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Officials are looking at bringing more rail service to Cincinnati. But there's a long road ahead

A map of Ohio showing proposed passenger rail lines from Cincinnati to Dayton, Columbus, and Cleveland.
Part of Amtrak's nationwide expansion plan is a proposal for passenger rail lines connecting Cincinnati with Dayton, Columbus, and Cleveland.

It's been a long wait for expanded passenger rail in Cincinnati — but it's getting somewhat closer.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine recently instructed the Ohio Rail Development Commission to apply for two $500,000 grants to study new rail corridors in the state. One of those would potentially run from Cincinnati through Dayton and Columbus to Cleveland.

Meanwhile, Amtrak wants to explore expanding its Cardinal line — which currently stops in Cincinnati a few times a week in the early morning hours — to serve the city multiple times a day. It's also applied for a grant from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to study that idea.

Those efforts are part of a larger push to connect Ohio and neighboring states via better passenger rail. But they're all in the beginning stages.

Rail advocacy group All Aboard Ohio's John Esterly says the FRA's process is meticulous and includes three major steps.

RELATED: Federal funding jump starts planning phase for Ohio Amtrak expansion

Right now, the state and other groups are in step one of the FRA's Corridor ID Program. Figuring out which routes are feasible and whether there's demand for them could take between 12 and 18 months, Esterly says. After that, the real work begins — deciding what other stops might go along the routes, how stations will look, the costs associated with building or modifying the routes and so forth.

"The Corridor ID Program, from a very high level, is a very structured opportunity for states like Ohio or even smaller entities to petition new routes for new service, also to look at upgrades to existing routes and also (adding) more frequency," he said during an information session the group held Jan. 17.

Esterly says the route between Cincinnati and Cleveland — called the 3C&D route — would likely go along existing freight rail, much of which needs little modification to meet Amtrak requirements. Still, the whole process is lengthy. He doesn't expect to see a route like the 3C&D operational before 2030.

Advocates say the wait would be worth it. All Aboard recently commissioned a study by Ohio-based Scioto Analytics to assess the economic impact of the route's construction.

Mitch Radakovich leads the Southwestern Ohio arm of All Aboard. He says construction alone could bring up to $36 million to Greater Cincinnati's economy and create as many as 400 jobs.

RELATED: Amtrak expansion in Ohio is expected to create jobs and revenue — but not for a while

But that's a long way off. First, Ohio, Amtrak and other organizations wait to see if they're awarded the FRA grants to study the feasibility of their proposed expansions.

Some transit professionals are hopeful, though. Butler County is constructing a new transit hub in Oxford officials hope will one day host an Amtrak station serving an expanded Cardinal line. Right now, though, it will be for buses.

Nick has reported from a nuclear waste facility in the deserts of New Mexico, the White House press pool, a canoe on the Mill Creek, and even his desk one time.