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Indianapolis pulls future support for Amtrak line

– Indianapolis city officials have decided not to provide any additional money to subsidize an Amtrak passenger line between Indianapolis and Chicago, casting its future into question.

Last year, city leaders signed onto a one-year funding deal and agreed to provide $300,000 for the Hoosier State line, which runs four times a week between Indianapolis and Chicago, with stops along the way.

But Bob Zier, director of INDOT’s multimodal program and planning, said Indianapolis officials recently informed him they aren’t interested in providing any additional money after the multi-party deal ends Oct. 1.

“They have told me they are not interested in doing it next year, and take that as a final no,” Zier told the Journal & Courier.

Under the subsidy deal, the Indiana Department of Transportation, Indianapolis and six other local governments agreed to pay a $2.7 million subsidy to Amtrak after the passenger train agency announced it was ending funding for passenger lines shorter than 750 miles.

The city’s decision to provide no additional funding comes after INDOT recently announced that a private vendor, Corridor Capital, had been selected to run the line and improve service along the 196-mile route.

Indianapolis Department of Public Works spokeswoman Stephanie Wilson said the city might reconsider its decision if that vendor significantly improves service on the line, which makes stops in Crawfordsville, Lafayette, Rensselaer and Dyer.

Wilson said the passenger line’s 5-hour trip between Chicago and Indianapolis is too long and isn’t used frequently enough to make it worth subsidizing.

“It’s an inefficient way to get there,” she said. “It’s a long trip compared to the Megabus, which is about 3 1/2 hours on a bad day.”

Wilson said about 300 passengers in Indianapolis use the service every week and the city’s subsidy means taxpayers are subsidizing those trips at a rate of about $20 per rider, per trip.

Corridor Capital has promised changes, ranging from cleaner cars, modest food service, Wi-Fi, and on-time service – goals Amtrak was supposed to have reached by now in order to continue receiving state, county and city support.

Crawfordsville Mayor Todd Barton said he doubts other communities who have provided funding will be able to make up Indianapolis’ share. He said it would take up to two years to make the passenger line self-sufficient.

“INDOT has worked very hard to secure this line. Indianapolis needs to step up,” Barton said. “... It’s in the interest of the entire state.”

Lafayette Mayor Tony Roswarski said that without Indianapolis’ financial support, “there’s a very strong possibility it would mean ... the end of the Hoosier State.”

Despite the funding questions, Zier remains optimistic that Corridor Capital will be able to take over the line this fall.

“I think this is going to happen. It’s just a matter of getting everything to fall into place,” he said.

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Information from: Journal and Courier.

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