Amtrak services could change on Indiana route
By Christin Nance Lazerus firstname.lastname@example.org October 18, 2012 5:00PM
A conductor assists as Julie and Frank Zinn of Delaware, Ohio board an Amtrak train at the Dyer, Ind. station Thursday morning October 18, 2012. The Zinns, who chose the Dyer station for its safety and ease, picked up the train in Dyer to begin their Totally Trains Tour which will take them through the West, up the Pacific coast to Seattle and back. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 20, 2012 10:44AM
Amtrak and the Indiana Department of Transportation are discussing possible funding solutions to keep the Hoosier State train line — between Indianapolis and Chicago — alive beyond October 2013.
The line stops along the way at Lafayette, Rensselaer, Crawfordsville and Dyer four times a week. While representatives from some of those stops are trying to build support for keeping the route, Dyer officials aren’t sure that the level of ridership makes retaining the route a priority.
The potential loss of the route dates back to 2008, when Congress passed a new Amtrak charter. The charter required that federal funding could not be the sole source for operating routes of less than 750 miles. If the state does not decide to contribute funding to the route by next fall, the Dyer station would still be serviced by the Cardinal line, a route between Chicago and New York that operates three days a week.
Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said both parties have communicated over the phone and by email and the state was sent workbooks with operating costs in June. The parties will meet in person in the next few weeks.
“October 2013 is quite a ways from now,” Magliari said. “It’s not a done deal.”
Magliari said the cost of providing the service could vary, depending on what kind of service they want and who will operate it.
A rough estimate, based on Amtrak budget and revenue data, indicates it might cost between $4 million and $5 million a year.
INDOT’S Will Wingfield said there haven’t been many details shared yet, but they are looking to meet in November.
Dyer Town Manager Rick Eberly said he’s not really sure how much residents are interested in the service, considering the line has an average daily ridership of 2.3 people. In fiscal year 2011, the station had 2,439 people board or leave Amtrak trains at the Dyer station.
“I understand that Crawfordsville, Lafayette and Rensselaer residents use the line quite a bit more,” Eberly said. “And there’s the outside chance that the Capitol Line could become a daily service.”
Amtrak is planning some upgrades to the Dyer station to make it compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, but it’s not due to any level of increased ridership.
Eberly said part of the reason for the lack of interest may be that the Hoosier State line is not really a commuter route. If Northwest Indiana residents want to commute to Chicago, Metra or the South Shore Line can get them to the city faster. And if a resident needs to get to Indianapolis quickly, driving there and back is still much faster.
“If it were a true commuter line, it would be more popular,” Eberly said. “When we had the commuter regional bus line, the park and ride lot was packed. Now, there’s just a handful of cars that come there to carpool.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.