Indianapolis may pull out of Amtrak funding deal

Published: .
Updated: .

Amtrak service from Indianapolis to Chicago is in jeopardy as Indianapolis moves to pull out of a funding deal to keep the Hoosier State Line going.

The mayor's chief Ryan Vaughn told Eyewitness News the deal doesn't make financial sense for the city. Vaughn said the city's participation hinged on improvements for Union Station, which is in desperate need of repairs. But without Indy's support, backers worry the Hoosier Line will be derailed.

Joe Seaman with the Greater Lafayette Commerce said, "It will be very difficult for the remaining communities to keep the trains running if Indianapolis does not participate."

The Hoosier State runs from Indianapolis to Chicago four days a week. It leaves at 6 a.m. and returns at 11:50. It stops along the way in Crawfordsville, Lafayette, Rensselaer and Dyer.

(The Cardinal Line, which runs to Chicago the remaining three days a week, was never threatened, with service continuing regardless.)

Last October, Amtrak stopped funding certain Amtrak routes of less than 750 miles. The state estimated it would take about $3 million a year to keep it going as the service was heavily subsidized, needing $80 in government support for each $24 ticket purchased.

The Indiana Department of Transportation worked out a plan where the state would pay just over half the cost, with affected communities paying the rest, largely based on their ridership. INDOT also took bids from private companies hoping to take over the service and make improvements, such as increasing frequency, adding WIFI and other on-board amenities.

In April INDOT chose Corridor Capital LLC to take over the Hoosier State, effective Oct. 1, but with Indy pulling out - the funding falls about $300,000 short.

Seaman said losing the Hoosier State "would really cut service to nothing and it's hard to promote just three days of rail service."

He said the service is key to growth and economic development.

"It has been very important because it's one way to serve people trying to get to Chicago to do business and we have a large group of international students (at Purdue University) who are accustomed to taking trains," Seaman said.

Vaughn said it's hard for the city to take on subsidzing rail service when the needs at Union Station are so great. (Union Station accomodates both train and Greyhound Bus passengers.)

Vaughn said if they can get a federal grant to help with improvements at Union Station, they may be able to help with the Hoosier State. The problem is the Amtrak deal needs to be done by Sept. 30th (though INDOT can apply for one four-month extension.)

"Clearly, we need them as a partner," Seaman said. "It's our job to convince them of the benefits."

INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield said they're continuing to talk to all the funding partners. He said there's still time to work something out before that October deadline. One option? Seeing if other communities might participate.

Learn more about the plan here.