University and city representatives heard a presentation on the possibility of bringing an Amtrak stop to town at a meeting Nov. 24 and the general feeling afterward seemed to be that it was positive and the idea worth pursuing.
Some were skeptical after efforts a few years ago were rebuffed by Amtrak but new leadership may signal new willingness to listen to a local pitch.
“In discussion with Oxford leaders, they said they reached out five or six years ago and did not get a positive response. They did not get a stop,” said Derek Bauman, Southwest Regional Director of All Aboard Ohio, an organization which promotes rail travel. “Times have changed. Management has changed at Amtrak. They can’t guarantee anything, there are steps in the request but this is different circumstances. What happened five or six years ago are not the same now. This is the time to set that aside. It is more positive.”
Bauman said his goal is a two-part effort — getting an Oxford stop on the existing Cardinal line which goes through Oxford, and then having Amtrak expand its existing Hoosier State line to include Oxford and other Southwestern Ohio stops which would provide more service here and better times.
The Cardinal route currently goes through Oxford at 3 a.m. three times a week. A stop at that hour may be inconvenient to many, but at least it would provide a rail access to Chicago for Miami University students and town residents that does not now exist.
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Bauman said he would like to see an effort to add the stop here be part of an overall effort to expand the Hoosier State route,
“There’s no reason the two things can’t be done at the same time,” he said.
Oxford mayor Kevin McKeehan attended the meeting and said he came away “very enthused.” He said he saw enthusiasm from other city and university representatives, as well. The route has a stop in Connersville, Ind., a fact not lost on McKeehan.
“There’s no doubt we could generate more riders than Connersville, not that it’s a competition,” the mayor said, adding, “The time of arrival makes it tough for riders.”
That 3 a.m. time may be a sticking point for many, but other factors come in to play.
Bauman said Amtrak is marketing more to Millennials, who tend to drive less and even not purchase cars, making the rail trip to Chicago more appealing, even at that hour.
David Prytherch, an associate professor of geography at Miami and a university attendee at the meeting, said students would be expected to be major users of an Oxford stop and that hour would be less of a deterrent.
“Amtrak sees its future in the Millennial generation,” Prytherch said.
Bauman echoed that by saying, “Miami officials seemed to think the student time clock would not be so bad. They seem to operate on a different schedule, anyway.”
Amtrak was represented at the meeting by Charley Monte Verde and Bauman said he offered information about ridership, which is setting records year-over-year for the past several years, and that university student use has been a prime factor. Purdue University has been a driving force in route reviews looking at college and young adult interest in riding trains, he said.
Bauman said Southern Illinois University, in Carbondale, Ill, which is a town similar to Oxford, sees once-a-day service based on that target demographic.
Mayor McKeehan came away from the meeting not only enthused about the possibility of getting an Amtrak stop here, but also pleased with some of the facts he heard which help to allay some fears about the prospect.
An Amtrak station, he said, is really not much more than a bus stop, offering some protection from the weather.
“I was surprised to hear the average stop is three to five minutes,” the mayor said, indicating fears of trains blocking intersections. “Depending on where (the stop) is located, it has the potential to block quite a few intersections. That was refreshing.”
He said obtaining land for such a station might be a challenge, but the size being small might negate some of that.
“I think someone would commit to allocating some land,” he said.
Bauman said such a small-scale station is really all that is needed since there would not be a need for staffing because most of the ticket purchasing is done on-line.
Prytherch said city and university representatives seemed pleased about what they heard at the meeting.
“There was interest on the city side and the university side. There are opportunities to establish service in the short term on the existing Cardinal line and if we can work with our partners, the chance to improve the system in the future,” Prytherch said. “The time seems like it’s right.”
Bauman said he is already meeting with representatives of other regional universities in Cincinnati and northern Kentucky to build support for expanding stops and rail service to Chicago. The next step is a feasibility study by OKI, which can get moved along with letters of support from government entities. Several have already done so and Oxford will be asked to do so, too.
“I presume you’ll see a letter of city and university support, possibly with backing of the Chamber of Commerce and the visitors bureau, to pursue this,” McKeehan said.