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Study raises hope of keeping state’s Amtrak line alive

– A new state-funded study that details the potential benefits of improving service along an Amtrak line between Indianapolis and Chicago is boosting the hopes of the line’s supporters as Indiana continues negotiating with Amtrak on its options for keeping the passenger line running.

The Hoosier State line will continue through mid-October, but the 196-mile line will grind to a halt after that unless Indiana, Amtrak and the communities where it makes stops reach an agreement to replace $3.1 million in annual federal funding that ends Tuesday under legislation Congress passed in 2008.

The measure cut money for lines in 19 states that are shorter than 750 miles.

Last week, Gov. Mike Pence authorized the Indiana Department of Transportation to begin negotiating with Amtrak on the line’s future after some communities served by the line expressed a willingness to chip in local funding to keep it moving, said INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield.

Wingfield said a short-term agreement might be needed to provide additional time to hammer out a comprehensive arrangement.

“We’re moving forward productively with Amtrak and the local communities, but it’s still fluid at this point,” he said Friday.

An analysis commissioned by INDOT and released Thursday details the costs and benefits of four different options for improving the line, which currently runs four days a week between Indianapolis and Chicago and back, with stops in Crawfordsville, Lafayette, Rensselaer and Dyer.

All of those options would shave about 30 minutes off the line’s current average five-hour one-way commute time. Two of the options would keep a single train running daily, and the two others would add a second train to boost ridership on the line, which last year carried 37,000 passengers.

The report by CDM Smith found that none of the four proposals would allow the line to break even or make a profit, but they would lower the per-rider subsidy to between $32 and $42. That’s significantly less than the $80-a-rider subsidy that Indiana would have to shell out to replace the federal funding.

Lafayette Mayor Tony Roswarski said he didn’t see any surprises in his initial reading of the report, which he said concurs with supporters’ contention that any funding agreement must include commitments to boosting the line’s reliability, its speeds, services and ridership.

Doug Yerkeson, a member for Hoosiers for Passenger Rail, said Friday he’s still reviewing the report but likes many of its recommendations.