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Gov.-elect John Kasich rarely minces words when it comes to the proposed Cleveland-to-Cincinnati passenger train, declaring the idea "dead" under his watch while deriding the locomotives "high speed" moniker.
The train, supported by outgoing Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland, would operate four times a day, making six stops (including Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and Cincinnati) over its 258-mile trek across Ohio. And it comes with a $400 million check from the federal government, enough to get the train up and running by late 2012, supporters say.
The rail plan Kasich says prefers -- one to get Ohio’s economy moving forward -- is to get more freight trains to ship goods made in Ohio to out-of-state places. He calls the passenger train a "money pit" because it is estimated it will cost the state about $17 million annually to maintain and operate it, with no guarantee enough Ohioans will buy tickets to eat up those expenses.
But most of Kasich’s criticism about the passenger train has targeted its projected speed.
"They tried to give us $400 million to build a high-speed train that goes 39 miles an hour," Kasich told CNN reporter John King during a television interview on Nov. 19.
He said something similar the day after his election during a news conference in Columbus. Kasich recalled being in a deli in Plain City while on the campaign trail where a model train was set up inside the restaurant going in a huge circle.
"You know, I think that (toy) train goes faster than the 39 mph high-speed train," Kasich said. He was being sarcastic, yes, but sticking to an underlying point that the proposed passenger train would travel too slowly for anyone to actually want to ride on it.
Strickland’s administration says Kasich is deliberately misleading Ohioans about the train’s speed to win support for his idea to scrap the plan altogether and that the new governor knows that its average speed will be faster than 39 mph.
Politifact Ohio decided to check.
Confusion over the train’s projected speed can actually be pinned on the Strickland administration.
The initial proposed schedule called for the train to complete the route from Cleveland to Cincinnati in 6.5 hours. While the top speed would be about 79 mph, the average would be just 39 mph. A person driving a car between the two cities could make the trip at the posted vehicle speed limits in a little over 4 hours.
To combat that criticism, the Ohio Department of Transportation hired a railroad planning firm to study and revise the travel schedule. It surmised that by taking out some curves and switching up the planned route it could shorten the trip’s duration. ODOT released an updated report in September saying the newer analysis cuts the trip down from 6.5 hours to 5 hours and 15 minutes and increases the average speed from 39 mph to just over 50 mph.
That report has gone unchallenged to this point, and it’s average speed is in line with the average speeds of passenger trains in Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, Texas and Oklahoma, according to ODOT.
That’s fast enough for Strickland officials to want to keep this project on track. Strickland rejected Kasich’s request to pull the idea saying not only will Ohioans ride the train but that the plan could produce about 16,000 jobs.
Also, ODOT in October released a report declaring that more Ohioans are riding passenger trains, proof the Strickland administration says that the 3C train would be a success.
Kasich has not let up.
He’s written to both Strickland and President Barack Obama asking them to forget the train program altogether and allow Ohio instead to use the $400 million on some other infrastructure projects.
After the Obama administration rejected that request, Kasich enlisted the help of outgoing Republican Sen. George Voinovich. In November, Voinovich introduced a bill to allow Kasich to bypass federal authorities and use the money to fix Ohio’s roads and bridges rather than build a passenger train. The bill, however, isn’t expected to survive.
Other states, meanwhile, have said they’d like Ohio’s share of rail money if Kasich doesn’t want it.
So Kasich is correct in that the federal government has approved $400 million in stimulus for development of high-speed rail service in Ohio.
But his use of 39 mph as an average speed for the train relies on projections the administration discarded and ignores results of a newer study that included changes to the rail route. That’s an important detail; one that’s needed to keep things in context.
We rate Kasich claim about the 3C train as Half True.
John Kasich, CNN interview with John King, Nov. 19, 2010
John Kasich, news conference at the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, Nov. 3, 2010
Ohio Department of Transportation, 3C "Quick Start" Passenger Rail Plan report, September 2010
The Plain Dealer, "Kasich, Strickland tug-of-war over passenger-rail service continues," Nov. 9, 2010
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