Indianapolis pulls future support for Amtrak line

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City officials in Indianapolis have cast the future of an Amtrak passenger line between Indianapolis and Chicago into doubt after deciding not to provide any additional money to subsidize the line.

Indianapolis leaders had signed onto a one-year deal last year to provide $300,000 for the Hoosier State line, which runs four times a week between Indianapolis and Chicago, with stops along the way.

But Indiana Department of Transportation official Bob Zier told the Journal and Courier that Indianapolis officials aren't interested in providing any additional money. The city's decision comes after the state announced that a private vendor had been selected to run the line.

Indianapolis Department of Public Works spokeswoman Stephanie Wilson said the city might reconsider its decision if that vendor significantly improves service on the line, which is heavily subsidized.

Wilson told the IBJ that "subsidizing the preservation of Amtrak’s Hoosier State Line is not the best use of Indy’s taxpayer dollars in light of the line’s current low ridership and inefficiency, as well as the significant repairs needed at Union Station—which  accommodates both train and bus traffic.”

She said only about 319 passengers use the line per week in and out of Indianapolis. That’s about 80 per trip, she said.

Zier told IBJ that Indianapolis’ participation is not a deal-killer.

“There are other avenues to follow, and we are going to follow those,” he said.

He said he’s working with legislators, who can help connect INDOT with private-sector funding and who could work in the 2015 General Assembly to provide dedicated funds for the future.

Zier said he’s also talking with Corridor Capital, the Chicago-based firm that INDOT chose to take over the Amtrak service, about “skin in the game.”

The cost of continuing the service with Corridor would be $4.1 million with about half coming from INDOT’s general fund and half coming from communities on the route. Crawfordsville, Lafayette, West Lafayette, Tippecanoe County and Rensselaer are pitching in, Zier said.

Dyer, which is also on the route, also declined to pitch in, Zier said.

Indiana is the only state that has turned to local governments to help pick up the tab for passenger rail. Zier said that he realizes it also serves people who don’t live directly along the route.

“I’m not down and out because Indianapolis isn’t going to contribute $300,000,” Zier said.

Wilson said Indianapolis does not consider passenger rail to be “mass transit.”

“It’s important to note this Amtrak passenger line is not mass transit, and it does not contribute to the goals we aim to achieve for central Indiana with mass transit: increased connectivity and efficient access to and from Indianapolis for all of central Indiana.”

Wilson said the passenger line's 5-hour trip between Chicago and Indianapolis is too long and isn't used frequently enough to make it worth subsidizing.

"It's an inefficient way to get there," she said. "It's a long trip compared to the Megabus, which is about 3 1/2 hours on a bad day."

Wilson said about 300 passengers in Indianapolis use the service every week and the city's subsidy means taxpayers are subsidizing those trips at a rate of about $20 per rider, per trip.

Corridor Capital has promised changes, ranging from cleaner cars, modest food service, Wi-Fi, and on-time service — goals Amtrak was supposed to have reached by now in order to continue receiving state, county and city support.

Crawfordsville Mayor Todd Barton said he doubts other communities who have provided funding will be able to make up Indianapolis' share. He said it would take up to two years to make the passenger line self-sufficient.

"INDOT has worked very hard to secure this line. Indianapolis needs to step up," Barton said. "... It's in the interest of the entire state."

Lafayette Mayor Tony Roswarski said that without Indianapolis' financial support, "there's a very strong possibility it would mean ... the end of the Hoosier State."

Despite the funding questions, Zier remains optimistic that Corridor Capital will be able to take over the line this fall.

"I think this is going to happen. It's just a matter of getting everything to fall into place," he said.



