July 30, 2014

Elyria
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With rail companies’ cooperation, trains could again stop at East Avenue station

Elyria Mayor Holly Brinda is lobbying two rail companies to bring passenger train service back to the Lorain County Transportation and Community Center on East Avenue.

ELYRIA — Mayor Holly Brinda is appealing to two railroad giants to work together to benefit Elyria and possibly the Lorain County Transportation and Community Center.

Amtrak is proposing $1 million in improvements to the current station on East Bridge Street. The improvements to the platform also will bring the company into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. However, Brinda would like to see those improvements moved down the line and incorporated into the county’s transportation center on East Avenue, which is an old train station that underwent a $5 million renovation but largely sits empty.

But before that can happen, Brinda said she will have to get Amtrak and Norfolk Southern on the same page. Not only would Amtrak have to agree to change its plans, but Norfolk Southern would have to agree to allow access to pedestrian tunnels beneath its tracks.

The two railroad companies would then have to work with the city, county and Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency to make it possible to return passenger service to the historic location.

“We have to try and capitalize on rail service in the city,” Brinda said. “If they don’t do this, it is very likely we will never see commercial passenger rail service at the transportation center in the future.’’

Brinda made her plea in two letters, one to the head of Amtrak, President and CEO Joseph Boardman, and another to President and CEO Charles W. Moorman of Norfolk Southern.

“In my humble opinion, Amtrak’s proposed investment of $1 million to restore the small platform on the existing Norfolk Southern Cleveland Chicago Line in Elyria can be better used toward the building of new platforms at the newly renovated downtown Elyria Transportation and Community Center,” Brinda said in her plea to Boardman. “I can assure you as mayor of Elyria, this investment will not only help you increase your ridership on the Lake Shore Limited Line, but it will also help the city of Elyria spark renewed interest in our downtown. Our new, mixed-use, creative economy focus for our downtown commons area would be strengthened by added foot traffic while the emerging shops and businesses would add novel pass time for travelers.”

Mark Magliari, spokesman for Amtrak, said Brinda’s letter has been received and a response is being crafted. He confirmed the improvements in the Elyria area are imminent.

“We have a responsibility with the ADA to make improvements,” he said. “I understand the mayor would like to see those improvements moved. We are aware of the request and will respond.”

Magliari said the improvements to the Elyria station are overdue.

“We should have been in compliance a year ago,” he said.

A lack of funding prevented the company from moving ahead sooner, he said. Now, Magliari said Amtrak has to move aggressively to get the work done to fulfill its legal obligations.

“The current Elyria platform is in need of replacement. It does not meet ADA standards. It needs to be a different height, and there needs to be safety markings put in place so people with different impairments don’t go out onto the tracks,” he said.

In the meantime, Brinda hopes Norfolk Southern will adjust its position on the use of the pedestrian tunnels.

“As I understand it, Norfolk Southern is reluctant to permit Lorain County and Amtrak from using the existing pedestrian tunnels under their tracks to access passenger platforms,” she wrote to Moorman. “I am not certain for the reason for Norfolk Southern’s position, but I am very anxious to work with you to help resolve any issues and remove any barriers that may be standing in the way of this project.”

Brinda said she is perplexed by Norfolk Southern’s resistance because Amtrak runs four passenger trains each day that pass directly over the tunnels with no issue.

Calls to Norfolk Southern were not returned on Wednesday.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.