Getting on board
State officials are pressing the deadline on negotiations for taking over Amtrak's Hoosier State line from Indy to Chicago. Amtrak, which originally scheduled to discontinue the Hoosier State route on Oct. 1 if Indiana did not provide funding, agreed to push this back to mid-October while negotiations between the rail company, the state and other local partners continue. The Indiana Department of Transportation on Thursday released a 47-page cost-benefit analysis prepared by consultant CDM Smith, which concluded that "elimination of the Hoosier State" is the only option to have "a beneficial positive effect on positive cost vs. benefit." But that statement is not as black and white as one might imagine. Study authors found Indiana — like other states that have tried like strategies with shorter-distance routes — stands to gain ridership and revenue for the Hoosier State if the schedule is tweaked and performance improved. Still, the capital costs of improving the line to prepare for faster speeds and better, more-frequent service outstrip the estimated revenue collected from tickets. However, they wrote, "Capital improvements could be avoided or minimized until ridership justifies the expenditure." Study authors said the decision to save the line would have benefits that could not be factored into a typical bottom-line analysis: "In addition to greater connectivity, passenger rail can improve economic productivity, boost local spending, create jobs, improve freight service, and improve the overall quality of life in the region." Some of the other advantages thought to accompany the various line improvement alternatives include net annual carbon dioxide emissions reductions of 7,500-14,100 metric tons and elimination of an estimated 350-670 car trips a day. On Sept. 30, Amtrak's media relations manager Marc Magliari sent the following email update: "I can confirm we are in talks with INDOT for a short-term agreement to prevent a Hoosier State service interruption by mid-October, so as to allow time to negotiate a longer-term contract." INDOT confirmed Amtrak's summary. To read the full INDOT report, visit in.gov/indot. Save the Hoosier State organizers will be hosting a call to rally supporters at 1 p.m., Oct. 3.Dial in at 605-477-2100; access code: 473985.
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