ELYRIA — Amtrak has made an offer of $2.9 million toward further rehabilitation of the renovated Lorain County Transportation Center so passenger rail service may return to the structure.
Of course, this is all contingent on Norfolk Southern Railway allowing such work to be done on the rail lines it owns, but county officials are hopeful a financial commitment from Amtrak — something the commissioners have been working on for years — will sweeten negotiations.
“This is a good project, just something I would describe as very tenuous at best,” Commissioner Ted Kalo said. “But any step forward, and that is exactly what this is, is a good step.”
The money will be used to help fund much-needed improvements at the facility that have impeded use of the building as the county’s transportation hub with Amtrak as the anchor. They include low-level platform and station improvements on both the south and the north tracks, and possibly an elevator at each platform from the passenger tunnels to permit safe passenger access to the platforms.
It is not known when the money will be made available to county officials or the extent of the work to be done. However, by offering the money, it signifies Amtrak is beginning to see the value the facility could have on its Elyria business.
They are even willing to abandon a previous plan to upgrade the existing train station on East River Street, a project Amtrak’s Joe McHugh, the vice-president of government affairs and corporate communications, said could be completed at a lesser cost.
“Nevertheless, we agree that the passenger experience would be improved markedly if our trains could stop at the transit center,” McHugh said in a letter to Kalo dated July 25.
The next negotiation among Amtrak, Norfolk Southern, the Federal Transportation Administration and the county, which owns the old train depot, could come in September or October.
“Until we have an agreement from Norfolk Southern, we don’t have anything,” Kalo said. “We will just have to continue talking with them until they agree to let us do something on the platform.”
Kalo said the county has between $900,000 and $1 million to contribute to the project. The funds are left over from a previous federal earmark that was not allocated.
The lobbying by Kalo and others for an Amtrak and Norfolk Southern partnership has been years in the making. When Elyria Mayor Holly Brinda assumed office, she rallied behind the project, too.
She, as well as U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Avon, have sent letters to both transportations giants urging them to help move the project along.
“Obviously, we want the county to take the lead because it’s their building, but that’s not to say we aren’t thrilled to hear this latest news about Amtrak’s willingness to move forward with a $2.9 million commitment to reconfigure the grade separated access platforms,” Brinda said. “From our standpoint, the city stands ready to help leverage any additional resources to further explore the feasibility of returning passenger rail to downtown Elyria.”
Brinda said she has been told Amtrak has developed a very rough estimate of what it would cost to accommodate passenger trains at the center. A more detailed estimate based on an actual design will need to be developed by the county.
“But the project is moving forward. We now have a willing partner in Amtrak,” she said.