RENSSELAER — Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb’s decision to pull millions of dollars from the state’s two-year budget will derail a popular passenger train service between Chicago and Indianapolis as of July 1.
And a new deal to secure funding for the line appears highly unlikely.
Supporters of the Indy-to-Windy City route — known as the Hoosier State line — gathered at the Statehouse for a rally Wednesday, hoping to convince Holcomb and state lawmakers that the line is an important part of transportation for Hoosiers.
Holcomb announced in January that he would pull $3 million per year earmarked for the Hoosier State from the state’s two-year budget which begins July 1.
The Hoosier State line consists of two trains — No. 850 and No. 851 — that run Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday between Indianapolis and Chicago, with stops in Dyer, Rensselaer, Lafayette and Crawfordsville.
The other train with local stops on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday each week is the long-distance Cardinal line that runs between New York and Chicago. That line, which will continue to operate as usual, also makes Indiana stops in Dyer, Rensselaer, Lafayette, Crawfordsville and Connorsville.
Cost of a one-way adult ticket on both the Cardinal and Hoosier State from Rensselaer to Chicago ranges from $27-$34 for a reserved coach seat to $42 for a business class seat. From Rensselaer to Indianapolis, it ranges from $31-$47 for coach, and $52 for business class.
According to Steven Coxhead, president of the Indiana Passenger Rail Alliance, the Hoosier State has received $3 million from the state budget each year since 2015. The line also receives a combined $500,000 annually from five municipalities — Rensselaer, Crawfordsville, Lafayette, West Lafayette and Tippecanoe County.
According to Amtrak.com, federal law requires states to pay a portion of the cost of certain Amtrak trains operated on corridors of less than 750 miles in length or designated as high-speed corridors. It’s known as Section 209 of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act, which basically yanked federal funding from Amtrak for those shorter lines and placed the cost burden on states and local municipalities.
“I don’t see any movement yet to help us fund the Hoosier State,” Rensselaer Mayor Stephen Wood told the Rensselaer Republican for an online story published April 8. “It looks pretty bleak.”
According to figures provided by the Indiana Department of Transportation, ridership on the Hoosier State has decreased about 18 percent since 2014 — a statistic that likely figured into Holcomb’s decision to pull funding.
Without the $3 million in funding, Coxhead said the Hoosier State line will stop service effective July 1. Amtrak, which operates the Hoosier State, announced on April 8 that it has stopped selling tickets for service after June 30.
“We are extremely disappointed in Gov. Holcomb’s decision to defund this Amtrak service,” Coxhead said, adding that the line provides an alternative to “congested Interstate 65” and the “frequently delayed O’Hare (International) Airport.”
A ride on the 196-mile Hoosier State line from Indianapolis to Chicago takes about five hours — or two hours longer than it would to drive between the two cities on the interstate highways.
Wednesday’s rally at the Statehouse, set up by IPRA and Transport Workers Union Local 2003, provided a look at the rail service’s bipartisan support.
Speakers at the event included state Sen. Ron Alting (R-Lafayette), and state representatives Sharon Negele (R-Attica), Chris Campbell (D-West Lafayette), Sheila Klinker (D-Lafayette) and Cindy Kirchhofer (R-Beech Grove), along with Beech Grove Mayor Dennis Buckley.
Alting said he attempted to amend funding back into the budget but was unsuccessful. He added that the railroad is the future, not the past.
“It’s more energy efficient, cleaner, and it’s safer,” Alting said. “How many more reasons can you get?”
Campbell said her constituents, which includes Purdue University students, rely upon the service to get to Indianapolis and Chicago, as do residents in the Greater Lafayette Area who use the Hoosier State to get to jobs and other business.
She said there is still time to get funding for the Hoosier State, although time is running short.
“The good news is that the budget is not final yet,” she said. “We will keep fighting to add in the funding for the Hoosier State line, so that Amtrak can continue service, hundreds of Hoosiers can keep their jobs, and we can continue to invest in rail transportation in Indiana.”
In addition to the Cardinal line, Amtrak Thruway Buses will continue to operate multiple times daily to and from the Amtrak stations in Indianapolis, Lafayette and Chicago.