Cincinnati has a long history as a regional rail hub. At one time, as much as 7 different rail lines ran through the city, and the traffic was so great that the city was obligated to create a Union Station to try and unify and manage the disparate railroads. The resulting building is widely regarded as an Art Deco masterpiece and an examplary piece of station architecture.
Today, the station houses museums as well but is currently closed for renovation. Its fate once it opens is uncertain. Currently, Amtrak has announced it will close the station’s ticket office and will thus remove any Amtrak employees from the station. If this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s happening in Charleston, among other places. Cincinnati is the largest station by far that this wave of destaffing will affect. Many local officials were vocal about maintaining staff, including Hamilton County’s transportation board and both Ohio senators.
Cincinnati has a complicated history of city transit as well. Underneath Central Parkway and other points in the city lie the remains of an unfinished subway tunnel, first started in the 1920s before it was ultimately abandoned. In 2002, a plan for light rail in the metro area was put forth that would include those tunnels, but it was voted down.
Finally, regional rail service. The OASIS Rail Transit Program has received funding from Ohio’s Department of Transportation to discuss commuter rail options out of Cincinnati’s Riverfront Transit Center, which remains a large and mostly empty parking lot since its construction years ago. However, there is at least interest in high-speed rail. Chicago is currently one of the most popular destination from Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport and the most popular destination from the Amtrak station. Like a lot of metropolitan areas, Cincinnati has expressed interest in connecting with Illinois via high-speed rail to meet demand for that route. Research into that route, however, is still in the very early stages.
Cincinnati’s Bell Connector streetcar has been troubled since its inception, and it’s (hopefully) in the process of reinvention. On May 30, the city council voted to install an executive director of the streetcar in order to have “one neck to choke,” as Assistant City Manager John Juech memorably said. The streetcar began operation in September 2016 with a route that was about a mile and a half shorter than it was originally intended to have. This happened because then-Governor John Kasich chose to withhold state funding, which hobbled the streetcar’s ability to bring people where they actually wanted to go.