(Unedited) Podcast Transcript 485: Amtrak vs Brightline in Northeast Ohio

May 29, 2024

This week we’re joined by Cleveland journalist Ken Prendergast to talk about intercity passenger rail in greater Ohio. We chat about the competing interests of Brightline and Amtrak and the history of passenger rail planning in the region.

Check out Ken’s NEO-trans Blog for more.

To listen to this episode, visit Streetsblog USA or our hosting archive.

Below is a full AI generated unedited transcript:

Jeff Wood (2m 13s):
Ken Precast. Welcome to the Talking Headways podcast.

Ken Prendergast (2m 31s):
Thank you for having me. Well,

Jeff Wood (2m 32s):
Thanks for being here. Before we get started, can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Yeah,

Ken Prendergast (2m 36s):
I’ve been a journalist for 30 years and also a rail and transit advocate for about 40 years. I’ve worked full-time in both areas, including as a staff writer for the Sun newspapers, which was the largest chain of suburban weeklies. And I had the distinction of being the only reporter at that newspaper that covered the mother city of Cleveland and Cleveland City Hall. So that was one of my gigs and was also the executive director of Alor Ohio and served in other positions there as well over four decades. And one of the things that Alor Ohio created was a consultancy called Neo Trans. And Neo Trans was specifically to work on transit oriented development issues in the greater Cleveland area, northeast Ohio.

Ken Prendergast (3m 18s):
That’s the neo and trans was the transportation we were trying to promote TOD transit oriented development in in greater Cleveland. Since the system wasn’t expanding geographically, we wanted to bring the riders to the rail system and that was one of our goals. And as time went along, the, the Neo Trans Blog morphed into more just general real estate. And so I convinced Albert Ohio to sell the trade name to me and made it a part of my company. And, and it’s been like that ever since. And no, so now it’s Northeast Ohio transformation and we deal with all kinds of real estate, transportation, business related activities and sometimes they, they kind of mesh together in the context of what I recently reported about the Amtrak versus Bright Line competition that may be brewing here in the Midwest and particularly here in Greater Cleveland or in Ohio.

Ken Prendergast (4m 18s):
So that’s, that’s where I’m now, and, and the blog gets close to 300,000 views a month, and we do a lot of news activity. We have an article roughly every day and sometimes several times a day if it’s, if it gets really busy.

Jeff Wood (4m 31s):
That’s awesome. When did you start getting interested in transportation? Was it something that you’ve always been interested since you were a kid, or is it something that grew on you later on?

Ken Prendergast (4m 38s):
I was actually hoisted aboard the Strasburg Railroad at age three in 1970 and never recovered. I remember one thing about that train ride is that my face hurt, and after seeing pictures of the broad smile across my face, now I can remember why. So I, I’ve always, always liked transportation, particularly trains, and that’s been my love ever since.

Jeff Wood (5m 3s):
What’s your interest these days? Like? Is it specifically transportation or is it other, obviously you write about other real estate policies and things like that, but have you delved into other things, transit or transportation that earn your focus?

Ken Prendergast (5m 13s):
Yeah, we, we get into all kinds of stuff at Neo Trans. My wife handles the digital advertising, so she’s been very successful in helping us develop the blog. We cover, like I say, transit ordered development. We cover real estate. You know, a lot of that comes from my father’s background in that he, very early on, was one of the fundraisers for the Playhouse Square Foundation, which was an effort to try and save some of Cleveland’s old vaudeville era theaters. And there’s a collection of five or six of ’em that were in danger of being all torn down and turned into parking lots. And instead he helped a guy named Rayson to develop, you know, raise funds for the effort to save those theaters. And I believe all of them were saved. And after that he got into consulting with the Chamber of Commerce here, which was called the Greater Cleveland Growth Association, and then went on to be a realtor for one of the large local real estate companies here and sold houses for 20 years.

Ken Prendergast (6m 6s):
And he loved the history of a lot of these houses and architecture. He was better at math. He probably would’ve been an architect. So that, that’s where my interest in a lot of that comes from, from him. But he always was interested in trains too, and, and anything that worked on wheels, he was, he was interested in that.

