A high-speed rail line from Cincinnati to Chicago became an inch closer to reality when Hamilton County Commissioners unanimously voted Wednesday to fund a feasibility study for it.
The study, funded by the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments, will determine capital costs as well as projected revenues and economic impact on the state and various communities served by the train. It will take about four months and cost $150,000.
County Commissioner Todd Portune called the vote “a bold move forward toward creating multiple transit options for the people of Greater Cincinnati that in turn will become the catalyst for jobs and development in the OKI region.” Portune leads the Hamilton County Transportation Improvement District as well as the OKI Regional Council of Governments.
A feasibility study is a prerequisite before an environmental impact study and before federal funding can be secured.
A high-speed train could reach speeds of up to 110 mph and be able to reach Chicago’s Union Station from Cincinnati’s Union Terminal in four hours. But it wouldn’t be a “high-in-the-sky bullet train,” said Derek Bauman, the southwest regional director of the pro-rail group All Aboard Ohio. “That’s not what we’re going for; there’s not an appetite for that. What we’re looking at doing is taking a service that already exists and improving it incrementally over time in a way that’s cost effective.”
The goal is to extend the “Hoosier State” train line to Cincinnati “so that it runs on a daily basis and leaves at a reasonable hour,” Bauman said. The line currently runs two days a week from Indianapolis to Chicago. The nonprofit also wants to increase service on the Amtrak “Cardinal” line, which only runs from Chicago to Cincinnati three times a week and leaves in the middle of the night.
Several other Midwest cities that Cincinnati competes with for jobs and visitors already have daily high-speed trains to Chicago. “St. Louis, one of our major peer cities, has five round trips per day [to Chicago],” Bauman said. “Detroit has three round trips per day.” Milwaukee offers seven round trips per day as well.
Riding a train is more cost effective than driving a car, Bauman notes, especially for businesses.
“If you’re driving you cannot be on your laptop, you cannot be on your iPhone. On a train, you can immediately start being productive. There is a time value,” he said.
For leisure travel, there’s no need to worry about high parking fines in Chicago or “the cost of tolls, the cost of gas, and the cost of wear and tear on your car,” he said.
“I definitely see a desire to pursue this,” he said. “There are a large number of people coming together who are saying‘We need to investigate this, this could be a game changer for our community.’ ”