New Passenger Rail Group Formed
The Northwest Ohio Passenger Rail Association (NOPRA) is a new group recently formed by local leaders to help push forward several initiatives in the region. TMACOG facilitated formation of the group and is supporting it.
This consortium is actually a re-constitution of a group with a similar mission organized by Ohio State Representative Sally Perz in the 1990s. NOPRA has re-formed now that state and federal funds have become available for passenger rail planning and construction. Both public and private sector interests feel strongly that northwest Ohio can benefit from a fast, modern passenger rail system. One of the organizers, Don Yerks, director of marketing at Dunbar Mechanical, said that there are more reasons for a movement toward regional passenger rail. In addition to stimulus funds, increased interest is driven by higher gas prices. With rising gas prices, fast, efficient passenger rail has the potential to replace some air travel at moderate distances.
With federal support, state and regional agencies have renewed interest in implementing passenger rail plans. Mr. Yerks said, “We can only pave so much of Ohio. For the Ohio economy to grow, we must improve transportation infrastructure, by land, sea, and air.” Mr. Yerks adds that a passenger system that increases options for the movement of people will help Ohio and northwest Ohio be more competitive nationally and globally. He also notes the potential of a new industry for our region, building passenger rail cars and rail equipment.
Multi-state cooperation is a key issue. In June, NOPRA member Carol Van Sickle of the Toledo Regional Chamber and TMACOG staff participated in a meeting in Ft. Wayne, Indiana to encourage coordination between Ohio and Indiana in implementing the Midwest Regional Rail system. Of particular interest is the Chicago-Ft. Wayne-Toledo-Cleveland corridor. In July, NOPRA members met with the staff of Ohio’s U.S. senators to urge support for funding.
OPRA is a strategic action-oriented committee, formed by people with an interest in economic development, construction of rails and trains, and in improving transportation services. A number of elected officials have participated. Economic development professionals who have attended one or more meetings include Van Sickle; Tom Blaha of Wood County Economic Development; Jamie Beier Grant of Northwest Ohio Regional Economic Development Association (NORED) and Ottawa County Community Improvement; Jay Bahr, Ohio Department of Development; Jerry Hayes, Defiance County Economic Development; Hans Rosebrock of Toledo Edison; and Ralph Lange of Henry County Community Improvement Corporation. Industry representatives who have participated include Bill Harris of Norfolk Southern; Yerks of Dunbar Mechanical; Frank M. Kozak of ACT Group Consulting Services; and Phil Rudolph, Jr., of Rudolph/Libbe.
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