Jeff Wood (6m 24s):
How are you feeling about Cleveland these days?

Ken Prendergast (6m 26s):
Generally pretty good. Yeah. There’s always, you know, trying to come outta the rust belt, you know, thing that hangs over you is difficult. And, you know, there’s always the legacy of that, but there’s also a legacy here that’s very much to be proud of. And it’s, you know, if, if something was always good news, nobody would read it. And so the history of Cleveland is fascinating, both from good news and bad news. You know, in every building that’s in this city, there’s some kind of fantastic history that you can unearth or happen to write an article one day about a building that was being proposed to be torn down. And turns out it was the location where actually where the first electric railway in the world was developed, it was a thousand feet long on a track that had electrical pickup down between the middle of the rails like your old Lionel Train set.

Ken Prendergast (7m 14s):
And they built it down the, the middle of the street tracks on the street built out of that factory. That was the first electric railway in the world. And ironically, a few years later, there was also the, the corner of that factory where they started making went and automobiles, which became one of the early giants in the automotive industry. And their factory still stands a couple miles from where I live here in Lakewood, Ohio, which is the suburb of Cleveland. You know, there’s, there’s all kinds of these tremendous historical things and you know, unfortunately we’re not able to save all these structures. But even where the structures are gone, there’s something to say that happened there. Cleveland was one of the giants of the Gilded Age and a lot of the big city amenities that were created when Cleveland was the fifth largest city in the country in the 1920s.

Ken Prendergast (8m 1s):
A lot of that’s still here, including those theaters that I mentioned, as well as these large foundations of financial foundations that are here. The Gun Foundation, the Cleveland Foundation, all of those help support programming that gives this region a pretty good quality of life, even despite its declines over the last 50 some years.

Jeff Wood (8m 20s):
That’s super interesting. I’d love to go with you on a history tour, ’cause I imagine you have a lot of information to share. Well,

Ken Prendergast (8m 25s):
I’ve, I’ve done history tours. My wife also works for the US Committee on Immigration and Refugees. So when they bring in new people to live in Greater Cleveland, I give us tours of the history of this region and the various, you know, what happens at this structure and who’s buried in that cemetery. There’s a lot of fascinating history here.

Jeff Wood (8m 48s):
I wanna talk about the article you wrote, the competition between Bright Line and Amtrak in Ohio. But first I think there’s some history that kind of leads into that. And so I’m curious, you know, about some of the history of passenger rail in the state of Ohio in the region as a whole, some of the false starts, maybe that happened. I know that like in 2010 I think it was that Governor Kasich gave back $400 million. So I’m wondering If You can give us a little bit of background and history.

Ken Prendergast (9m 12s):
Unfortunately, since I’ve, I’ve been involved in passenger rail advocacy going back to about 1983, I’ve seen a lot of the false starts and oh, we’re just so close and, and then it slips away. And the we’re so close is one of the things that, that keeps members submitting their dues renewals to the likes of all Ofor Ohio and from Ohio to the Rail passenger Association. But you know, we’ve, we’ve had efforts in the 1980s or even in the seventies that were, you know, missed steps then we had in 1982, a sales tax proposed for a bullet train system linking Ohio’s largest cities was a terrible time to be putting a sales tax on the ballot. And even more difficult because Ohio didn’t have any kind of experience with rail, you’re asking people to go from zero to high speed, which is a big leap of faith for people to take.

Ken Prendergast (10m 1s):
And so in states where they at least have some kind of daytime service for people to say, okay, well that’s what a train is, it’s easier to make that next step forward. And when you’ve got no momentum, it’s very difficult to change zero to something. And so we were after that trying to go and get something conventional speed on the existing tracks, fix those things up, speed it up, add new stations, or rebuild oat stations and get something going momentum wise so that then we could advance the next step. And eventually we got ourselves to the late two thousands where there was a plan called the Ohio Hub Plan, which was multiple routes throughout Ohio from, you know, Cleveland to Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit, Cleveland to Buffalo, Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati via Dayton, Dayton to Chicago, Columbus to Chicago, Columbus to Pittsburgh.

