Hoosier State saved by eleventh-hour deal

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

Update: At 5:09 p.m., NUVO received the following press release from Amtrak Media Relations:

"Amtrak remains committed to working directly with Indiana DOT (INDOT) to achieve a signed agreement with Indiana that will maintain the Amtrak Hoosier State service - but our time is quickly running out. Pricing was provided to INDOT in April 2013 and a draft agreement was provided to INDOT in July 2013. If we do not have an agreement by Monday, September 30th, Amtrak will begin steps to notify its employees and the public of the impending suspension of service by Trains 850 and 851.

"Additionally, Amtrak has provided INDOT information regarding ways to improve the current Hoosier State service and the need for infrastructure improvements to realize those benefits. We look forward to reviewing the draft report by INDOT's consultant after it is released this Thursday."

Editor's Note: At 1:44 p.m. Tuesday, NUVO received the following news release from the Indiana Department of Transportation:

The Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) announced it has begun contract negotiations with Amtrak over continuation of the Hoosier State passenger rail service, which operates four days per week between Indianapolis and Chicago.

In 2008, Congress voted to end federal support for Amtrak routes of less than 750 miles. Seven of the 19 states impacted have signed operating agreements as of Sept. 13. Amtrak has said that it would not terminate service with states holding good-faith contract negotiations by Oct. 1.

Governor Pence authorized INDOT to begin negotiations with local partners last week. INDOT has been having ongoing discussions with the communities that have stops along the Hoosier State passenger rail service. Mayors and other public officials expressed an interest in keeping the Hoosier State service operating and are making local funds available as part of the financing package.

"Governor Pence supports the joint local and state effort to continue this passenger rail service, but with the negotiations, there are still a number of hurdles to be cleared," said INDOT Commissioner Karl Browning. "There's common interest among state and local officials to ensure that the service is accountable for the tax dollars being invested."

Communities that contribute funding would also be involved in overseeing performance of the service on a recurring basis. Specific contributions among all parties will not be known until negotiations with Amtrak conclude.

The estimate that Amtrak provided in May to keep the Hoosier State passenger rail service in operation is $2.963 million annually. Divided among each one-way passenger, this is approximately $80 in government support for each $24 ticket. Amtrak's long-distance Cardinal service, which operates the remaining three days per week between Cincinnati and Chicago via Indianapolis, is not affected by this decision.

At the request of its partners in the legislature, INDOT has also funded a cost-benefit analysis of the existing service and four options Amtrak provided for improved frequency and departure times. INDOT will present the results before a joint study committee of the legislature on Thursday and make the draft study report available on its website at www.in.gov/indot/3200.htm.