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September 25, 2013

Indiana begins passenger rail talks with Amtrak

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indiana Department of Transportation has begun negotiations with Amtrak over continuing passenger rail service four days per week between Indianapolis and Chicago after the loss of about $3 million in federal funding, the agency said Tuesday.

The announcement of the Hoosier State line talks came one week before a key deadline: Amtrak has said it will not interrupt service in states that have begun good-faith contract negotiations by Oct. 1.

INDOT already was holding talks with mayors and other local leaders in communities with stops on the line, and the local officials are making local funds available as part of a financing package, INDOT said.

"Governor (Mike) Pence supports the joint local and state effort to continue this passenger rail service, but with the negotiations, there are still a number of hurdles to be cleared," INDOT Commissioner Karl Browning said in a statement. "There's common interest among state and local officials to ensure that the service is accountable for the tax dollars being invested."

Congress voted in 2008 to end federal support for Amtrak routes of less than 750 miles. At least seven of the 19 states affected already have signed operating agreements with Amtrak, INDOT said.

The Hoosier State line — with stops in Crawfordsville, Lafayette, Rensselaer and Dyer — carried 37,000 passengers last year. Amtrak's long-distance Cardinal service, which operates the remaining three days each week between Cincinnati and Chicago via Indianapolis, is not affected by the withdrawal of federal funding.

The estimate that Amtrak provided in May to keep the Hoosier State passenger rail service in operation is $2.96 million annually. Divided among each one-way passenger, this is approximately $80 in government support for each $24 ticket, INDOT said.

Communities that contribute funding would have a say in overseeing performance of the line, INDOT said. Specific contributions among all parties will not be known until negotiations with Amtrak conclude, it said.

At the request of lawmakers, INDOT has completed a cost-benefit analysis of the existing passenger service and four options that Amtrak provided for improved frequency and departure times. INDOT said it will present the study to lawmakers Thursday and post it online.

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