There are no plans to connect Columbus to Chicago, Cleveland or Cincinnati with passenger rail service, but a local company is reaping the rewards of the increased interest in rail service in the Midwest and beyond.
"By 2050 an additional 100 million people will use rail service, and freight trains will haul an additional 4 billion tons," said Joseph Szabo, administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration.
He was at Columbus Castings yesterday to tout the foundry's involvement in a $352 million project awarded to Nippon Sharyo to assemble and deliver 130 bi-level passenger rail cars from its Rochelle, Ill. plant. The rail cars will be delivered starting in 2015, operate from Amtrak's Chicago hub and travel as far as California.
Columbus Castings is building the undercarriages for these rail cars under a $23 million contract with Nippon Sharyo. This could increase to $40 million and 260 rail cars, said Joseph Haviv, the company's chairman.
"It (has) brought us 30 jobs so far, and we'll hire 50 more," he said of the Nippon Sharyo project.
Szabo also came to Columbus Castings to make a pitch for the Obama administration's Grow America Act, a four-year, $302 billion plan to repair and expand the nation's transportation systems.
About $19 billion of this total will pay for rail programs and could lead to more local jobs if Congress adopts the plan, he said.
"The Midwest has more rail suppliers than any other region, and Ohio is the No. 1 supplier in the region," Szabo said.
Columbus Castings has long been involved in making parts for rail cars. Recent projects include molding undercarriages for CAF USA, an Elmira, N.Y.-based company assembling rail cars for long-distance Amtrak routes; and Hyundai Rotem, which assembled rail cars for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority.
The company has about 800 employees at its approximately 1-million-square-foot facility on the South Side of Columbus. Annual revenues are between $100 million and $150 million, Haviv said.
Passenger rail service in Columbus, however, ended in 1979.
There were about 17 billion intercity passenger trips nationally in 1960, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation's Bureau of Transportation Statistics. This number bottomed out at 3.9 billion by 1975 and rose to 6.7 billion in 2011.
Gov. John Kasich abandoned a proposal by predecessor Ted Strickland to link Columbus to Cleveland and Cincinnati with the help of $400 million in federal stimulus funds. A recent study indicated it would cost $1.3 billion to create a high-speed passenger line between Chicago and Columbus.
"We believe rail service provides the necessary balance and we can provide states with the tools they need to build these projects," Szabo said.
There are no such projects currently planned in Ohio "that I'm aware of," he said.
Improving the local infrastructure and transportation system is vital, said Kenny McDonald, chief economic officer of the economic-development group Columbus 2020.
"More and more, Columbus is the growth engine of the state and we need infrastructure; every kind of infrastructure -- roads, rail and the airport," he said. "We'll take all of the above."
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