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ODOT Defends Passenger Rail Plan

The head of the Ohio Department of Transportation is asking the legislature to release $25 million dollars in federal stimulus money to complete a passenger rail study. ODOT director Jolene Molitoris met Wednesday with Senate President Bill Harris.

The meeting came in response to a letter of questions Senate President Harris raised about the viability of passenger train service in Ohio. Harris, a Republican, told Gov. Strickland last month that the state could not afford to subsidize train service even with $400 million in federal stimulus money.

In a lengthy response, Molitoris defended ridership figures, saying that a predicted 478,000 passengers the first year would be conservative. She also defended the arrival and departure times of trains, predicting their schedules would be advantageous to business travelers between Cincinnati and Columbus and Columbus and Cleveland because riders could be home for dinner.

Included in the response were letters of support from Norfolk Southern and CSX, two of the three freight railroads that own the tracks that would carry passenger trains.

A spokeswoman for Harris said the senator and the ODOT director had a good meeting but that Harris remains skeptical.