Oxford Amtrak station project faces challenges


Observer File Photo

An artist’s rendition done for the City of Oxford in 2020 showing what the proposed Amtrak platform might look like. A detailed design is in progress.

By Stella Beerman

As Oxford faces unexpected roadblocks with the implementation of its Amtrak stop, the city continues to move forward with its plan for a new Amtrak station.

Oxford’s Parking and Transportation Advisory Board met to discuss the project Monday, Jan. 10. Carla Blackmar, a member of the board, explained creating the new stop involves many moving parts. The process includes obtaining approval from Amtrak, funding, scheduling and designing the station properly, according to Blackmar.

“This is kind of a waiting game until it’s a rushing game,” Blackmar said. “We’re waiting for some pieces with Amtrak as well as the city to come together.”

The station, which could be completed by 2024, would be located behind SDS Pizza, next to the track which currently runs Amtrak’s Cardinal line, a passenger line running from Indianapolis to Cincinnati, with the nearest stop in Connersville, Indiana.

To obtain a stop in Oxford, Amtrak first has to approve designs and determine the worth of connecting with the city. The company has already expressed interest in connecting Ohio college populations.

“Students, their families, faculty and staff will be able to take advantage of frequent Amtrak service as a sustainable, convenient travel option,” Amtrak’s website reads.

In 2019, the Oxford Observer reported Amtrak’s media relations manager expressing excitement about the potential stop providing for Miami’s student and staff populations.

The university supports the project as it increases Miami’s attractiveness to potential students and employees by connecting the small town to some larger cities. The stop could be especially beneficial to students and families from the Indianapolis and Chicago areas.

“People coming from more diverse backgrounds and urban backgrounds might be intimidated by the idea of this somewhat remote place surrounded by cornfields but being on a real railway connection could create that connection,” Blackmar said.

Despite shared excitement and support for the project, one issue is the time and frequency the train runs through town. Currently, the train only operates in one direction per day, runs three days a week and passes through Oxford at 2:30 a.m.

“Oxford is on a rail line, it just doesn’t stop,” Blackmar said. “The current train just isn’t that useful.” 

However, the federal infrastructure bill that passed in November 2021 could provide Amtrak the ability to run the Cardinal line both ways on a daily basis. 

The bill includes plans for several modes of transportation, including railway. One section calls for an evaluation of restoring daily service on several discontinued or non-daily schedules, such as the Cardinal line. However, the final decision is up to Amtrak.

“In order to make this happen, we have to start asking for it,” Blackmar said.

In addition to money the city has already committed from the general fund, Miami has also committed to help fund the project. Additional funding will come from federal grants requested by the city, Blackmar said. A final cost estimate will be determined upon completion of the design.

Before the city can obtain approval for the stop or funding, it must provide a station and platform design plan to Amtrak.

An artist’s rendering of a proposed station was done for the city two years ago, showing the station on a site off Chestnut Street that would be adjacent to a bus facility operated by the Butler Area Rapid Transit Authority (BARTA). However, a full design plan has not yet been completed.

The city has hired AECOM, an infrastructure consulting firm, to collaborate with Scott Otto, the city’s engineer and project manager. 

“We want this area to be welcoming and inviting to the public,” said David Wormald, project manager from AECOM, at the Dec. 21 city council meeting.

The design team worries about the presence of the Nelson Marrow building, which is currently owned by Talawanda School District, on the station site. The structure is close to the proposed platform and would cause the platform to be isolated and secluded from view.

“It’s a very useful building to the school district, but it’s a bad place for a train station,” Blackmar said. “If you’re worried about safety, you probably don’t want to be behind a building, back in a parking lot.”

The city is currently working with the school district to come up with a solution that suits each party’s needs.

Despite these roadblocks, Otto said the team hopes to have the preliminary engineering phase complete in 2022. This includes a review by Amtrak sometime in the fall, followed by funding and construction.

Blackmar said local citizens wanting to support this project should check out “All Aboard Ohio” on Facebook.