INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Indiana lawmakers said Wednesday they plan to
re-examine a deal that will keep the Amtrak line between Indianapolis and
Chicago running for at least another year.
Indiana Republican Gov. Mike Pence and local leaders signed off on a
measure Tuesday that would use state and local taxes to cover the cost of
operating the line. The agreement will keep trains running through January
2015, but sustainability questions persist.
Members of the General Assembly’s transportation study committee would
like to take a look at the agreement in the coming year. House
Transportation Chairman Ed Soliday said he has concerns about the value of
the rail service, noting that high costs do not match the more than five
hours it takes to get from Indianapolis to Chicago on the route.
“All we’re saying is you’ve got to do better service for the citizens who
are paying for this,” Soliday said.
Congress voted in 2008 to stop funding passenger rail routes less than 750
miles long. Indiana lost roughly $3 million in aid for its Hoosier State
Line to Chicago. Amtrak notified the state this past spring that it would
have to end the service without new funding.
The 196-mile Hoosier State runs four days a week and carried nearly 37,000
passengers last year. The line makes stops in Crawfordsville, Lafayette,
Rensselaer and Dyer.
Supporters cheered the agreement to keep the service running Wednesday.
Arvid Olson, director of development at Faith Ministries in Lafayette and
a leader in the effort to salvage the route, argued it is especially
crucial for college communities such as the one surrounding Purdue
University. Younger residents and international students are increasingly
relying on alternatives to cars, he said, and access to Chicago is a major
selling point in retaining international talent.
“What we did yesterday was a building block. We’re not done yet,” Olson
Supporters have also noted the service helps keep Indiana residents
employed. The Midwest High Speed Rail Association estimates the service
accounts for 500 jobs.
But the economics of the service have made it a hard sell at times. An
average of 180 passengers used the service each day, according to the most
recent Amtrak numbers. The roughly $3.9 million in annual operation and
equipment costs last year were offset by only $907,000 in ticket sales.
Soliday, a Valparaiso Republican, pointed out that the south shore
commuter rail into Chicago operates at roughly half the subsidies needed
for the Amtrak service. The study committee can only make recommendations,
although lawmakers may consider changes in the deal when they return in
January for their 2014 session.