Amtrak’s Hoosier State appears to be doomed after the City of Indianapolis decided to cease helping to fund the quad-weekly service between Chicago and Indy.
Indianapolis was one of a handful of communities served by the train that agreed to help fund it last October after a new federal law took effect that shifted more of the burden of funding the losses of short-haul trains onto state and local governments.
“They have told me they are not interested in doing it next year, and take that as a final no,” said Bob Zier, director of multimodal program and planning for Indiana Department of Transportation.
The news comes shortly after INDOT selected a Chicago company, Corridor Capital, to take over management of the train in October.
Corridor Capital officials have been talking about trying to boost ridership on the service, which is among the least patronized of Amtrak’s short-distance trains by assigning differing equipment, providing modest food service and instituting Wi-Fi service.
In the one-year deal approved last fall, IDOT agreed to provide half of the money, about $1.4 million, to keep the Hoosier State operating. Local governments in Indianapolis, Beech Grove, West Lafayette, Lafayette, Crawfordsville and Tippecanoe County, kicked in the other half.
Ryan Vaughn, an aide to Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, said that funding the Hoosier State doesn’t make financial sense for the city. The aide said the city’s participation hinged on improvements for Union Station, which is in desperate need of repairs.
Vaughn said it’s hard for the city to take on funding rail service when the needs at Union Station are so great.
He said if Indianapolis can get a federal grant to help with improvements at Union Station, the city might be able to help fund the Hoosier State.
But the deal would need to be done by Sept. 30 although INDOT can apply for one four-month extension.
That Indianapolis wants to end its funding of the Hoosier State doesn’t surprise Crawfordsville Mayor Todd Barton. “We had a sense Indianapolis wasn’t fully on board from day one,” he said.
Barton doesn’t think the Hoosier State can survive without Indy’s contribution.
“If you look at their contribution, do the math. It doesn’t work out,” he said. “Theirs was a diversion of INDOT funds that they were getting from INDOT anyway. It wasn’t like Crawfordsville, Lafayette, West Lafayette, Tippecanoe County and Rensselaer putting cash on the table.
“I think we’re all confident it can be self-sufficient once you get over the hump, but it will take a year-and-a-half to two years, and it will cost a little more with a private provider. I don’t think the rest of us can make up that difference.”
Lafayette Mayor Tony Roswarski agreeds that losing the support of Indianapolis might be a death blow for the Hoosier State.
“Without them in that financial mix … there’s a very strong possibility it would mean … the end of the Hoosier State,” he said.
Still, some Indiana officials are holding out hope that the train can be saved and turned over to Corridor Capital.
“We’re all trying to put together a scenario where we can implement the new train service,” Zier said. “I’m still optimistic. I think this is going to happen. It’s just a matter of getting everything to fall into place.”
However, it seems unlikely that Lafayette, West Lafayette, Crawfordsville and Tippecanoe County will agreed to commit more money toward the Hoosier State to make up for the loss of the contribution from Indianapolis.
“We certainly cannot kick in more funds,” said Tippecanoe County Commissioner Tom Murtaugh.
Roswarski, Barton and West Lafayette Mayor John Dennis agreed that their cities don’t have additional money to subsidize the rail line.
Dennis is not as optimistic as Zier, but still has hope that a deal with Indianapolis or other investors might save the Hoosier State because, he said, in the world of politics, things aren’t always as they seem on the surface.
Also holding out hope is Crawfordsville mayor Barton.
“I don’t think it’s final, now. I’m hopeful,” Barton said. “INDOT is still working very aggressively to pull something together, but in all honesty, if we do not secure it by Sept. 30, it’s probably gone forever.”
The end of the Hoosier State would not mean the end of rail passenger service in any of the affected communities. Amtrak’s tri-weekly Cardinal, which operates on the days that the Hoosier State does not operate, would continue to run between Chicago and New York.