Ken Prendergast (10m 55s):
There’s all these different city pairs that are within 300 miles or so that really hit the sweet spot for passenger rail. So the goal was, is to go for what made sense as the first step of a system, and that was the three C corridor, Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati. And you know, some people who are not familiar with Ohio may be surprised or learned that Ohio is the seventh most populous state in the country where the ninth most densely populated France is only slightly more densely populated than Ohio is. That kind of thing tends to surprise people, including our own elected officials who seem to think of, well the only way that that any train to Ohio would make sense is if we connected to someplace that was, that was big like Chicago or New York or something like that.

Ken Prendergast (11m 39s):
It’s like, well wait a second, we have what it takes here to make this thing work. We just need the chance. And trying to get Ohio, which is a risk averse state to begin with, to try and take a risk and all growth is based on risk, has been very difficult because of this lack of anything that we have now. And so we need somebody out there willing to take the risk. And so far Ohio has not been it. We had that chance in 2010 when Democratic Governor Strickland Ted Strickland got $400 million and it was labeled the Obama High-speed rail plan. And of course the, the Republicans in Ohio says, you know, that that’s, you know, terrible thing because it’s coming from Obama and in Florida, same deal in Wisconsin, same deal.

Ken Prendergast (12m 24s):
They gave back more money than we did in both of those states. But you know, somebody was gonna spend that money and they were gonna use it for building good stuff. And ultimately, since Ohio said, we’re not gonna use it, once Ted Strickland lost his reelection, that money went to go build trains somewhere else and we got nothing out of it. Ironically, you know, Ohio has this big rivalry with Michigan, by the way we called it that state up north. And some of that money ended up in Michigan of all places to help improve their already existing 79 mile per hour train services to boost it up to 110. And we were just trying to get to 79. So that was one of the things that, you know, set us back. But at the same time, a few years later, we saw a company called Brightline, which was connected to Florida East coast railway or industries I should say.

Ken Prendergast (13m 11s):
And they proposed, you know, this Miami to West Palm Beach passenger rail service on existing tracks. They, they would add more tracks, they’d speed it up, add stations, and ultimately, you know, looking toward expanding toward the north, and here’s a state that gave back $1.4 billion of Obama money, federal money. And they decided to go ahead and support this issue by giving them access to highway rights of way and spending 200 plus million dollars on a new air and rail terminal at the Orlando airport. And this approach worked because it was led by the private sector. And the problem with the Amtrak model for states like Ohio and Florida and others, is that it requires states to take the initiative and states believe like Ohio, that they don’t, they should not be getting into the transportation business as they say, they believe that somebody should come to them and knock on their door and say, we would like to, you know, locate in your state just like any, you know, company opening a warehouse or a factory or office building and say, we’d like to open in your state.

Ken Prendergast (14m 15s):
You don’t have states going around so much in building office buildings and, and then leasing them out private sector. It’s usually the other way around. So that was the approach that worked in Florida and that I think has a chance of working here. Now we have seen Amtrak respond to that by saying, well, we’ll we’ll front the first few years of the operating support for these trains, you know, but we still need the states to sponsor this thing to sign off and say that in the long term we’ll be responsible financially for these trains. Bright Line doesn’t take that approach. They say, look, we’re gonna support this thing out of, out of passenger revenues, out of real estate revenues. It’s kind of going back to the future of way, you know, railroads and particularly the Interurban railway system was developed in the United States and especially in the Great Lakes region, is that it was all tied to real estate and also to electric utilities and it wasn’t a standalone system.

Ken Prendergast (15m 11s):
So that’s why I think that approach has a pretty good chance here.

Jeff Wood (15m 15s):
It’s also interesting amidst the infrastructure bill and that being passed because there’s now $66 billion for inner city passenger rail, you know, across the country from, from Amtrak. And the Amtrak even created a plan. So you can have this, this competition now because we’ve actually put so much money into passenger rail, at least you know, so far with the infrastructure bill. And so that much money allows kind of Amtrak to do these massive plans. So there’s Amtrak Connect’s us Plan, which has Cleveland at the center of a bunch of stuff. We reported recently also on the Great Lake Stations improvement initiative. And so, you know, Cleveland’s kind of at the center of all this for Amtrak specifically.

