Indy pitches in to continue Amtrak line to Chicago

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Indianapolis will contribute $300,000 of its federal transportation money to keep Amtrak's Hoosier State passenger rail line to Chicago running for another year, under an agreement that the Indiana Department of Transportation announced late Tuesday.

Communities along the route are pitching in more than half of the $2.7 million that INDOT commited. Indianapolis' share is based on the local portion of ridership, which is about 44 percent, Department of Public Works spokeswoman Lesley Gordon said. 

"This is not a permanent commitment, and Amtrak will need to improve its efficiency and convenience," Gordon said. "The city will insist on performance measures before agreeing to contribute funding long-term."

The deal with INDOT includes an option to continue the Amtrak service for an additional four months beyond the first year. Six other communities, including Lafayette and Crawfordsville, are contributing. The deal includes in-kind services, INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield said. For example, Amtrak will credit the state for equipment to be transferred to its repair shops in Beech Grove.

The rail line's future has been in doubt since Congress voted in 2008 to cut off $3.1 million in annual federal funding for passenger lines of less than 750 miles. The decision affected 19 states.

Indiana was the final state to reach a funding agreement to continue service.

The 196-mile Hoosier State runs four days a week. Amtrak service from Indianapolis to Chicago the rest of the week is available via the Cardinal line to New York.

Transportation officials are exploring options that could make Amtrak service more cost-efficient. The Hoosier State had 36,670 riders and generated $883,000 in revenue in fiscal 2012.

If ridership numbers don't improve, the $2.7 million taxpayer subsidy amounts to $73 per round trip for a ticket currently priced at $24.

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