Ridership drop another blow to Indy-Chicago rail line

Indiana's struggling Amtrak service faces more challenges in its quest to operate beyond January with news that revenue and ridership are falling at a time when train travel nationwide has risen.

Amtrak announced Monday that ridership and revenue were up across the country during the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. But the Hoosier State line that runs from Indianapolis to Chicago saw a 10-percent decline in revenue and a nearly 8-percent drop in ridership, the Journal & Courier reported.

The figures further cloud the future of the troubled Indiana line.

Congress passed legislation in 2008 that took effect last fall, ending funding for passenger rail routes less than 750 miles long, including the Hoosier State line. Amtrak's long-distance Cardinal service that operates three days a week between Cincinnati and Chicago, via Indianapolis, was not affected by the loss of federal funding.

The Indiana Department of Transportation and seven local partners, including Indianapolis, Lafayette and Crawfordsville, agreed to pay Amtrak a $2.7 million subsidy to keep the Hoosier State line running for one year last October. INDOT and those communities are funding the line through Jan. 31 under a four-month extension.

After that, Chicago-based private contractor Corridor Capital LLC is supposed to take over management under an agreement with the Indiana Department of Transportation that has yet to be finalized.

State officials have been working to improve the amenities on the Hoosier State line in hopes of attracting more riders. Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman rode the line in late September, stopping along the way to announce free on-board Wi-Fi, snack and drink service and business-class seating.

But he noted then that additional improvements, including more than one daily departure from Indianapolis, would take "a capital investment for the future."
State Rep. Randy Truitt, R-West Lafayette, said he remains optimistic about the rail line's future.

"It's worth looking into figuring out how to make it a better alternative," he said. "There is an incredible number of individuals who rely on that mode of transportation as their lifeline."

Truitt said those working to keep the Hoosier State line going need to rally community support.

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