Ken Prendergast (15m 53s):
Yeah, it’s interesting that If You go back to the old Ohio hub plants from almost 20 years ago, is that it showed, it actually was originally gonna be called the Cleveland Hub System, but that wouldn’t sell around the rest of the state of Ohio because the, you know, Columbus and Cincinnati and everybody else to say, Hey, what about us? So they changed it and called it the Ohio Hub plan, and the heart of that plan was this x of routes that crossed Cleveland from Cincinnati to the lower part to Buffalo and Toronto at the upper part to Detroit over, you know, to this corner to Pittsburgh down at this corner. And of course, those cities weren’t the end of it either. You could go beyond those and connect to the Midwest system or to the, the Canadian system or to the Northeast system.

Ken Prendergast (16m 36s):
And so there was something beyond that. And when you look at a map of Ohio, it’s kind of like the area where area where there’s, there’s been a blackout of some kind, you know, the electricity’s not there and, and there’s this darkness, this void and this Ohio Hub system was intended to fill that void and to link up the Midwest Chicago based systems with those that are northeast corridor based. And it still makes sense now as it did then. And you know, it’s funny, people say, well, you know, this plan died. Well, this thing wasn’t never, it’s not an organic thing, it’s, it doesn’t die. It can come back at any time as long as there’s a will, there’s a way.

Jeff Wood (17m 16s):
Tell me more about the Great Lake Station improvement initiative, because I’m interested in that part of it too, thinking about, you know, at least renovating or reorganizing or refocusing or rethinking stations in the whole region.

Ken Prendergast (17m 27s):
Sure. That’s something I’m particularly proud about because when I was executive director at Oliver Ohio, we were looking for something for us to do in the wake of this $400 million being given back. And one of the things that jumped out at us was that you have, across northern Ohio, you have two long distance routes that share a common route from Cleveland West. It’s the lake shore limit route between Chicago, Toledo, Cleveland, you know, New York City and Boston. And then you also have the Chicago, Toledo, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Washington DC Capital Limited. And so they, they share a route west of Cleveland. The interesting thing about that route is that If You, look at where the stations are. There’s a station on the north side of, of one city like Cleveland, the next city, the station’s on the south side of E area, the next city, the station’s on the north side at Sandusky.

Ken Prendergast (18m 17s):
And then you get to the next city, it’s Toledo, it’s on the north side. The platforms are also on the north side of this double track line. And so for Amtrak, half of their trains always have to cross over and they all have to zigzag in between 70 plus freight trains a night or a day, I should say 70 trains a day. But you know, dozens of trains each night of, of freight. And they’ve gotta weave their way between this flow of traffic, which not only slows down Amtrak, but it slows down Norfolk Southern as well. So when we talk about this corridor, it’s a corridor that sees more freight tonnage than the Ohio Turnpike and If You ever driven the Ohio Turnpike, it looks like a truck route, you know, it’s, it’s very heavy with truck traffic and this railroad line sees even more freight traffic than that you throw in four Amtrak trains a night into there.

Ken Prendergast (19m 5s):
You know, it gets pretty crazy when you’ve gotta zigzag these trains in between them. So we said, why don’t we have the platforms on both sides of the line and have some way of connecting them so you don’t have to walk across tracks with trains, you know, going by, have overhead or underneath or whatever the case may be, and make it so that you can, you can process passengers from either one of those tracks wherever the void and the freight traffic may be. And you know, we estimated that it would, it would cost probably 10 to $15 million per station, maybe a little bit more at Cleveland because they’re proposing to have it connect with the existing light rail system there and maybe Greyhound or RTA bus services. We also tried to bring in the other modes of transportation at the other cities as well.

