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Passenger rail debate continues in statehouse

Over the next few months, debates will focus on revamping a passenger rail system between Columbus, Cincinnati, Dayton and Cleveland, which will start in 2012 and require a state subsidy of $17 million.

The train is proposed to have a top speed of 79 mph and an average speed of 39 mph, with travel time between Cincinnati and Cleveland expected to be 6 1/2 hours.

During discussions in the House Finance and Appropriations Committee, the Strickland administration claimed that Ohio’s passenger rail service was terminated approximately 40 years ago but that new demand has emerged.

However, they had not conducted any studies or presented any empirical evidence to support their claim that demand has indeed resurfaced.

Other than hearing proponent testimony from experts who were sponsored by the administration, I couldn’t find a compelling reason to support the rail project.

Unlike many other legislators who live outside of the proposed rail corridor, I believe that we must foster projects that will improve the state as a whole.

For instance, the 87th House District receives considerable state funding for transportation, local government, schools and health care from the state, and a strong state revenue source can provide a better quality of life for my constituents.

While forming a decision on an issue, I consider all available information to make the best educated decision that will benefit my constituents.

I felt that, in regards to renewing Ohio’s rail system, we needed to make sure that we were not making a mistake by quickly rejecting the Strickland administration’s proposal.

However, based on the information (or lack thereof) provided by the administration, I voted against the project as it came out of the Finance and Appropriations Committee and again when it reached the House floor.

The Senate opposed the concept but agreed to conduct a study to determine whether demand for passenger rail does exist, which I feel is a sensible approach to this enormous financial undertaking.

It is of the utmost importance that we have objective evidence that the benefits of resurrecting passenger rail outweigh the financial strain on taxpayers.

For this reason, I was disappointed to find that the study was conducted by Amtrak, which will manage the operation of the track and directly benefit from the revitalization of the rail system.

As a result, all objectivity was eliminated and I still have not found impartial data that supports a decision to implement the tracks; consequently,

I do not have adequate objective data to support funding for the project.

Clyde Evans serves in Ohio’s 87th District House of Representatives. To reach him call (614) 466-1366 or by writing to 77 S. High St., 13th Floor, Columbus, Ohio 43215.