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All aboard: Ohio promotes rail growth

Andy Ouriel • Mar 12, 2014 at 8:35 AM

A partnership between four Ohio cities with Amtrak stops, including Sandusky, could place them on track to receive millions of federal dollars for station upgrades.

Ken Prendergast, the executive director for All Aboard Ohio, recently clued Erie County commissioners in about how Sandusky’s train station could receive up to $4 million for various improvements. All Aboard Ohio officials advocate for better transportation across the state.

The best chance to receive funds, however, revolves around government officials in the Amtrak zones of Sandusky, Elyria, Cleveland and Toledo banding together and jointly submitting a funding application, Prendergast said.

A united front, as opposed to each of the four entities individually applying, gives this quartet a better shot at receiving money.

“Amtrak has shown a willingness to improve stations” Prendergast said.

Local officials seemed receptive to pursue a partnership.

“That sounds like a great idea for everyone, including the railroad” Erie County commissioner Pat Shenigo said.   Commissioners directed staff to investigate the application process so they can possibly secure funds.

Erie County wants “to explore the possibility of funding to improve the infrastructure at the Sandusky Amtrak station to reduce congestion and encourage economic development for passenger and freight customers traveling the rail corridor,” Erie Regional Planning director Steve Poggiali said.

Many trains, including locomotives and cars chugging along Amtrak’s popular Lake Shore Limited line, rumble through these four cities on a daily basis.

The Lake Shore Limited line spans from Chicago to New York City, with passengers capable of boarding a train in either direction, be it east or west, daily.

Spruced up station

Potential station upgrades result from Amtrak experiencing a boom in ridership, both nationally and locally, Prendergast said.

Amtrak’s national ridership eclipsed a record 30 million riders in 2012, according to the company’s statistics. The figure also represents a 50 percent increase in riders since 2000.

Locally, almost 9,600 people boarded an Amtrak train at Sandusky’s North Depot Street station in 2013. The figure’s up almost 66 percent from 2008, when 5,800 riders hopped on a car.

If officials obtain money for station upgrades, Prendergast outlined several changes for the Sandusky station, including possibly:

•Upgrading the waiting room.

•Lengthening existing 80-foot platform to 550 feet.

•Constructing a second 550-foot platform on the opposite side of the existing platform.

Since people can only board trains on one side at the Sandusky station, different trains must stop and wait until an engine vacates the main line, avoiding a head-on collision. This process often happens at the Sandusky station, delaying departure and arrival times.

Platforms on both sides would eliminate this conundrum and allow people to arrive at their final destinations faster.

Case in point: From Sandusky, Prendergast estimates riders could shave as much as 30 minutes off their total travel time when getting off in Chicago, about a five-hour journey today. Additionally, riders could save an extra hour when riding to New York City, about a 14-hour trip today.

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