Hoosier State line gets 30-day extension

From the Lafayette Courier and Journal:

Journal & Courier file photoPassengers prepare to board Amtrak’s Hoosier State line at the Riehle Plaza station in downtown Lafayette in 2013
Journal & Courier file photoPassengers prepare to board Amtrak’s Hoosier State line at the Riehle Plaza station in downtown Lafayette in 2013

The end of the Amtrak Hoosier State passenger rail got a 30-day reprieve, and a deal to save the four-day-a-week service might still be within reach.

Last week, Indiana Department of Transportation announced the rail service would end April 1, but Friday, March 13, 2015, INDOT announced the extension, meaning the rail line from Indianapolis to Chicago continues through next month.

Officially, INDOT said the announcement Friday followed a phone call between officials from the Federal Railroad Administration and INDOT Commissioner Karl Browning. During the conversation, Sarah Feinberg, acting commissioner for the railroad administration, indicated the federal agency would reconsider the position that would force the end of the Hoosier State passenger line, according to INDOT.

State Rep. Randy Truitt, R-West Lafayette, said, “They (railroad administrators) gave their commitment that they are willing to review it.”

Unofficially, the announced review of the Federal Railroad Administration’s ruling is likely the result of pressure from state and U.S. officials, Truitt said, noting they’ve received support from Indiana’s congressional representatives and senators.

It is the latest twist in a seven-year drama to keep the trains running.

INDOT spent 2014 and the first three months of this year working to create a public-private partnership, Truitt said. The deal was nearly inked until the Federal Railroad Administration derailed the negotiations last week.

It ruled that Indiana needed to become a railroad carrier under the public-private partnership, Truitt said. This is despite the fact that Indiana would not own tracks, cars or equipment.

That ruling spurred state officials to reach out to U.S. representatives and senators, and it appears the railroad administration felt the pressure, Truitt said.

“You want to talk about a team effort on this thing,” Truitt said of the state and federal officials who took up Indiana’s fight to preserve the rail line.

“It is not clear that the … (Federal Railroad Administration) will change its mind,” Browning said in a press release. “Because Ms. Feinberg committed to reviewing this, we want to give the … (Federal Railroad Administration) another opportunity to consider the problems Indiana has been airing.”

Truitt said the 30-day extension is a promising sign since Browning had said earlier this month that there was no point in extending the service unless there was a chance that the railroad administration might reverse its decision.

“I think it is promising,” Truitt said of the extension.

“Everybody is still participating in good faith,” Truitt said of the public-private partnership negotiated with INDOT, Amtrak and Iowa Pacific Holdings Inc.

Under that agreement, Iowa Pacific Holdings Inc. provides and maintains the railroad cars and markets the service, Truitt said. Amtrak agrees to operate the trains and sell the tickets, and INDOT pays $3 million a year for the service, Truitt said. Half of that $3 is still split between Indianapolis, Crawfordsville, Lafayette, West Lafayette, Tippecanoe County and Rensselaer.

Indiana has been wrestling with how to preserve the Hoosier State line since 2008, when Congress ended funding for Amtrak’s shorter passenger rail lines. Congress, Truitt said, announced states could fund the routes that are shorter than 750 miles if they wanted to keep them.

Indiana came up with a viable and fiscally responsible solution for funding the line, Truitt said, then the Federal Railroad Administration threw up a barrier that is impossible for states to overcome. He is hopeful the review is the final hurdle to the public-private partnership.

Source: http://www.jconline.com/story/news/2015/03/13/hoosier-state-line-gets-day-extension/70283594/