MARY SCHUERMANN KUHLMAN
INDIANAPOLIS – Supporters of passenger rail service are making a last-ditch attempt to save the Hoosier State train.
The four-day, Indianapolis-to-Chicago line will end operations on July 1 unless state lawmakers restore $3 million in annual funding that was cut from the upcoming biennium state budget. While ridership fell nearly 18% between 2014 and 2018, Steve Coxhead, president of the Indiana Passenger Rail Alliance, said the state hasn’t invested in improving the service.
“It is kind of a Catch-22,” she said. “The governor says ridership has been disappointing, and we make the case that you have to have at least two trains in each direction each day, possibly three, in order to have a realistic chance of generating enough ridership to cover an operating cost.”
Without the 196-mile Hoosier State train, the three-day-a-week, long-distance Cardinal train is the only other route option. Officials with Amtrak Midwest, Indianapolis and Beech Grove will make a plea to save the service today at a 2:30 p.m. event at the Amtrak Beech Grove Shops. A state budget must be approved by April 29.
If the service ends, Amtrak estimates 59% of passengers would drive instead. Coxhead said that would collectively amount to more than 4 million miles by car annually.
“If you monetize the cost of putting all those extra cars on, like, I-65 for instance, it’s actually quite a significant cost,” he said. “The train actually would save the state about $3,154,000 in road maintenance and congestion costs.”
Indiana began funding the Hoosier State train in 2015 after federal funding ceased for Amtrak routes shorter than 750 miles. Coxhead contended that $3 billion annually is a relatively small part of a $34 billion budget.
“The governor is planning to spend something like $80 million on hiking and bike trails in the state,” he said, “and while there’s certainly nothing wrong with that and they’re probably needed, it seems disproportionate when you talk about what’s potentially the most important passenger rail corridor in the state.”
Amtrak recently shaved 15 minutes off the route, which it said saves the state $72,000 each year. Supporters have said the route generates about $10 million annually for local communities.