Hamilton, Oxford may have good shots at Cincinnati-to-Chicago Amtrak stations

Hamilton and Oxford may be good possibilities for Amtrak stations on a route linking Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Chicago. Middletown, on the other hand, seems to be a better fit for a route connecting Cincinnati, Dayton, Columbus and Cleveland, experts on the matter said Thursday.

Hamilton residents and officials are enthusiastic about the possibility. City Council Member Michael Ryan in particular is hopeful a Hamilton station may come into use — and also that the particular station might be the CSX station that Mayor Pat Moeller has taken the lead in trying to preserve.

“We have been in touch with (Amtrak) company officials, and they are really excited about us getting on board with this,” Ryan said. “So we are in communication with them and just trying to get the process moving, get the process started. They share our enthusiasm.

“I’m excited because it’s all part of that transportation bill that’s floating around Congress, and there’s money in there that can be allocated for stations. Let’s say the transportation bill passes, and Amtrak will get some funds. Those funds can actually help us save our rail depot here in town, and turn it into a new use, quite possibly, for a new station.”

Amtrak officials did not immediately return a call for comment.

Moeller, who has proposed calling that historic station, which would have to be moved to be saved, the Lincoln-Truman-CSX Train Station. It is located near Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, and both presidents spoke in the general vicinity.

“We have an opportunity to open Hamilton as an intermediate stop,” Ryan said, crediting Moeller for his efforts. “This is something we’re being very aggressive with. We’re going to keep proceeding.”

Two officials with All Aboard Ohio, a train advocacy organization, gave the assessment that the Middletown area may be a more logical choice for a Cleveland-to-Cincinnati link, but Hamilton and Oxford good choices for Cincinnati-to-Chicago.

“The station is in a bad location railroad-wise,” said Ken Prendergast of All Aboard Ohio. “It’s right at a junction” and a station would probably have to be in a new location.

Hamilton officials have been talking about moving the station to somewhere in the same vicinity. One possibility that has been considered is somewhere to the east in the city’s Second Ward.

For the Cincinnati-Indianapolis route, “they might consider a different route, closer to I-74, but they would have to spend a lot of money to bring that track up to passenger standards,” Prendergast said.

For Cincinnati-to-Cleveland, it’s possible Hamilton could be included, “but Amtrak has favored in past studies going with a route that goes through Middletown,” Prendergast said. “So it would be close, but not right in Hamilton.”

Under the federal transportation bill under consideration, Amtrak is proposing five new routes through Ohio.

Amtrak is seeking $25 billion in each of five-year increments through 2035 for capital improvements, including new stations, new trains, and new or rebuilt tracks. It also would seek $300 million for the five-year period for operating costs. Amtrak would pay 100 percent of construction costs for the routes, and for the first two years, 100 percent of the operating costs. So no state subsidies would be required from Ohio for the first two years, with diminishing payments from Amtrak until the sixth year, when states would take over routes.

Gov. Mike DeWine is expected to be more receptive to Amtrak’s proposal than his predecessor, John Kasich, who returned $400 million to the federal government for a similar plan several years ago.

“When Mike DeWine was in Congress, he always voted to support Amtrak funding,” Prendergast said. “We hear that he’s intrigued by the idea, and we know that Amtrak officials have met with him. But this is the easiest, softest pitch that the state of Ohio is ever going to see from Amtrak on this thing. They’re making it easy for Ohio to knock this one out of the park.”

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