Indiana and Amtrak are making progress hammering out a short-term agreement to keep a passenger line between Indianapolis and Chicago running until a comprehensive funding deal is reached, a spokesman for Indiana's transportation agency said Wednesday.
Legislation passed by Congress in 2008 cut off $3.1 million in annual federal funding starting Tuesday for the Hoosier State line, along with funding for passenger lines serving 18 other states.
The 196-mile Hoosier State, which runs four days a week between Indianapolis and Chicago and back, will continue until Oct. 16. But the line, which makes stops in Crawfordsville, Lafayette, Rensselaer and Dyer, will come to a halt if Indiana and Amtrak can't reach a funding agreement.
Will Wingfield, a spokesman for the Indiana Department of Transportation, said the agency and Amtrak are continuing discussions with local communities on a short-term agreement that would serve as a stopgap measure for a few months until a long-term deal is reached on the line, which last year carried nearly 37,000 passengers.
"The negotiations are moving forward productively and positively on our side, and I feel that's the case with the other parties as well, so it's just a matter of coming to an agreement," he said.
Wingfield said a short-term agreement is still needed on how much Indiana and the communities using the line would chip in to keep it running. Most of the communities the line serves have said they're willing to provide financial support, and INDOT's goal is to boost ridership while aiming to minimize state support for the line, he said.
Wingfield said a state-funded analysis released last week of Amtrak's various proposed options for improving the line and increasing its ridership "would form a starting point for longer term discussions" on a comprehensive funding agreement.
Legislation passed by Congress in 2008 eliminated federal funding for passenger lines shorter than 750 miles that serve 19 states.
Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said Amtrak had reached funding agreements by Wednesday with all but four of those states — California, Illinois, Indiana, New York — and a deal is nearly complete with Illinois.
The Midwest High Speed Rail Association will discuss the ongoing negotiations during a Thursday conference call with the Hoosier State line's supporters, said Christian Ficara, the Chicago-based group's organizational director. He said supporters plan to rally next week outside the Statehouse before a legislative committee meets Oct. 16 to discuss state funding for the line.
Ficara said supporters want Indiana lawmaker to know the line's boosters go far beyond Amtrak employees whose jobs could be threatened if the Hoosier State ends.
"There's a pretty comprehensive backing to sustain this train. These are mayors throughout northwest Indiana, families in those communities, university students at Purdue University and Wabash College, environmental organizations and unions," he said. "We want the legislators to know this is something we do care about incredibly much."