Mayor Michael Coleman’s Trains-To-Planes Plan Faces Long Odds

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Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman wants Port Columbus to become a "regional transportation center" with a passenger rail link to downtown.(Photo: Port Columbus)
Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman wants Port Columbus to become a "regional transportation center" with a passenger rail link to downtown.(Photo: Port Columbus)

A train linking downtown to Port Columbus, Mayor Michael Coleman wants it included in a plan to make the airport a “regional transportation center.” But, it’s a longshot.

Recent passenger rail projects in Central Ohio have a poor track record. A city plan to connect downtown with the north outerbelt fizzled several years ago. A streetcar plan linking Ohio State with downtown was shelved. And a proposed service linking Columbus with Cincinnati and Cleveland ended after start-up funds were rejected. But, buried deep inside his 2014 State of the City address, Mayor Coleman again mentioned trains.

“So the question is, can we connect our downtown to our airport by passenger rail,” Coleman asked.

Coleman took note of a freight rail line that runs past the Convention Center downtown and abuts airport property. But, neither the convention center operator nor Port Columbus authorities envision a passenger rail link anytime soon.

The mayor was unavailable Thursday for further comment. His spokesman, Dan Williamson, says city hall currently lacks a plan to make rail happen.

“Rail is going to be something that the mayor is going to talk about as long as he’s mayor and probably after he’s mayor,” says Williamson.

Coleman has commissioned a “feasibility study” to outline ways to make Port Columbus a regional transportation center that would include more direct flights and public transit links, both rail and bus, to downtown.

“In fact, you can’t even take a bus directly from Port Columbus to downtown without a transfer,” says Coleman.

That’s not always been the case. Central Ohio Transit Authority spokesman Marty Stutz says about decade ago, in the early 2000s, COTA did provide scheduled service between the airport and downtown.

“We did have a direct line, called the Capital City Flyer, which connected downtown and the airport, but it was discontinued because of a lack of a market and low ridership,” says Stutz.

While an estimated 17,000 passengers get on and off planes each day at Port Columbus. Too few headed directly downtown and Stutz says COTA has no immediate plans to reconsider airport service.

“There just isn’t a huge market, a significant market of people traveling between downtown and the airport,” adds Stutz.

Stutz says while the airport bus service operated between 2001 and 2003 an average of 37 people rode COTA buses each day between the airport and downtown.

  • MobileHarv

    Dear COTA – A train is not a bus. And this is not 2004.

    Let’s keep in mind that the proposed rail service focuses on travel between the airport and downtown – in other words, visitors. Visitors – especially Americans – have a greater aversion to riding a bus than a train in unfamiliar places. There are several reasons, many relate to the fact that rail service is transparent (you know where it goes) and regular. Yes, bus service can be that way, but rail trumps bus for clarity and comfort. Visitors like both.

    Things have changed since 2004. The back to the city movement is strong in many places, including Columbus. The Short North was nothing like it is today. And given the amount of development currently under way or shovel-ready, the center city will be be denser and more active in the future. Across the United State people are owning fewer cars and driving less. Simply put, there will be more people – including locals – who will be inclined to use public transit service between downtown and Port Columbus.

    When thinking about transportation in Columbus, its better to be looking forward towards 2024 and not backwards to 2004.