If a commuter train comes down the track, Erie County’s commissioners want to climb aboard.
All three of Erie County’s commissioners said they’re interested in a proposal to link Sandusky to Cleveland with a commuter train that would run at least five times a day in each direction.
The Northern Ohio Commuter Rail Coalition’s efforts are backed by Gov. Ted Strickland and Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher, said Brian McCann, campaign consultant for the group.
“We could probably have something up and running in two to three years,” McCann said.
Previously, the rail coalition had discussed running trains that would connect Cleveland and Vermilion. McCann said Sandusky leaders encouraged the coalition to include Sandusky in its plans.
A proposed high speed train corridor that would link Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati “is in preliminary engineering,” McCann said.
Trains could run on existing tracks at 89 mph, speeding employees and tourists to and from Sandusky, McCann said.
The roadbeds and tracks are in good shape, he said.
“Frankly, trains could run tomorrow,” he said. The next step is to complete a $250,000 “business plan.”
“The business plan is not just another study,” he said. It will offer a specific proposal to public and private investors, he said.
McCann said he believes Ohio will release $200,000 to cover most of the cost of the business plan if local communities show enough interest to provide a $50,000 match.
“There is a very strong interest, a personal interest, on the part of the governor and the lieutenant governor,” McCann said.
The match is being raised from private donations, he said, and the fundraising is about halfway there.
Once the $250,000 is in hand, the business plan can be completed in six months, he said.
McCann deflected most questions about what kind of service would be provided by saying that’s part of the reason for developing a business plan.
But he said that for a commuter train system to work, it would have to run five times a day in each direction.
“When opportunities come around, you have to seize that opportunity,” commissioner Bill Monaghan said. “I would be very interested in continuing this conversation.”
“I think it’s a great idea,” commissioner Nancy McKeen said.
Commissioner Tom Ferrell said he also is interested.
“I think it’s a unique opportunity,” he said.