  • IND Reverses Course?
    Update: Apparently, somebody coughed up the money, for now at least.http://fox59.com/2014/08/20/indianapolis-to-fund-hoosier-state-line-through-the-end-of-2014/
  • Keep Vital Hoosier State Train Funded!
    Instead of withdrawing their support, the City and State should be fighting with Amtrak and the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) in their law suit against certain host railroads that are obstructing passenger rail trains illegally. The Supreme Court will be hearing this case. According to Amtrak, in FY 2013, the Hoosier State lost $6.6 million in the 1st 9 months. In FY 2014, in same period, the Hoosier State reduced its losses to $2.4 million! How much did the State allocate for the Hoosier, and how much did they actually spend? The State may have money left over. I think that the proper authority should investigate what the state has done with the money to fund this much needed rail link. The improved figures suggest that the State has plenty of money to make up the difference. In the United States, there are 30 Shorter Line Passenger Rail Services that depend on state subsidies because of a 2008 Federal Law. In the 1st year of implementation (FY 2014), every state in the US funded its subsidies because they knew that passenger rail brings great economic benefits to the state and the cites that the trains service. Because people are riding these services in great numbers, over the 1st 9 months of this fiscal year, losses have decreased by 54.8% ($54.8 million) over the same period last fiscal year. In coming months and years, these losses are likely to be reduced. In short, when the rest of the country is undergoing a "Passenger Rail Revolution”, now is not the time to cut back on passenger rail funding.
  • Tough Stuff, Cream Puff
    Call it as I saw it. Turns out, upon further research, I was absolutely correct in my rather astute, albeit politically tainted, observation. Speaking of "financial discipline"...I gotta get back to work creating jobs to help pay down the $6.6 Trillion in Bush Tax cuts and the $2.2 Trillion lost in the sands of the deserts of Iraq. And this Marine considers himself lucky to have that chance. And now,thanks to your demonstration of "Hoosier Hospitality", I've confirmed I've made the right economic choice with my $$$. Good luck on I-65. Sure am glad I stopped driving on 9/11! WHEW! What a prescient and Patriotic decision THAT'S turning out to be, huh?
    • Amtrak Demise
      We are a nation of speed. All of our younger lives are filled with deadlines, quotas and bottom lines. We start to ease out of the pressured rat-race when we finally see "retirement." The most enjoyable travel on the planet is passenger rail service. Indy to Chicago does not beat Megabus or Southwest Airlines in speed. Passenger rail however has the best seating, mammoth legroon, seat backs that recline to more than 45 degrees and employers that really want you to return as a customer. Indiana municipalities need to maintain subsidies to support this transportation mode. Losing it is loss for all of us.
    • Financial Discipline
      Ballard Administration. Too funny. This is the least fiscally responsive administration I have ever seen. One thing this article failed to mention, is that the Hoosier State line delivers rail cars to the Amtrak Beech Grove maintenance facility for refurbishment. That's an economic development issue. And the jobs there are high-paying. That alone is worth the City's investment.
    • Thanks Dan
      Daniel Lilly - Glad to hear about your points and miles. Enjoy Wisconsin and Illinois. You don't care one whit about financial discipline, which is why you will blast the "GOP". Classic liberalism.
      • Slow = no go
        I live downtown Indy and had to be in downtown Chicago for a meeting. In other words, I am the target demographic for this train. It leaves at 6:00-- early but doable. Then I saw it takes 5+ hours. No way. I drove. I'm sure I paid 3 to 5 times as much once you factor in gas, parking, and tolls, but it was reimbursed so not a factor for me. Any business traveler is going to take the option that gets there quickly and reliably... and leisure travelers are going to take the option that has a good schedule and promotional prices (i.e., Megabus). Indy to Chicago is the right distance (too short to fly but takes several hours to drive) that this train could be extremely successful even without subsidies, if they could figure out how to have several frequencies (at least 3x/day) and make the trip in a reasonable amount of time. For those who have never lived on the east coast-- Amtrak is the #1 choice for NY-DC and NY-Boston. They have the Acela service, it runs almost every hour, and it takes you from downtown to downtown. It beats driving and flying hands down. It is too bad that we cannot build something like this in the midwest, at least to connect the bigger cities.
      • Lousy train service
        We are the only industrial nation on earth with no train service. That's way most Americans are forced to fly, drive or get on a greyhound bus. It's disgraceful. I have never ridden on a train, never in my 65 years and I would if they were fast, reliable and safe. The auto industry killed the train in this country and that's just not right.
