?
"It may be a boon to students and the elderly. Some will take the train because it’s fun, or because it’s ecologically friendly. But we can’t build a passenger rail network based on the people who fall in these categories; there simply won’t be enough riders to justify the investment.
The vast majority of projected riders will have a choice, and these riders will look for convenience, economy and fast service. I don’t think they will find it.

For example, under the proposed 3C schedule, a family of four going from Dayton to Cincinnati to spend a day at the zoo would drive to downtown Dayton at 8 a.m., take the 8:24 train for 1.5 hours to downtown Cincinnati, take a bus to Clifton, and be at the zoo no earlier than 10:30 a.m.

They will have to leave the zoo at 3:30, so they can make the last train at 4:15 and are home by 6 p.m.

Total transit time: 5 hours. Total cost: $73. (Four round-trip train tickets at roughly $60, bus fare at $8 and Dayton parking at $5.)

Compare that to driving less than two hours in a car for about $60 ($.51 per mile based on IRS estimates and $10 in parking).

Without sufficient ridership, the proposed benefits to Ohioans are diminished because benefits of reduced traffic congestion and smog are generated when trains are well-used. If ridership is low, the high fixed costs and up-front investments of rail cause the cost per-passenger to skyrocket.

The challenge facing 3C planners is to create a system that provides convenience at a reasonable price to encourage ridership. I hope they succeed, but I’m not sure enough Ohioans will find the proposed rail system either fast or frequent enough to be worthwhile."
Michael Gorman, Dayton Daily News 
It's too much money; money we don't have.
"The Obama administration and Congress are sending a trainload of $8 billion to Ohio and various other states to spur rail development, but this is a problematic gift. This is money the federal government doesn't have, and spending it adds to the annual budget deficit and the national debt.

If the economy were humming along and the state and federal governments had their budgets in balance, perhaps investing in futuristic rail projects would make some sense. But that just isn't the case.

Expanded passenger rail someday might divert travelers off roads and out of planes, helping to relieve congestion on the ground and in the air, but trains virtually everywhere require tax subsidies. And Americans these days have little or no spare money to prop up such operations."
Editorial, Columbus Dispatch
Want to know what you can do about it?
"...before interstate highways and reliable cars were available, train service made sense. Now it doesn't, unless it's the 200-mph service like they have in Europe and Japan...

...the only way huge investments like this make sense is that if they change the equation. If we can put business folks in these other cities in a fraction of the time it takes them to drive, and at a competitive price, trains might make sense.

Why spend this money on the train when the money can be put to better uses that will benefit a greater number of people when there is little expected use means taxpayers will be funding it for years to come.

To whom in Congress or state government should letters/e-mails be written to express the concern and displeasure — in hopes of avoiding future obligations in the state or putting this money to more productive uses?

Well, my only advice is to organize a letter/phone/e-mail campaign urging your state and federal representatives to revisit this issue. Right now, it appears that Gov. Strickland and a handful of others are so desperate to create even a modest number of jobs that they don't stop to think about what it's adding to our country's long-term debt problem.

I wish our state leaders would start acting responsibly rather than grab any bucket of federal money they can get their hands on."
Brian Tucker, Crain's Cleveland Business
2010-02-09 Update: Actually we're trying to cheerlead against this failure because it moves Ohio backwards. It won't "create at least 8,000 new jobs" either. Heck, it won't even have one fourth that many daily riders.
"Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland is lashing out at critics of the state's plan to use $400 million in federal stimulus money for a startup rail service, calling them "cheerleaders for failure."

Strickland said Tuesday he's tired of people who attack every idea that comes along and always look for something negative to say. The governor said that's not the way to move Ohio forward.

Strickland, a Democrat running for re-election, said the plan will create at least 8,000 jobs and is a first step toward building a passenger rail infrastructure.

Some Republicans have questioned the plan, and newspapers have been full of letters to the editor on the topic, some supportive, some critical.

Strickland said other states would have rejoiced to receive $400 million in federal funding."
Ohio News Network


  1. The cost of the 3C Corridor is on a par with the low-end construction costs of one lane of freeway over the same distance (quoted as $1.5 million per mile).

    Do the math for a single commuter rather than a family of four and you have a different outcome and pollution levels. Train travel is superior for getting work done compared to driving a car between cities.

    Those 39 mph portions can be improved over time. The ultimate goal should probably be one hour downtown to downtown (Cleveland - Columbus), scheduled every two hours. Since I can remember freeway outer-belt portions that were not tied out for years and years, I can make the same argument for freeways being made for rail.

    The proponents are not touting the regional plans, such as Pittsburgh - Columbus service.

    Special train service in the future

  2. HarCohen,

    If we have to spend $400 million ( and we don't) instead of wasting it on snail rail, an extra lane of highway would be a wiser use. That way any of the 300 million Americans who use one of their 250 million cars could have transportation anytime and anywhere they wanted to! Same goes for trucks, motorcycles, ambulances, fire engines, and mail jeeps.

    If we blow the dough on rails, only trains can use them, and people can only use the trains whenever they decide to run. Six departures a day vs. 24/7/365, that's a no-brainer.

    Since rails go so few places, and paved streets connect every desination in America, it makes sense to enhance our installed base of roads rather than dumping funds into an obscure oddball technology like rail.

    Rail had its day, and served us well. But for these and other reasons, rail lost the contest and died nearly a half century ago. Let it rest in peace.

  3. HarCohen -
    Why don;t you do the math on where the operation costs are going to come from? You cant.

  4. Take the operating costs from the casino tax revenues.

    Presumably, you want traffic in both directions on a 3C trip, so that is $800 million to you and $400 million to me.

    The environmental factors favor rail, and the gasoline costs over time are going to narrow the gap in relative costs.

  5. Again,


    Casino tax revenue is already earmarked to play a small part in helping to close the State's $7 BILLION budget gap.

    Try again, or better yet admit that you have no workable answer and spare us all the embarrasment of pointing out your folly - again.

  6. Adding a lane of traffic doesn't do anything to alleviate traffic. Just go and sit on 495 around DC during rush hour. Metro moves more peole for less. Seriously, why does Europe still use rail if it is so "antiquated?" Nostalgia? Nope. It is cheap and saves tons of cash. I will ride the rail every day and read the paper on my I 75 commute rather than be behind the wheel. Cars are for losers. Grow up America.


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