A feasibility study
shows plain and simple that “this will work,” but the Porter County Council
still had reservations about throwing its support behind the next step
toward bringing a high speed passenger rail line through Northern Indiana.
According to the
Northeast Indiana Passenger Rail Association (NIPRA), the line would pass
through Porter County and stop in Valparaiso on its roughly 300-mile route
from Chicago to Columbus, Ohio.
The same NIPRA
group that approached the County Board of Commissioners in April about
restoring the Chicago, Ft. Wayne Eastern Line, owned by CSX, returned to the
County Council on Tuesday. The group is asking counties for local
commitments for an environmental impact study needed for the project to
The amount sought
is $700,000 total which will be a local match for funds from the Department
share is figured to be $70,000. However, $50,000 has already been committed
by the City of Valparaiso, and a few other partners, so the County would
only have to pay $20,000, said Fred Lanahan, president of NIPRA.
presentation was not an official request for funds, but to acquaint the
Council with the project, Lanahan said. The County Commissioners are
expected to ask the Council in the future for an appropriation.
One of the
presenters, City Planner for Fort Wayne in Allen County Tom Waltz, said the
idea of high speed rail started with U.S. President George H.W. Bush in 1991
and has more recently been eyed by current President Barack Obama as a
driver for economic development.
The trains would
move at about 110 miles per hour, Waltz said, which is “not really ‘Star
‘Trek-y’” since turn-of-the-century steam locomotives could travel at that
transportation and management consultant Richard Davis said trends show more
young people are using public transportation and driving less. The line’s
railheads will be in proximity to a handful of universities like Valparaiso
University and Purdue Calumet in Northwest Indiana and Calumet College in
St. Joseph County.
analysis in the initial study, funded primarily by Allen County, show that
for every $1 a community invests in the rail, it can expect to see a return
of $1.71 once the rail is in full operation.
26,800 new jobs will be created between the three states as a result and
recent remarks made by a supporter indicate the expansion could generate
$147 million for Northern Indiana, Davis said.
The group also told
the County Council that travel time from Valparaiso to Chicago will be
approximately 40 minutes, and 3 hours and 20 minutes to where the line ends
east at Columbus.
To Chicago from
Valparaiso would be $19 for a business fare ticket and $15 for an economy
NICTD vs. NIPRA?
member Jim Biggs, R-1st, said he supports the idea of high speed rail but
was interested to know who would be funding the construction for the project
and who or what entity will be paying to operate the line.
Davis said it will
take $4 million per mile to revamp the track for high speed rail which adds
up to $1.2 billion. The funding will come from a multitude of private-public
partnerships and state and federal dollars.
Waltz said Governor
Mike Pence told Ft. Wayne city officials he endorses the project and wants
to see if local governments can get involved. INDOT will be responsible for
planning and Amtrak has been in talks to operate the line.
Biggs pointed out
that Porter County gives $3.5 million a year in dues to the Northwest
Indiana Regional Development Authority (RDA), created by Indiana
legislature, with one of its purposes being the West Lake Corridor expansion
of the South Shore Line, operated by the Northern Indiana Commuter
He asked if giving
funds to the high speed rail line would compromise the local commitments
made to the NICTD expansion.
Davis said he
doesn’t think that high speed rail would be a competitor with the South
Shore, since its main focus is economic development. It is to revitalize
communities along its route like Plymouth, Fort Wayne, Lima and Columbus.
“This will be
supplementary to NICTD,” said Davis.
Biggs, who said he
had served on the NICTD board for nine years, asked if the NIPRA group had
received any complaints from the South Shore operator.
“None that they
have verbalized to us,” said Waltz.
The RDA has however
stated it is considering providing $140,000 for the high speed rail project,
pending commitments from Lake County, the NIPRA group said.
questioned if $19 for a business ticket for a one-way trip to Chicago would
be affordable. Two trips a day for five days a week in a month would come to
$760. The current monthly fare on the South Shore from Dunes Park Station to
Millennium Station is $207.25, according to NICTD’s website.
Davis said frequent
users will be entitled to discounts.
Dan Whitten, D-at large, expressed some of the same concerns about the
project’s overall cost.
“I’m not ready to
vote on this. There are a few things I want to mull,” he said. “I like the
idea but it’s very costly, long-term costly.”
the request to the development of the Gary Airport which it was said would
attract major economic development, but the project so far “has not taken