Indiana begins passenger rail talks with Amtrak

INDIANAPOLIS - The Indiana Department of Transportation says it has begun negotiations with Amtrak over continuing passenger rail service four days per week between Indianapolis and Chicago.

The announcement Tuesday came one week before a key deadline: Amtrak has said it won't end service with states holding good-faith contract negotiations on Oct. 1.

"There's still a lot of negotiation that needs to be done, hurdles to clear. So I couldn't handicap it really at this point. But, you know, at least in the interim the service will not end. We're gonna continue those negotiations, working without local officials and keeping them informed, those cities along the route, and continue to move forward," INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield said.

Congress voted in 2008 to end federal support for Amtrak routes of less than 750 miles. At least seven of the 19 states affected have signed operating agreements. Indiana must come up with $3.1 million annually to replace the funds Congress eliminated.

Rep. Andre Carson, D-Indianapolis, strongly supports the subsidy and said letting the service go would negatively impact Indiana’s economic future.

"If we can't maintain a daily line to Chicago, it will impact Indiana's future in terms of installing a high-speed rail system, which will impact businesses. It will impact communities. And it will impact Hoosier jobs," Carson said.

Beech Grove has the most at stake. Mayor Dennis Buckley says Amtrak provides between $49 million and $61 million in economic impact. He's concerned those jobs could be discontinued if Amtrak service through Indianapolis becomes less frequent. That would make it harder for Amtrak to deliver the cars in need of repair to Beech Grove.

"Hopefully the governor and INDOT will go ahead and fund the Hoosier State. The money's been appropriated by the legislature. So let's go ahead and do it," Buckley said.

Indiana transportation officials have met lawmakers, mayors and other local officials to discuss ways to keep the Hoosier State Line running. The line with stops in Crawfordsville, Lafayette, Rensselaer and Dyer carried 37,000 passengers last year.

Follow Norman Cox on Twitter: @normancox6

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