Indiana to negotiate with Amtrak over Hoosier State line

The Indiana Department of Transportation has begun contract negotiations with Amtrak over continuing the Hoosier State line from Indianapolis to Chicago, meaning the service won't necessarily halt on Oct. 16, INDOT announced Tuesday.

Amtrak is seeking a $3 million annual subsidy from Indiana since Congress voted in 2008 to end federal support for all routes less than 750 miles. That affected the Hoosier State, which operates four days per week, and routes in 19 other states. (Amtrak’s long-distance Cardinal service, which operates the remaining three days per week between Cincinnati and Chicago via Indianapolis, is not affected by this decision.)

Amtrak had given Indiana a 180-day notice that the Hoosier State would end on Oct. 16, but the passenger rail company has said would not end service in states that were holding good-faith negotiations by Oct. 1, according to INDOT.

INDOT began last week talking with communities along the route about making local money available as part of the financing package. That cleared the way to start talks with Amtrak.

“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 prepared statement. “There’s common interest among state and local officials to ensure that the service is accountable for the tax dollars being invested.”

Communities that contribute funding would also be involved in overseeing performance of the service on a recurring basis, according to INDOT. Specific contributions among all parties will not be known until negotiations with Amtrak conclude.

INDOT says that a $3 million subsidy divided among each one-way passenger amounts to $80 in government support per $24 ticket.

Amtrak officials have said that its repair facility in Beech Grove — a major employer in the Indianapolis area — could lose work if the Hoosier State doesn't continue because that would limit the company's access to three days a week.

Lafayette and Crawfordsville, which see many college students and their families using the service to Chicago, have lobbied to continue the service. The mayor of Beech Grove, Dennis Buckley, attended a recent meeting with local officials, but no one from Indianapolis was available, INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield said.

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