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Tom Feran
By Tom Feran January 7, 2011

Columnist Brent Larkin's claim about 1935 steam train stoked with truth

If former Gov. Ted Strickland had used a theme song in his unsuccessful re-election bid, it might have been "I've Been Working on the Railroad."

Jobs were the biggest issue of the fall campaign, and Strickland said that thousands would be created by his plan for a "3C Corridor" passenger rail system linking Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati. He described Gov.-elect John Kasich’s intention to kill the plan and return a $400 million federal grant as tragic and a job-killer.

Critics of the plan claimed that its employment potential was exaggerated, its ridership forecasts were too optimistic and its cost projections too low.

Ultimately, Plain Dealer columnist and former editorial director Brent Larkin wrote: "Voters never warmed to the idea of spending hundreds of millions on a passenger rail project that would have taken riders from Cleveland to Cincinnati over a period an hour and 15 minutes longer than it would have taken on a New York Central train in 1935."

We don’t usually look at remarks from columnists, but that comment stopped PolitiFact Ohio in its tracks.

We knew that the 3C Corridor was not a high-speed rail plan. We had not realized it was more like a trip back in time.

So PolitiFact Ohio asked Larkin where he got his figures.

He referred us first to a year-old feasibility report on the proposed Cleveland-to-Columbus-to- Cincinnati Amtrak service.

"This is the schedule Amtrak said it would run, and the schedule Ohio included as part of its application to the feds for the $400 million," Larkin said. "No other schedule was ever formally provided to the feds."

The proposed schedule shows a 255-mile Cleveland to Cincinnati trip taking 6-1/2 hours. The first daily train would leave Cleveland at 6:30 a.m. and arrive in Cincinnati at 1 p.m.

Larkin then shared a railroad timetable from New York Central Lines, effective Feb 3, 1935. It showed a departure time of 3:10 p.m. from Cincinnati and an arrival in Cleveland of 8:20 p.m., for a travel time of 5 hours 10 minutes -- an hour and 20 minutes faster than the 3C line.

Criticism of the 3C as "snail rail" with an average speed of 39 mph started as soon as the project was proposed.

The Ohio Department of Transportation responded in September with a new average estimate of 50 mph and "speed up to 79." It shortened the Cleveland-to-Cincinnati trip to 5 hours 12 minutes.

But, not so fast.

As an October story in the Columbus Dispatch noted, ODOT itself had said a year earlier that the trip couldn't be made in less than 5 hours 20 minutes -- even if the trains didn't stop. ODOT’s revised schedule hadn't even been seen by the three freight lines that own the tracks the 3C passenger trains would use, putting its feasibility in serious doubt.

And, no matter how weak or strong its support, the optimistic revision still comes up longer than the best rail time of 1935.

"The schedules speak for themselves," Larkin said.

We rate his statement as True.

Featured Fact-check

Our Sources

The Plain Dealer, Brent Larkin, "A train that Ohioans were lucky to miss," Jan. 1, 2011

Amtrak, "Feasibility Report on Proposed Amtrak Service, Cleveland-Columbus-Cincinnati," Dec. 18, 2009

New York Central Lines timetable, Form 1001, effective Feb. 3, 1935

The Plain Dealer, "'Snail rail' criticism dogs supporters of Ohio's 3C passenger rail plan," April 3, 2010

Ohio Department of Transportation, 3C "Quick Start" Train Run Time Analysis and Train Performance Calculations, September 2010

The Columbus Dispatch, "Railroads weren't in on new 3C rail study," Oct. 24, 2010

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Columnist Brent Larkin's claim about 1935 steam train stoked with truth

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