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August 16, 2013

Amtrak’s service in Indiana needs to remain

Rails must be funded to avoid extinction

For the sake of preserving plans for 21st century transportation in Indiana, Amtrak’s Hoosier State passenger rail service must be saved from extinction in October.

With two trains each way four days a week, the line has been a valuable travel mechanism for leisure travelers, university students and corporate personnel and for Indianapolis business travelers who have had meetings and appointments in Chicago.

In addition to Indianapolis and Chicago, the Hoosier State also serves Crawfordsville, Lafayette, Rensselaer and Dyer. The train has been especially popular with students traveling to Chicago for special events.

On most of the trains, the riders will fill its cars to capacity. In fact, in the year 2012, some 37,000 passengers rode the train, making it one of the busiest in the Midwest.

But thanks to the Federal Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008, all passenger trains traveling less than 750 miles now require state subsidy, and that is the rub. Indiana has never supported or subsidized Amtrak or any of its projects in this state. Compared to states such as Illinois, Michigan and Ohio, which have subsidized their trains to the tune of several millions of dollars annually, Indiana has not participated.

To continue running the popular train, Indiana will need to come up with $3 million annually, and this is a good time for this state to do so. Shying away from this obligation could jeopardize plans put forth by the Indiana High Speed Rail Association and the Northeast Indiana Passenger Rail Association to bring modern and efficient passenger rail service to this state.

Now, the Indiana General Assembly did approve in its most recent state budget for INDOT to spend a portion of its annual discretionary funds on the Amtrak Hoosier State line, but did not require the agency to do so. Nonetheless, INDOT is studying its options, which could include eliminating the train service altogether, funding it at existing levels or funding the rail line when it shows trains traveling at 79 mph, and a 90 percent on-time performance with increased frequency.

I have written before that Indiana needs to make a serious investment in passenger rail service. Our studies are showing that such service does indeed add to the local and state economies through commercial and tourism investments and added tax revenues. Efficient, comfortable and higher-speed trains can markedly add to the business friendliness of Indiana and make both intrastate and interstate travel much more affordable and accommodating.

This is why INHSRA and NIPRA are so passionate about adding to and improving passenger rail service in Indiana, and making it a part of the state’s transportation mix. Saving the Hoosier State through state subsidies and investing in the more futuristic and modern higher speed trains is a win-win for all of Indiana, its citizens and its various business communities.

Please contact Gov. Mike Pence and your Indiana state legislator to let them know you support saving the Hoosier State and investing in Indiana’s passenger rail future.

W. Dennis Hodges is the founder and vice president of business relations of the Indiana High Speed Rail Association. He lives in Merrillville.

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