An hour outside the nearest major city, Oxford can sometimes feel disconnected from civilization. That’s why the years-old rumor of an Amtrak station is so exciting for students: it’s a relatively cheap, easy way to get to Cincinnati and Chicago. But after years of being just that — a rumor — the city and University have recently taken major steps to bring the passenger train to Oxford.
It’s hard to know when anyone started thinking about adding an Amtrak stop to Oxford. The first documented proposal came from four interested students in May 2009. These students proposed building a station on Amtrak’s Cardinal Line, which goes through Cincinnati, Chicago and Washington D.C. twice a week. They estimated the cost to be between $200,000 and $300,000. While the Cardinal Line already runs through Oxford, it doesn’t stop there.
“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,” Derek Bauman, Vice Chairman of All Aboard Ohio, a statewide public transit advocacy organization, said. “It’s crazy to me that it doesn’t have a stop.”
In February of 2015, the City of Oxford and the Butler County Regional Transit Authority — BCRTA, the organization that runs the buses in Oxford — applied for a TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) Grant. The grant would go towards the “Miami University Multimodal Transit Station,” including a bus terminal and pedestrian pathways. Approximately 300 feet from the main hub, a small train station would connect Miami University to Amtrak’s Cardinal Line.
TIGER Grants come from the U.S. Department of Transportation for a variety of transportation projects, often by major cities. The grant was denied.
Even without the money, the idea lived on. Amtrak’s interest began to grow recently for another reason: Amtrak’s new marketing strategy. As more and more millennials opt to use public transit instead of buying cars, Amtrak has hopes to grow their young adult market.
“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.
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 substantial cost associated with building a train platform is one of the biggest roadblocks for construction.
Fortunately for station advocates, Miami University offered to help. Because students make up the majority of the Oxford population, many of whom live near the Cardinal Line, it makes sense that the University would put money towards the construction.
The City of Oxford and Miami University each offered $350,000 towards the construction. Even then, the platform’s construction would require additional funds.
“Just to be able to have the stop is somewhere in the area of 1.3 million dollars,” David Creamer, Miami University Senior Vice President for Finance and Business Services, said. “We might be seeking other grant funds.”
Although the City and University have both expressed interest and support, Amtrak has not yet confirmed the plans. CSX Transportation, the corporation that manages the actual track-laying, needs to get on board as well.
“We tried to make it quite clear that we’re anxious to have a train stop here and we’re willing to put forth the funding to make it happen,” Creamer said. “Hopefully it will give [Amtrak and CSX] more motivation.”
If Amtrak and CSX both agree to construct the stop, it will be considered by Amtrak to be 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. The Cardinal Line also runs only three times per week, but Bauman hopes that Oxford and Miami could be valuable advocates for a daily Cardinal Line.
“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.