Ken Prendergast (19m 48s):
And we were successful in doing that at Toledo by bringing Greyhound over there. We got Greyhound to come into the Ely station. We’re still waiting for Amtrak to come into the, into the train station there, but Greyhound is there. And also Sandusky, we got Greyhound to relocate to that station too, along with their transit system. Same at Elyria. So we still need to get these platforms and the access way, the safe access way between those platforms and the station waiting area put in place. And it’s not gonna be, you know, cheap. But in the grand scheme of things, you know, when it comes to transportation, nothing is,

Jeff Wood (20m 23s):
Yeah, it’s an investment. It’s an investment. Yeah.

Ken Prendergast (20m 25s):
And what’s really important about this too is that it also sets the stage for growth because the way that the system is set up right now is it makes it very difficult to add more trains to it and certainly gives another reason for Norfolk Southern to say no. So if we give something to Norfolk Southern, say, look, we’re gonna not only, you know, free up space for new train services, we’re gonna free up space for what you’ve got already and and make the existing situation more fluid for Norfolk Southern so that you know, they’re not having to stop and wait for Amtrak to switch over and cross over to this platform and then cross over to the next one. We estimated it actually at each one of these stations, it’ll save 10 minutes from each, each train. You know, that’s 80 minutes a night just in four stations, Toledo, Sandusky, Elyria, and Cleveland.

Ken Prendergast (21m 10s):
It’s a tremendous potential time savings just for what’s there now.

Jeff Wood (21m 13s):
That’s awesome. And it also kind of relates to, you just mentioned Norfolk Southern and I think that’s interesting too because it feels like there’s even a competition maybe between Amtrak being able to fund at least through the state of Ohio, different lines in the state. So whether it’s the three C plus D line or the Chicago Columbus, Pittsburgh court or there seems to be like a back and forth there as well.

Ken Prendergast (21m 33s):
Yeah, there is and and you know, one of the things that was done during the Ohio hub planning process was the director of the Ohio Rail Development Commission, which is charged with the responsibility for improving freight as well as passenger service. They made the case that, look, we’re gonna be investing in or freight infrastructure as well, this isn’t just about passenger service, we wanna do right by you as well. And so they, they made the case at that time that we need to make this not just about passenger service, but about all rail services. And he even went to the highway contractors and said, you know, when you start building these rail systems, this is no different than building a highway until you get to the last part where you’re putting down the ties on the rails.

Ken Prendergast (22m 16s):
Up until that point, it’s still a road. And so who cares what you’re building? You know, as long as you’re making money, who cares? And some of them took that to heart and said, yeah, that, that makes sense. Okay. The approach then, and I believe now is that the approach was to not touch gas tax revenues. That the goal is to expand the pie, not to slice up the existing behind the smaller pieces.

Jeff Wood (22m 40s):
The FRA recently, you know, basically said that enhanced inner city passenger railroads under 750 miles need to be state supported. You mentioned this earlier, the state of Ohio doesn’t necessarily wanna get into the business of running a railroad or you know, an Amtrak line. They want to have somebody else run it, they can fund it, but they just don’t wanna have as much to do with it. I’m curious how that fits under Ohio’s current political leadership and maybe previous or future political leadership. Would that change or would that stay the same?

Ken Prendergast (23m 10s):
The law stole the law. You know, anything under seven 50 miles is still for the states to pursue. It’s interesting that anything 750 miles or more supposedly for Amtrak to pursue, but they will say that, well, you know, we, we don’t have funding for that. And the only way that we can add that is if it doesn’t add to our annual operating subsidy. And of course you’re not gonna be able to add any long distance straints without adding to direct operating subsidy. And for that, anything than seven 50, everything supporting it operating, when you look at how things are subsidized in the passenger rail industry, by and large, the movement of the vehicles is the parts that subsidized the infrastructure is what’s private sector for the most part.

Ken Prendergast (23m 57s):
In all other modes of transportation, it’s the exact opposite. All the infrastructure is publicly subsidized and the vehicles are privately funded. So for, you know, states like Ohio and other states that have no experience with passenger rail development, getting accustomed to that idea that, well, you have to forget everything that you do with regards to highways and aviation and waterways and all of that. Do a 180. And that’s how we do things in the rail industry now. No, no, no. That’s, you know, we, we, we don’t do innovation here, we don’t do that kind of thing. So that’s, that’s why it’s very difficult for them to take that approach. And that’s different with Bright Line.

