Hoosier State saved by eleventh-hour deal

The Hoosier State line running its route near Dyer, Ind., near the Chicago/East Chicago border.

[Editor's note: This story updates an breaking-news update filed earlier Oct. 15.]

Finally, weeks after a law kicked in dropping federal funding for Amtrak lines less than 750 miles, Indiana — with assistance from local government partners — worked out a deal to save the Hoosier State line from Indy to Chicago.

The state was the last in the nation to strike a deal to save its short-distance line, but the agreement became official Tuesday afternoon with a news release from Gov. Mike Pence's office that said that contracts are being signed to enable monthly payments to support existing service for one year with an option for an additional four months.

Indianapolis, Crawfordsville, Rensselaer, Lafayette, West Lafayette, Tippecanoe County and Beech Grove are joining the Indiana Department of Transportation to fund the line.

"I am pleased that the State of Indiana, in partnership with local communities, was able to reach an agreement with Amtrak to keep the Hoosier State line operating over the next year," Pence said in the release. "This agreement will make Hoosier jobs more secure and preserve an important transportation link for Indiana. I am grateful for the leadership of the Indiana Department of Transportation and the generous support of many of the communities with stops along the Hoosier State line."

INDOT Commissioner Karl Browning added: "At the Governor's direction, the agreement allows state and local partners to monitor ridership and explore service improvements to ensure long-term viability. The communities that are contributing funding will have a vested interest in improving performance and ensuring accountability for the tax dollars being invested."

Beech Grove Mayor Dennis Buckley sounded relieved when reached by phone on Tuesday afternoon.

"It's hard work, you're talking about people's livelihoods, you're talking about the money that's generated by the Amtrak yard in Central Indiana and what we do for Amtrak ... ," Buckley said.

"The state's trying to be conservative and good stewards of the money and Amtrak is trying to provide a service. Putting all these things together, sometimes it's tough. A lot of work went into this. Me, personally, I spent a lot of time on this and made more than one trip to Lafayette.

"This is kind of unusual because events are generally local; this is 196-mile event from Indy to Chicago. I'm happy for Amtrak. I'm happy for the city. Governor Pence has been nice about it with me, but it's hard work."

"Buckley said he hopes the news is the harbinger of better times for Beech Grove.

"It's been difficult," he said. "I've only been mayor 20 months. Within three months of being mayor, St. Francis Hospital closes — over 1,000 jobs. And then ... we didn't know what was going to happen with the Hoosier line — that's 550 jobs."

Buckley welcomes metro residents to visit Beech Grove for a Main Street re-opening celebration at 1 p.m. Nov. 14 at the intersection of 8th and Main Streets.

Amtrak issued a release just after 5 p.m. on Tuesday noting the company

successfully reached agreements with 19 state transportation departments and other local partners to support funding of 28 current passenger rail routes.

"We thank these state leaders who have sent a strong message in favor of Amtrak service and the need to offer multiple mobility options for the traveling public across their regions," Amtrak President and Chief Executive Joe Boardman said.

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