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Indiana continues talks about Amtrak route's future

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State transportation officials faced with a looming deadline on the future of an Amtrak passenger line between Indianapolis and Chicago met Wednesday with lawmakers, mayors and other local officials to discuss their options for keeping it rolling.

The Hoosier State Line runs four days a week between Indianapolis and Chicago and back, with stops in Crawfordsville, Lafayette, Rensselaer and Dyer. But it will grind to a halt Oct. 1 unless Indiana comes up with $3.1 million annually to replace operating costs that Congress pulled under a 2008 law.

The Indiana Department of Transportation is hoping the cities and counties the passenger line serves will chip in local funding for the line.

"There's some interest there, but we're continuing our discussions with local officials," INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield said after Wednesday's meeting. "And we haven't made a decision on what the state's involvement will be at this point."

State Rep. Randy Truitt said he attended Wednesday's meeting along with state Sen. Brandt Hershman, R-Lafayette, two INDOT officials and mayors and county officials from along the route of the line, which carried 37,000 passengers in fiscal year 2012.

Truitt, R-West Lafayette, said the local officials expressed a willingness to provide financing, but nothing was agreed to by the parties.

"We remain committed to finding a solution, carefully balanced with proper state investment and local community investment. That's kind of been our mantra from the start," he said.

Truitt said those at the meeting were shown preliminary findings from an independent study being prepared by a consulting firm the state hired to assess the line's costs and benefits.

Crawfordsville Mayor Todd Barton said that meeting was "very positive" even though no conclusions were made on the line's future and what role his and other communities served by it might play.

"Every option was put on the table and it was a good dialogue, so we'll see where it goes from here," he said. "I'm optimistic, but obviously there are a lot of moving pieces all around on this — on our end, on the state's end and on Amtrak's side."

The Hoosier State Line is in jeopardy because effective Oct. 1, Congress has eliminated funding for lines like it in 19 states that are shorter than 750 miles.

Amtrak's three-day-a-week Cardinal line that runs from Chicago through Indianapolis to the East Coast will continue because that route exceeds 750 miles.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the Hoosier State Line began operation in 1980, although it has changed service levels and stops in the three decades since then.

Officials in the Lafayette area, where the line is used by Purdue University students — particularly the campus' large international student body — hope the line continues its service. And they're not alone.

Barton said Crawfordsville's Amtrak station has seen steady increase in ridership over the years and the Hoosier State Line is important to his city of 16,000, which is home of Wabash College. He said many of the school's international students, like those at Purdue, rely on the line.

Barton said he's certain that keeping the line and expanding the frequency of its trains would bring new growth to cities along the line.

"This is as much about economic development as it is about transportation. Our community, like many others, faces the challenge of attracting those 20- and 30-year-olds with disposable incomes who are starting families," he said. "And every survey you look at shows that when it comes to what they want in a community, reliable public transportation is in the top 10."

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