The Northeast Indiana Passenger Rail Association says a case can be made for high-speed passenger train service between Columbus, Ohio, and Chicago – with Fort Wayne an important stop in between.
Geoff Paddock, a founding board member, said the results of an $80,000 feasibility study will be released Friday as the group holds a fundraiser at the University of Saint Francis Performing Arts Center, 411 W. Berry St. (formerly the Scottish Rite Auditorium). The group will be showing the film, TrainsForming America, on how trains changed the country and could do so again, followed by a question-and-answer period with filmmaker/director Rebecca Sansom.
Paddock said the study was requested by former Gov. Mitch Daniels to show what the system would cost and its potential economic impact.
The study examines a passenger train that would run from the Columbus International Airport to downtown Chicago, with stops in Columbus, Marysville, Kenton and Lima, Ohio; Fort Wayne, Warsaw, Plymouth, Valparaiso, and Gary.
Paddock said express trains could also be added that would have fewer stops.
Although America has moved away from passenger rail, Paddock said things have changed. The price of gas has tripled in the 23 years since passenger service ended in Fort Wayne, and the cost of building highways has increased exponentially.
The Interstate 69 extension between Indianapolis and Evansville is costing about $20 million per mile, while upgrading freight lines to handle passenger trains traveling 110 mph would cost about $5 million a mile. Most freight trains are limited to 70 mph.
Paddock pointed out the Baker Street Train Station is right next door to the Citilink bus transfer station, making it easy for passengers to get around Fort Wayne once they arrive. And downtown is full of amenities from hotels to restaurants, Grand Wayne Center and Parkview Field, all within blocks of the station.
In the future, he said, the 110 mph service could be upgraded to 130 mph.
And even at 110 mph, you get to Chicago in less than two hours without the frustrations of highway traffic and the heavy cost of downtown parking, Paddock said.
Once the study is released, the next step is for it to be accepted by Gov. Mike Pence, the Indiana Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration. After that, economic impact studies and an environmental impact study will need to be done, followed by preliminary engineering. Construction could begin in 2016 or 2017 if all goes well, Paddock said, noting that work is already being done on several other Midwest routes.