Ken Prendergast (24m 38s):
Bright Line has more of more of like a freight model type of approach. They not only own from the infrastructure, they own the vehicles and they find either, you know, revenue from the movement of those vehicles or from the leasing of those rights of way such as the fiber optics or to other carriers. And they develop revenues from the trains and also from the stations and the things around those stations. So they tend to monetize everything. And that’s what the railroads do.

Jeff Wood (25m 8s):
You mentioned Florida earlier and the bright line line there, and now it goes all the way to Orlando. They’re also kicking off construction for a line between Southern California and Las Vegas. I won’t quite say Los Angeles and Las Vegas ’cause it’s not quite reaching there, but it’s an interesting kind of model that they’re pursuing. And I find that that’s interesting from the standpoint of, you know, at that time when the kickoff happened, the CEO of Brightline is talking about other potential future applications of this model. And he mentions Ohio.

Ken Prendergast (25m 40s):
Yeah. Of all the gin joints and all the world. They mention Ohio, you know, he was going through the list. He’s like, well, you know, in the south, we’ll look at Texas and in the the West we’ll look at Seattle to Portland and in the Midwest we look at Columbus and Cleveland and whatnot

Jeff Wood (25m 58s):
And whatnot.

Ken Prendergast (25m 59s):
Yeah. Whatnot. So we’ll see what whatnot is. And actually we’re, we’re gonna find out a lot about this in the next, you know, as you said, 12 to 24 months because that’s when a lot of these service development plans that the Federal Railroad Administration just funded are going to produce some data. And there were 24 of these service development plans that were funded around the country, including a number of them here in Ohio, Cleveland to Detroit, Cleveland, Columbus State, and Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Chicago, Chicago, Columbus, I believe you onto to Pittsburgh. So all of these were funded, and this is gonna be a shopping list for Brightline. They’re gonna look at all of these things, not just from Ohio, but from around the country and decide which one they wanna invest in.

Ken Prendergast (26m 45s):
And this is where we’re gonna start to see governors around the country start to put together pitches to Bright Line and put their best foot forward and maybe some, some enticements financially to get them to come. And that’s how business is done, rather than waiting for these states to step up and go buy service from Amtrak, which is how Amtrak does things. And instead it’s gonna be, it’s gonna be a competition.

Jeff Wood (27m 14s):
That business point is really interesting too, because of another piece of the article you wrote specifically around basically the owner or the majority stakeholder in the Milwaukee Bucks is, is West Edens, who is the head of Bright Line, the Haslam Sports Group, which owns the Browns, is starting to think about a new stadium and thinking about, you know, an entertainment district. Like apparently all sports magnets are thinking about these days. But the interesting part of that too is that like they can also lobby each other, they can lobby the governors, they can lobby the states, you know, legislators and things like that, which Amtrak can’t do. Yep. And so, you know, is that an unfair advantage or is that, like you said, just how business works and so you know, that’s gonna be what happens?

Ken Prendergast (27m 54s):
Yeah, it’s, it’s unfair to Amtrak, but Amtrak is the creature of, of its own laws. And Amtrak tends to zealously defend its originating legislation, including things like that. They don’t pay market rates to freight railroads to use their tracks. They use what’s called incremental costs. Just the added additional cost of adding one more train to that line. So, you know, if they paid market rates for example, I suspect they would’ve more freight roads saying, yeah, come on in, we’d love to have you on, on this whole train that we also bring in from the, the electric utility and over here from the intermodal company that wants to run more truck trailers, bring it on.

Ken Prendergast (28m 36s):
You know, they don’t care what’s in those trains as long as it pays them. What they believe is, is fair market value for the use of their tracks. So, you know, when Amtrak goes to their federal law that created them, they tend to pick out the things obviously that they like and defend those. And those that they don’t, they tend to try and change and for whatever reason, you know, the lobbying aspect is one that they keep. And Ohio is a pay to play state. It unfortunately has a great deal of corruption and If, You want to get a piece of legislation moving through the state. You’ve gotta pay somebody. And that’s how it goes. Brightline is one of those companies that lobbies and they have lobbying firms that work for them and, and you know, pay money to campaigns and, and that’s how things get done in Florida and that’s how they get done here in Ohio.

