INDOT to study expansion of Indy-to-Chicago train service

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The Indiana Department of Transportation has qualified for a federal grant of up to $500,000 to explore expanding existing Amtrak rail service between Indianapolis and Chicago, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced Friday.

INDOT is expected to use the funding to develop a service plan for the Amtrak Cardinal line that would include increasing its frequency from three days a week to seven days and improving travel times. The plan calls for determining how much it will cost to make and maintain those changes.

“This is a first step toward expanding passenger rail in Indiana,” said INDOT Commissioner Mike Smith in written remarks. “Receiving this funding allows us to gather essential information to make more informed decisions going forward.”

The Cardinal line currently runs Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday in Indianapolis as part of a national route that travels between Chicago and New York City via Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Amtrak also qualified for its own federal grant of up to $500,000 to explore expanding Cardinal service from three to seven days a week.

Indianapolis previously had a daily Amtrak connection to Chicago when the Hoosier State train traveled four days a week (in addition to the Cardinal’s three days), but that service was canceled in 2019 after state funding for the line was cut from the budget.

The U.S. Department of Transportation also provided the Kentuckiana Regional Planning and Development Agency a similar grant of up to $500,000 to study the possibility of bringing back rail service between Louisville and Indianapolis.

U.S. Rep. Andre Carson (D-Indiana) applauded funding for the studies and said the state needs daily rail service from Chicago to Indianapolis to Louisville.

“Amtrak opens the door for new people to visit, work, and enjoy all Indianapolis has to offer,” he said in written comments. “The Midwest’s future is not complete without a strong passenger rail system.”

The grants are part of $8.2 billion in federal rail funding announced by the Biden administration on Friday, with more than $6 billion of that earmarked toward high-speed trains servicing California and Nevada.

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18 thoughts on “INDOT to study expansion of Indy-to-Chicago train service

  1. High speed rail in the midwest can and will be great. If Amtrak can have a competitive pricing model to make it a viable means to get to Chicago vs driving and/or flying, bring it on!

    1. I-65 to I-90/94 is not a terrible drive and we already have the infrastructure for it, we don’t need to waste taxpayers’ hard-earned money on something that few people will use.

    2. D.H. We also have the infrastructure for rail service – it exists but only 3 days per week. Incremental investments are required to make it faster and more convenient for travelers. Train travel can help ease congestion on the interstates – wouldn’t that be a benefit to drivers like yourself?

    3. High Speed Rail would be a game changer but is that what they really offer now?
      MY info may be out of date but I think the current train takes a back seat to CSX who is hauling freight.

    4. I-65 is an absolutely miserable drive. It’s an absolute crapshoot as to if you’re going to be caught in a swarm of maniacs doing 100 mph or be in an hours-long crawl of traffic. I can’t stand it and take the bus or train whenever possible.

    5. Who ever says I-65 is not a terrible drive clearly doesn’t drive it much. It has to be one of the most dangerous highways in the US. I used to take the train to Chicago on a regular basis but had to stop because the schedule was so unreliable. The passenger trains are supposed to have priority by law but the freight trains own the tracks so the law is ignored. I hope this happens but lets face it, its Indiana and we would rather build more interstates and drive everywhere even though the cost of that is enormous.

  2. Has to be more reliable, timely, and comfortable like in Europe. If staying in downtown Chicago, the cost of parking can easily be $50/day, not to mention cost of gas, tolls, and dealing with construction/traffic. I would use it but again it has to be as comfortable and convenient or it will never fly. Same can be said for bus service.

  3. Unless they can find a way to shorten the trip times I can see why there is not a large demand for this.
    I would consider it if the travel time is about the same as driving.
    I can leave my house on the N Side of Indy and be in downtown Chicago in less than 4 hours (assuming no traffic problems)

    1. If we can afford expanding I-70 into six lanes across the whole state, build I-69 to Evansville, and build the Mid-State Corridor through the middle of nowhere for billions of dollars, we can afford to make track upgrades to the second most heavily-trafficked route in the State.

  4. Love it! Used to take the train all the time when it was running full time. So much nicer than driving up to and in Chicago, plus the parking cost is ridiculous! Nice on the train with seating, plug in and free Wi-Fi and not to mention the club car for F7B! 🙂

  5. I’d love to take the train again to Chicago as long as they have a new station. Getting on/off the train downtown is horrifying! Filthy, scary and inconvenient. Please open a station at the airport.

    1. Couldn’t agree more. I took the train once for the “experience”, and the stations themselves were enough for me to never want to go back. Offering a high speed train from O’Hare to IND would be fantastic.

  6. High speed rail — meaning speeds of 180 mph — is desirable and would reflect a benefit. Why is this study needed. The answer is simple: upgrade track to accommodate at least 125 mph service. If that could occur, then invest in daily service and an extension to Louisville. Otherwise, this is a waste of money and time and a boon for the lucky consultant selected for the analysis.

    I am in favor of high-speed efficient rail. What operates today is worse than service in 1939. To allow high-speed service to operate, tracks must be grade separated from all crossing roadways — as are interstate highways. If the US would invest in true high speed service in select corridors, strain would be taken off air traffic. Just imagine a high speed link between Indy, Indy airport to Chicago and Chicago O’Hare in 1 hr and 30 min or max 2 hrs.

    Even if a train could average 80 mph for most of the route, that would bring service to 1940s standards.

    But this is the backward US, awash in political vendettas, culture clashes, and sophomoric behaviour in Congress that preclude any reasonable progress on primary issues of importance such as defense, borders, infrastructure safety and foreign interference. So no need to get excited or expect much from this study but another shelf document.

  7. No way its economically viable…by that I mean not enough passengers willing to pay a price that pays back infrastructure costs as well as on-going maintenance. Only huge subsidies would make it sustainable….for a short while at least.

    1. So? That’s how our entire transportation system works, regardless of mode. The Federal Highway Trust Fund has been insolvent for years, propped up by general funds. The Federal Aviation Administration, Air Traffic Control, Federal Railroad Administration, oil subsidies, big tax breaks for auto manufacturers, tax credits for purchasing and using vehicles, etc etc, are all forms of public subsidy that keep our transportation system afloat. Mode choice and redundancies in our transportation network are a good thing. Highway closed for construction or airports undergoing delays for weather or other reasons? That’s okay, there’s also a train. Having a three-legged stool for intercity transportation is in our best interest.

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