The Hoosier State passenger rail line appears to be back on track toward a long-term future, the Indiana Department of Transportation announced Monday.
INDOT said its new “understanding” with the Federal Railroad Association will help it keep the Amtrak line between Indianapolis and Chicago in service.
In March, INDOT announced the line, which runs four days a week, would be discontinued after April 1. That deadline was later extended through April 30
INDOT said the decision to close the line was caused by new federal rules that would have deemed Indiana a rail carrier despite not owning any tracks or trains, exposing the state "to significant increases in cost, paperwork and liability."
However, INDOT Commissioner Karl Browning met in Indianapolis with FRA staff last week to change that requirement.
Under the proposed service, Amtrak would serve as the primary operator, working with host railroads, providing train and engine crews, and managing reservation and ticketing. Iowa Pacific would provide the train equipment, train maintenance, on-board services and marketing.
Indiana’s new contracts will require Amtrak and Iowa Pacific Holdings to comply separately with all Amtrak and FRA requirements. In addition, INDOT will designate a staff member responsible for overseeing contract compliance.
INDOT said it plans to continue Hoosier State service in the near term until agreements can be finalized with Amtrak and Iowa Pacific.
“INDOT and the FRA share the guiding principles of access to safe mobility,” Browning said in a written statement. “Based on these guiding principles, we are both committed to a path toward continuing the Hoosier State service.”
The Hoosier State Line was one of 28 Amtrak routes of less than 750 miles affected by Congress' 2008 move to shift most of the costs of those lines to states. Indiana has been struggling to keep the heavily subsidized, little-used line open ever since.
Indianapolis agreed to provide $300,000 toward the line in 2013, but declined to provide additional funding last year after INDOT entered into an agreement with a private operator. That agreement never came to fruition. At the time, the Department of Public Works said only about 319 passengers use the line per week in and out of Indianapolis. That’s about 80 per trip.
Amtrak announced in November that the line saw a 10-percent decline in revenue and a nearly 8-percent drop in ridership in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. .
The only other line Amtrak line that runs from Indianapolis to Chicago is the long-distance Cardinal service, which operates three days a week between Cincinnati and Chicago, via Indianapolis. The Cardinal line was not affected by the loss of federal funding because it is longer than 750 miles.