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Miami University, Oxford pledge $700,000 to open Amtrak station

By Emily Williams, Managing Editor

With a location, $700,000 in pledged financial support and the backing of both the City of Oxford and Miami University, Miami students and Oxford residents can look forward to boarding an Amtrak train in Oxford for the first time in decades.

Miami University has matched the City of Oxford's pledge of $350,000 toward the development of an Amtrak station at Chestnut Fields. A statement of the university's financial commitment was sent Wednesday, Jan. 4 in a letter from Miami's Vice President of Finance and Business Services, David Creamer, to Oxford's mayor, Kate Rousmaniere.

According to the letter, the university will make the funds available for the project "upon execution of a final memorandum of understanding between the City of Oxford and the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak)."

This statement followed a resolution passed by the city on Tuesday, Jan. 3 supporting the construction of an Amtrak station in Oxford and pledging $350,000 in financial support. According to the resolution, the city will be an "active participant" in the development of the station which the City Council believes will "enhance the local economy and promote the health, safety and welfare of its citizens."

The Oxford station will be the first new train station service built in the state of Ohio for almost 30 years.

Derek Bauman, Vice Chairman of All Aboard Ohio, a state-wide public transit advocacy organization, saw the potential for a new station while looking at the path of the Cardinal Line, a train that runs between New York and Chicago.

"Looking at the map, I see this train leaves Cincinnati, hangs a left in Hamilton, rolls right through the middle of Oxford and doesn't stop. Doing the research on this, Oxford hasn't had a stop since the mid-70's," Bauman said. "It's crazy to me that it doesn't have a stop."

Currently, the Cardinal Line stations closest to Miami University are the Cincinnati station and the Connersville, Ind. station, which are 38 and 26 miles away from Miami, respectively. The Chicago-bound Cincinnati train boards at 1:41 a.m. while the Connersville train boards at 3:36 a.m., meaning the train will likely arrive at Oxford's station around 2:30 a.m.

Since the Cardinal Line only operates three days a week, travel options from Oxford via train will also be limited. However, Bauman said, there is hope that the Miami and Oxford communities will be valuable partners in advocating for daily rail service on the Cardinal Line.

"We're working in an incremental way, using these small victories to leverage the next step," Bauman said.

This isn't the first time the city has tried to bring an Amtrak stop to Oxford. The city's first proposal was rejected in September 2009 because Amtrak, at the time, did not think the benefit of a stop in Oxford would justify the operating cost of establishing a station.

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However, several years later, a new marketing strategy from Amtrak is working in Oxford's favor. As more Millennials are opting for public transit over purchasing cars, the age group has become a new focus for the transit corporation.

"Amtrak is interested in expanding their ridership, and Oxford just so happens to have a ton of Millennials," said Alan Kyger, Oxford's Economic Development Director.

Another key angle, Bauman said, is creating a "knowledge corridor" by linking the universities located near the stations along the train's path.

The proposed site for the station is located south of Chestnut Street behind SDS Pizza. The site is the former location of Talawanda High School. Since the land is publicly owned, the city eliminated the potential expense of buying land to build the station, said Kyger.

The exact construction costs have not been determined, Kyger said, and are likely to exceed the $700,000 pledged to the project so far. The Oxford station will be what Amtrak considers a Category 4 station, meaning it will not be staffed and will include only a platform, a shelter or canopy to protect patrons from the weather and proper lighting for the station.

Although Miami and Oxford's pledges mark a significant step toward the development of the station, people should not expect to board a train in Oxford for about two years, Bauman said. Before the station can be opened, Amtrak has to negotiate with CSX, the freight corporation which owns the tracks Amtrak's trains use.

"At this point, it's a matter of time," Bauman said. "It's important that students and people in the community who are interested stay engaged."

Support from the community, he said, will play an important role in keeping this project on track.