      • Not Viable
        I looked at the amtrak.com, and it looks like that the lowest adult fare is $24 one way. If you add $20 to offset the current subsidy, that makes it $44. Megabus, which has half a dozen departures daily, charges $30 to $40, with sale prices as low as $1 if you book far enough in advance. So as far as Indy-Chicago traffic is concerned, the loss of the Hoosier State service is not really a concern. I wonder how much of the Indy origin/destination traffic is for locations other than Chicago. Megabus is non-stop to Chicago, and I think Greyhound makes a stop in Lafayette. That leaves traffic to Crawfordsville and Rensselaer; I suspect there isn't much, and there would still be the Cardinal three days a week. As far as Indy-Chicago travel time is concerned, as long as the train is making interim stops there's no way it will be able to be as quick as a non-stop bus. Granted, a train may have the potential to be somewhat more comfortable, but it doesn't make much difference on 3 hour trip.
      • Goodbye, IND, Hello, MKE
        I'm an Arkansan, an Amtrak Select Plus mileage member, and i'm always looking for services (and States) that support my goals. Once in Chicago, I've got many options on where to go, what to eat, where to spend, and where to stay-all of them tied to how many miles/points I can earn. Illinois routes, 5x/day; Wisconsin, 6x/day; Indiana? 1x/day. Guess where I'll find something interesting, affordable, and accessible....and where I WON'T. Sorry, Hoosiers, the Illini and the Badgers already MADE the investment and didn't Mickey Mouse around playing smallball such as y'all have chosen to do. Without even LOOKING, I'd bet GOP fingers are all up IN this decision of your Leaders.
        • Kill it
          This train is awful. The contractor might improve amenities, but the excessive travel time and frequent delays are a result of freight train priority which isn't going to change. Indy was right to pull their subsidy. Any train in this current format will be bad. It needs to be totally reinvented (like a europoean train) or killed.
        • Here's a thought
          If it's only $15 per trip, and this subsidy would amount to $20 per rider per trip, why not raise the price to $35? This could have the potential of saving the whole project. Tjat way, I don't have to pay more than half of your train ride to Chicago! Brilliant! Your Welcome.
        • Improved Service
          Andrew hit the nail on the head. AMTRAK provides terrible service and that is why the state has found a contractor to improve the service. More trips, on-time performance, better times, cleanliness and adequate or better restrooms. WI-FI and food service will also be provided. Transit from outlying areas will also be provided. I wouldn't take it the way it is but with the above services and marketing of the service,ridership will improve and more folks will explore Indy and may even want to move here.
        • Schedule is Horrible
          I think having the service is great and it gets used. However, the schedule is horrible. You leave Indy at 6AM in the morning. You don't get back till after midnight, and that is if there are no delays along the way. Plus the trip ends up being more than 5 hours, sometimes 6. Fix the schedule, you'll get more riders. @$15/person it is very reasonable.
        • Bingo
          Andrew hit the nail on the head. The Ballard illogic is stunning. But here's a solution: let's give a Ballard campaign funder a piece of this pie and then the mayor will see fit to chip in.
        • SHAME
          Shame on the Ballard administration. They have millions of dollars for cricket and to enrich their campaign contributors, but don't have $300,000 for this?
        • Marketing
          How about doing some marketing that there is a train that runs between Indy and Chicago. I've never seen any, and I just recently discovered that there was, and I WORK DOWNTOWN and I'm pretty attuned to what is going on! You wouldn't know it exists even if you are near the bus/train hub.
        • They miss the point
          They cite 'CURRENT low ridership and service issues' as reasons they changed their mind. Let's see... wasn't the reason for bringing in outside contractors to run the line TO IMPROVE THOSE VERY PROBLEMS? It's like having an infected cut on your finger, grabbing the antibiotic cream then putting it back because the cut is infected now. If that sounded stupid, then you get the gist of the about-face on the commitment to this funding
        • No, not mass transit
          Given how slow the line is and infrequently it runs between Indy & Chicago, no this isn't mass transit. People would rather drive than take this line, and that's a bit of shame considering how well-served this corridor would be by rail. A high-speed line running at regular intervals would be something to look forward to.
        • Sad day for Indy
          That last quote is absurd. If intercity rail is not mass transit, what is? A Suburban filled to the third row? And when did city officials start using the criteria of being good use of taxpayer money? Surely more people would use this service than would watch cricket matches on the far east side.

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