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Indiana

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Options may save Indy-Chicago rail

– Supporters of a passenger rail line from Indianapolis to Chicago say the upcoming selection of a private company to improve services is just the beginning, with the next step being to press local and state lawmakers to renew their commitment to the service.

Funding for the service is not guaranteed after Oct. 1, when an agreement hammered out last year by state and Amtrak officials to keep the rail line running expires.

The Indiana Department of Transportation and seven local governments agreed to pay a $2.7 million subsidy to Amtrak after it announced it was ending funding for passenger lines shorter than 750 miles. The decision put the future of the Hoosier State, which runs from Chicago through Lafayette to Indianapolis four times a week, in jeopardy.

Bob Zier, director of multimodal program and planning for the Indiana Department of Transportation, said Amtrak has failed to meet improvements in its service sought by those communities as a condition for future funding. Among the improvements sought were improved passenger cars, Wi-Fi service and at least some modest food service on board.

“They all said if it doesn’t get better, we can’t keep throwing money at it,” Zier said.

But INDOT is expected to announce in the next two weeks a finalist from four proposals for services, which include operating the train route in its entirety or providing services such as Wi-Fi or food and beverage.

“The people who we’re looking at think they can do it for about the same, maybe less with new cars and Wi-Fi,” Zier said.

He said an administrative review panel must approve the recommended proposal, and then the governor’s office must sign off on it before INDOT can announce which vendor the state plans to use.

State Rep. Sheila Klinker, a Lafayette Democrat and alternate on the state budget committee, said she plans to press House and Senate committee members to support the proposal. She believes passenger rail will need subsidies from local and state government to survive.

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