The beleaguered Hoosier State, the quad-weekly Amtrak train between Chicago and Indianapolis, has survived yet another brush with the grim reaper for another 30 days.
The Indiana Department of Transportation said on Friday that the train will continue operating through April 30 while the Federal Railroad Administration reviews a policy that it had said it would impose on Indiana that would have made the state a “railroad.”
A week earlier, INDOT Commission Karl Browning had issued a news release saying the Hoosier State would make its last trips on April 1. He cited an FRA policy that an entity funding rail passenger service would be responsible for the FRA passenger safety standards.
INDOT said that acting FRA Administrator Sarah Feinberg told Browning during a telephone call that her agency would reconsider that policy.
“It is not clear that the FRA will change its mind,” Browning says. “Because Ms. Feinberg committed to reviewing this, we want to give the FRA another opportunity to consider the problems Indiana has been airing.”
INDOT doesn’t own any tracks or railroad equipment and Browning said the FRA’s position would increase costs and paperwork for INDOT.
The department along with most of the communities served by the train have funded it during the past year. INDOT had been negotiating with Amtrak and Iowa Pacific Holdings on a long-term contract to operate the train.
In the meantime, Indiana U.S. Sen. Dan Coats has written to the FRA asking it to reconsider its position that if INDOT continues to fund the Hoosier State that that would make it a “railroad.”
Coats wrote that “INDOT does not fit any common-sense definition of a ‘railroad,’ so the communities along the HSL are rightly puzzled by the FRA’s decision.”
INDOT was close to a deal in which Amtrak would operate the trains and Iowa Pacific would supply the cars. But INDOT officials said if the state has to act as the railroad, it would have to carry expensive liability insurance and hire new staff.
“INDOT is not in a position to assume either the additional liability or the regulatory burdens that a designation of ‘railroad carrier’ would impose,” Coats wrote.
In 2008, Congress voted to end funding for Amtrak routes of less than 750 miles. That left states to fund intercity rail on their own.
The FRA has said that states that oversee rail passenger service are required to act as rail carriers to ensure that safety standards are followed.
Another public official who has also assailed the FRA position is State Rep. Randy Truitt of West Lafayette, who represents several portions of Tippecanoe County.
“The Hoosier State Line provides a vital service for Hoosiers in the Greater Lafayette area and across Indiana. I was disheartened to learn about the new rules imposed by the Federal Railway Administration that could potentially end this service in April, which would be devastating to our local economy,” Truitt said in a statement.
Truitt has been an active supporter of the Hoosier State and has sponsored House Bill 1217, which would appropriate $3 million annually to fund the train.
Truitt hopes that INDOT, by working with the Federal Railway Administration, will eventually be able to find a solution that allows the Hoosier State to continue running.
“The preservation of Indiana’s transportation infrastructure is vital to economic growth, and I will continue to work with state and local leaders as well as INDOT to find ways to keep the Hoosier State Line functioning,” Truitt said.
The Hoosier State makes intermediate stops in Indiana in Crawfordsville, Lafayette, Rensselaer and Dyer. The route is served by the tri-weekly Chicago-New York Cardinal on days that the Hoosier State does not operate.