Sometime next month, the Federal Rail Administration is to decide whether Ohio will get $564 million to develop passenger rail service connecting Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and Cincinnati.
There are several problems with the proposal, and we'll list them here, but the bottom line is the system would be redundant.
One problem is the initial cost. Earlier this year, the cost of upgrading rail equipment to permit passenger trains to go up to 79 mph was estimated at $250 million to $400 million. Of the latest amount, about half would be spent on improving property owned by CSX, Norfolk Southern and the Indiana & Ohio Railway Co. In other words, public funds would be spent to improve private property.
Another problem is the subsequent annual cost. A feasibility study by Amtrak - which would operate the service - said the system would cost $29.2 million a year to operate and generate $12.2 million from passengers. In other words, fares would cover less than half the cost. The difference - $17 million a year - would be funded by a state government already struggling to balance a budget.
Amtrak also estimates the system would serve 478,000 passengers a year. That works out to an annual subsidy of $25 to $35 per rider.
Perhaps there is a genuine need for people to travel between Cleveland and Cincinnati - and perhaps eight points in between - and those people can get themselves to and from rail stations but not from one city to another. If so, another system already exists to transport them - a bus.
Monday, Greyhound offered fares of $40-$46 for trips from Cleveland to Cincinnati today. Travelers had a choice of six departure times. Time in transit varied from 5 hours, 40 minutes to 4 hours, 40 minutes.
The same trip via the proposed passenger rail is estimated at 6 hours, 30 minutes, for about the same price.
So, taking the bus would be quicker. Plus, the system already exists - we're already subsidizing maintenance of the roads used by Greyhound.
The $564 million sought for the 3C corridor rail plan is part of $8 billion in stimulus money set aside for high-speed rail projects. If the other projects are similar to Ohio's proposal, we have an idea how taxpayers can avoid another $8 billion in national debt.