INDIANAPOLIS (WISH/AP) — Those hoping to hop on a train to Chicago this fall or this winter, are in luck.
The Indiana Department of Transportation and seven local partners have agreed to continue funding Hoosier State passenger rail service between Indianapolis and Chicago through Jan. 31 while the state negotiates with a private vendor to operate the line.
INDOT announced the four-month extension beginning Oct. 1 in a deal with Amtrak and the communities of Indianapolis, Beech Grove, Crawfordsville, Rensselaer, Lafayette, West Lafayette and Tippecanoe County.
Indianapolis initially planned to pull out of the funding arrangement Oct. 1. But just because the contract was extended once doesn’t mean it’ll be extended again.
Nearly all day, all week, silence is the sound the Amtrak lines in downtown Indy give off. There’s more noise down below, where workers make repairs and riders like Lyland Ward punch their ticket for their next trip.
“I go up to visit friends,” she said of her trips to Chicago. “It’s a nice ride as long as we don’t stop a lot.”
Or stop for good. That was supposed to happen in October until all the cities along the route decided to pony up enough money to keep it running a little longer.
“That’s good because now I don’t have to worry too much about driving up there in inclement weather, I can ride the train,” she said.
But if she wants to ride it past January, city leaders want several changes to happen to make investing in the line worthwhile. The four month extension alone costs Indianapolis $100,000 and the route itself only carries a few hundred passengers a week.
“It’s just not where it should be and it doesn’t represent the costs associated with keeping that line open,” said Lesley Gordon, Indianapolis Dept. of Public Works.
The Indiana Department of Transportation will assess the line during the extension period, looking for ways to increase ridership and fix the infrastructure at the station.
“I just really think the assessment will give us more information on what the value of the line is. I do believe there are people that find the value in riding,” said Gordon.
“I understand where (the city) is coming from but I think that it can be made worthwhile if effort was put into it,” said Ward.
Another reason the city is hesitant to invest in the Amtrak is because a lot of people who visit Chicago use passenger buses like Greyhound and MegaBus.
INDOT is also negotiating with Corridor Capital LLC to improve the rail service and its funding model by the end of the contract extension in January.
Indianapolis initially planned to pull out of the funding arrangement Oct. 1, but public works spokeswoman Stephanie Wilson says it will continue paying $25,000 per month to give Corridor Capital time to succeed.