Ken Prendergast (29m 25s):
And Amtrak doesn’t play that game.

Jeff Wood (29m 27s):
I’m curious what you think about the transportation impacts of that lobbying and all of the, the major players, you know, having interests in real estate and other things. Do you think that that’s good for transportation outcomes or do you think that the outcome will always be a good one because something is, you know, put together?

Ken Prendergast (29m 44s):
It can be. And and in a way a lot of this goes back to the old Gilded age that made Cleveland thrive. And you know, while Cleveland thrived, there was also a large portion of the population that was hurting and that was the labor side. And we had lots of labor strife back then, which ultimately caused businesses to, you know, go away because they didn’t wanna be, you know, part of that tumultuous situation. We have kind of the makings of a gilded age situation when it comes to transportation and real estate with right line and possibly others that may wanna imitate them like Herzog or First group. They may wanna partner with real estate companies or form their own and put all this stuff together and you know, we may see like, rather than in downtown Cleveland or in downtown Cincinnati, which will be difficult for passenger trains to get into because of the infrastructure requirements, suburban stations that are built up in kind of a downtown model.

Ken Prendergast (30m 48s):
And so we, we might see cities with multiple focal points in them. It’ll be interesting to see how this all plays out. I mentioned that near Hopkins Airport, the Cleveland Browns are looking at putting their football stadium there along with all the other stuff that they wanna, you know, see go around at new apartment buildings and hotels and shops and, and other entertainment venues. Ironically, Cleveland Hopkins Airport is right next to the Amtrak line and, and line to Columbus and Dayton and Cincinnati. And you could have the trains from those cities terminate there, connect to planes, or connect to Cleveland’s rail system, which was the first to link. Its downtown to the airport with a rapid transit line.

Ken Prendergast (31m 30s):
So you can get to downtown Cleveland on the train or to University Circle, which is our second largest employment center or other places. It’s not like you’re being dropped off in the middle of nowhere. Those are some interesting things that are gonna play out here. And you know, I I also mentioned in my article that the owner of Brightline, you know, I and you mentioned it as well, owns the Milwaukee Bucks. A minority owner of the Milwaukee Bucks is the Haslams, which own the Cleveland Browns. So I, you know, who knows what they talk about in, in their, their meetings in the club, but at some point, you know, the Bright Line guy may say, look, I’m looking at the city where football team is located, you know, what can you tell me about where I should put a station and let the conversations begin.

Ken Prendergast (32m 10s):
So we’ll see how that plays out.

Jeff Wood (32m 13s):
What’s most interesting about all of this to you? It can be any part of it, but I’m just curious what’s most interesting in terms of maybe the competition or just the provision for passenger rail in the Ohio region? I just, I imagine you have a wealth of thoughts on this topic.

Ken Prendergast (32m 29s):
Well, to me the, the most interesting thing is that this is going back to the way things were before. This goes back to the way things were a hundred plus years ago. That you had this, this close relationship between transportation and real estate that created this boom of development in what’s now the Rust Belt. You know, despite all the chinks in the armor, it worked and created an incredible economic dynamo for this area. We ro population rates of 20 to 30 to 40% per year. I, I don’t think we could ever repeat that, but, you know, it could lead to, you know, some kind of growth again. And, you know, that’s to me the most interesting thing.

Ken Prendergast (33m 10s):
’cause there’s, you know, the what if out there is, is imagination that you can dream and anything is possible. That’s, to me, what is the most intriguing thing. And you know, you start to look at lines on a map and start to play, connect the dots and see where things can work either by using old infrastructure or new infrastructure or highway infrastructure. And it’s, you know, sim city in a lot of ways accept it’s, they’re on a map and, and you think about all the political ramifications and the economic ramifications and, and, and even the climate ramifications of all of this too. Because one of the things we are trying to hold ourselves out now is that we’re a climate haven.

