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The Midwest High Speed Rail Legacy

January 30, 2011 Comments off

With all the changes taking place in state government, the issue of the 3-C high speed rail corridor looks to be shelved once again. This is unfortunate, however, all along the misnomer of true “high speed” was an issue. Since the start up of this project would have used conventional passenger train cars and operated over freight railroad lines, the time savings and convenience may or may not have been apparent. The true project would have been to build an entirely separate infrastructure. After all, it has been done before here in Ohio.

Yes, Ohio was once home to a vast network of dedicated, high speed rail lines. It was known as the “Interurban”.

Below is a 1906 map of Ohio and the interurban lines that crisscrossed the state.

Impressive? Yes, and this was not even at the zenith of the systems development. After 1906, several hundred more miles of track were placed into service. The interurban were electric powered, high speed for there era (average running of 70 mph), frequent and customer centered. Not only were they clean and “green”, but they offered services unheard of at that time, such as same day delivery of goods and services.

The interurban lines tied together not the big cities, but the small towns and allowed commerce to take place on a micro level. This is a departure from what we think of in terms of high speed rail, major city to major city being the norm. The small electrically powered cars could accelerate much more quickly than long lumbering steam trains, so they could make many more frequent stops and still maintain a reasonable schedule. This flexibility allowed farmers living along the tracks, or merchants in small towns the ability to get on or off just about anywhere, rather than at stations spaced several miles apart. Also, most interurban lines scheduled trains every hour, with a few extra runs during busy periods. This much improved frequency, with many more stops, decent speed, and somewhat lower fares than mainline railroads (about 1/2 to 2/3 the cost for the same distance) allowed many more people to travel who couldn’t before. It was finally possible to a farmer’s wife or the small town family to take a trip into the big city for some shopping or to go to the theater and not have to spend the night in a hotel. Merchants and salesmen could travel between many more towns than before, and deliveries of express freight and milk could be made in a few hours.

The interurban would enter a small town and normally run up the main street, having a  “car stop” at the local hotel, store front or other business that was the designated location. The convenience factor was outstanding, the ability to tie together the region unprecedented.

The privately owned companies received no subsidies or stipends from the communities. Revenue was generated by fare and parcel post costs. Since these revenues were precarious, and since the industry was never particularly profitable to begin with, it didn’t take much of a drop in passenger traffic to send a company into receivership. Many companies never paid dividends on their stock and were saddled with debt throughout their whole existence. Without government subsidy (as found in the fledgling highway construction and auto industries at that time), the system faced a uncertain future.

So what happened?

With the growth of car travel, there was increasing pressure in the 1920s and 30s to get the rails off the roads. Towns began to see the tracks in their streets as a nuisance, especially as the traction companies began deferring maintenance of the road between their rails as required by franchise agreements. Out in the country, state and county governments tried to close down some of the interurbans so they could use their right-of-way to widen the adjacent roads. There was also growing investment in electric utilities, and many interurbans were bought out by syndicates and investors whose primary interest was in the electrical infrastructure, not the railroad.

The Great Depression was the final blow and after the late 1930’s, most lines were ripped up and their right of ways turned into new road ways. The interurban cars were scrapped and the electric substations re-purposed. Their impact on our region was substantial and profound, yet, their existence short lived. One can only wonder the “what if”…

Today, one can still find the remains of this interurban system. For example, State Route 65 between Columbus Grove and Ottawa, Ohio, was built on the right of way of the Cincinnati and Lake Erie. Careful observers can find bridge abutments, substations and even power lines of these transportation marvels.

Its often said that what was once old is new again and this idea holds true for high speed rail.

Eric

A simple request…

January 22, 2011 Comments off

I ask a simple thing of you today, please take a watch of this video.

My ability to summarize this would be lost in its power…I invite you to respond…

Enjoy the day,
Eric

 

New Year’s Resolution

January 9, 2011 Comments off

As we begin a new year, the stormy clouds of change still seem to be looming overhead. Now like any optimist,  I see a good thunderstorm as helpful to our overall environment. Much like these clouds of change, the storm clouds oft seen in Ohio bring rain, lightning and a fresh breeze. All of which are much needed, the same conceptual idea applies here and now.

Ohio is in an interesting place, we’ve seen radical change in the leadership in Columbus. With the often over-inflated promises of reform and change coming forth (as always). But as I’ve said, we need to break our dependence on any direction from Columbus. Truly, change needs to take place here in our back yards.

A few years ago there was a popular bumper sticker that said “Think Globally, Act Locally”. This premise has returned in full force. As the British politician Peter Mandelson wrote recently, “globalization is the process by which national boundaries become progressively less relevant to our economic lives”. This being said, the concept of village/city, county, and even state lines are virtually irrelevant to our current time.

However, the problem as I see it is perception of identity. We are scared that we will loose ourselves and our identity if we allow ourselves to become a part of something bigger. Ada, Lima, Findlay, Bluffton, Columbus Grove, Ottawa, Kalida, Leipsic…all of these towns have very unique character and gifts differing. While we are good neighbors, each of these towns is fiercely competitive with each other, even with the counties they lie within. The division is ingrained upon the culture, from the high schools to the regional planning bodies.

Truly most people have good intentions and the spirit of collaboration is alive, but, not quite well. How will 2011 play out for this concept? It is to early to say, but now is the time to enact one of the oldest traditions for New Years, the resolution.

My New Years resolution is quite simple. Incidentally, I’ve found simple goals are easier then complex ones of course, plus the notion of giving up my coffee sends me into panic. My resolve this year will be to embrace our region for the wonderful gifts we have. From the workforce development side and our excellence in farming, manufacturing, innovation and education.  And from the community side, family, community pride, cooperation, and understanding.

Daunting? Yes, but most rewarding opportunities require hard work and dedication.

Plus, it should be easier then giving up coffee!

Eric

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