The train tracks come into Columbus from the south. At night we regularly hear the whistles moan as the trains approach the downtown area. As the cars rattle past German Village, they roll underneath the Whittier Street overpass.
The overpass has a tightly meshed fence that keeps the passersby away from the tracks and makes it impossible to get an unobstructed picture of the trains as they rumble by. It’s an apt physical sign of Columbus’ circumstances when it comes to trains. We are serviced by freight trains galore, but we’re blocked from boarding any passenger trains. If you live in Columbus and want to take a train trip, you need to drive about a hundred miles south or a hundred miles north — because neither Amtrak nor any other passenger rail line stops in Ohio’s capital city.
If you look at a passenger rail service map, you can see Columbus’ isolation. It’s there smack dab in the middle of Ohio, far away from any of the operating rail stations. Even with efforts underway to increase passenger rail service in other cities, when it comes to trains Columbus is nowhere.
It didn’t use to be that way. If you talk to old-timers, they’ll tell you about Union Station, which used to anchor the northern edge of downtown Columbus, and how you could catch an interurban train to other cities in Ohio, take a long cross-country trip, or even book a ride on a special car that took Ohio State football fans up to Ann Arbor for the games against That Team Up North. But now Union Station is demolished, its classical entrance arch has been reconstructed in a park in the Arena District, and the train trips from Columbus are a distant memory. At some point, when the superhighways and the airports had taken away many of those former passengers, train travel became uneconomical, and somebody decided that Columbus really didn’t need passenger trains anymore.
Now we just hear the trains, and it’s a lonesome, sad sound.