Ken Prendergast (33m 52s):
We sit on one of the largest bodies of fresh water in the world from every indication. We’re one of the few places in in the world that is least likely to see major natural disasters as a result of, of climate change. The biggest thing we’re worried about is that there’d be too much water. That the light water levels might get too high. We suffer some erosion problems or that we’d have too much rainfall. And so, you know, we were trying to hold ourselves out there as a climate refuge and we’re, we’re pretty affordable too. So how can we, you know, capitalize on unfortunately the, a misfortune of others, but a a fortune for us? How can we capitalize on all of this?

Ken Prendergast (34m 33s):
And that’s what leads to this imagination and dreaming and what if scenarios and, and what can we do about it to capitalize?

Jeff Wood (34m 41s):
So what’s next in the process? Like, when are we gonna find out whether, you know, bright Line one or Amtrak one or, or maybe both of them win?

Ken Prendergast (34m 47s):
Well, and there’s certainly a possibility that both of them could win. One of the things that I’ve been doing is, you know, while looking at a map, being an old urban geographer from the mid eighties and, and playing with maps, I used to redraw my dad’s roadmaps when I was age three and he, he ended up giving me these, these map booklets for me to draw so I, I wouldn’t redraw his so he wouldn’t get lost. But, you know, so as I look at these maps, one of the really intriguing things is that there’s a few underutilized rail lines here and there. And one of those happens to go from Chicago through Fort Wayne over towards a little town, little speck on the map called Dki Ohio, where the line splits and goes south to Columbus and, and east toward a, a little town called Crestline, which is on the three C corridor.

Ken Prendergast (35m 32s):
And you make a left turn and you go up to Cleveland. So here’s Bright Line that could potentially develop a T-shaped route with Chicago at one end in Cleveland at the north and Cincinnati at the south. And you’d have this potential matrix of routes by acquiring an underutilized, but once the, the standard railroad of the world to Pennsylvania Railroad, where they ran trains at 127 miles an hour in 1905. So, you know, we know that the thing is well engineered to handle fast trains and can be done. So again, If You know we put some money into it. Those are some of the, the really intriguing things that I can see coming to play here.

Ken Prendergast (36m 14s):
And maybe Bright Line is, is looking at some of these as well. And because they’re, they’re wide open to using highway medians for trains, like they’re looking at between Orlando and Tampa or from Las Vegas to the LA Basin, and they’re also looking at utilizing underutilized railroad lines like along the Florida East Coast. And we have those things. There’s ways of piecing those things together to come up with a system and we’ll find out in 12 to 24 months which one of those Bright Line wants to do. And, and Amtrak may say, well, you know, we’re gonna go ahead and, and boost this Cleveland to Toledo line and split there and go to Detroit one way in Chicago and the other.

Ken Prendergast (36m 55s):
And, you know, there could be two rail lines, you know, one north, one south in the state of Ohio to link up these population centers.

Jeff Wood (37m 2s):
There’s a, a group of folks that I, I I know who have this kind of pilgrimage called Nerd Train. Every year they hop on an Amtrak line and they hang out for a couple days around the country. I look forward to seeing the nerd train, you know, heading to Ohio and hanging out on the tracks there at some point in the future.

Ken Prendergast (37m 18s):
Well we, we, we’d like to get the, just the, the, the regular Joes out there just wanna take their kids to college without having to, you know, single moms having to drive home by themselves, which, you know, scary thing for them or older people that don’t wanna drive at all, or younger people that don’t wanna drive at all. Those are all markets that we’re neglecting here in the state of Ohio.

Jeff Wood (37m 37s):
Of course that first you wanna serve passengers that need to get where they’re going. For sure can work. Can folks find out more about what you’re doing or in support your work?

Ken Prendergast (37m 44s):
They can go to Neo Trends blog, that’s NEO Trans blog and we try to get an article up every day.

Jeff Wood (37m 54s):
Awesome. Well Ken, thanks so much for joining us. We really appreciate your time.

Ken Prendergast (37m 58s):
Thanks for your time as well.


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