INDOT May Sue FRA over ‘New Railroad’ Ruling

Despite announcing that Amtrak’s Hoosier State would make its final trips on April 1, the Indiana Department of Transportation is saying that it hasn’t given up on the train.

INDOT may take the Federal Railroad Administration to court to prevent it from enforcing demands that the state act as a “new start” railroad because it funds the quad-weekly Chicago-Indianapolis train.

INDOT has been negotiating with Amtrak and Iowa Pacific Holdings to operate the service. Those entities plus CSX, over whose tracks the Hoosier State operates for much of its route, are railroads certified by the FRA and perform the functions that the FRA is seeking to force INDOT to perform.

“We’re not going to close off any options (for continuing the service), INDOT Commissioner Karl Browning told Trains magazine. But “the notion of the state having to become a railroad (to operate the Hoosier State) is insane.” The state’s correspondence is available online at www.in.gov/indot.

In a statement, the FRA said that is merely seeking to ensure the safety of passengers.

“As states assume a more active role in the management of these services, including in some instances contracting with multiple service providers, they must more closely ensure their services are safe for the passengers, train crews, and communities in which they serve,” the FRA said in the statement. “States ultimately have oversight responsibility for their contractors and service providers. We are fully supportive of states finding the best, most cost-effective way to safely deliver their intercity passenger rail services and will continue to work with INDOT to keep the Hoosier[State] service running safely.”

The FRA statement noted that state-supported trains carry nearly half of Amtrak’s 31 million passengers.

Ed Ellis, president of Iowa Pacific Holdings, told Trains that if the Chicago-Indianapolis service does continue it will use former Santa Fe dome car Summit View, providing sit-down meals in Indiana’s version of business class, along with two lightweight coaches.

The locomotives tentatively chosen for the service are three GP40FH-2s, which formerly ran on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor for New Jersey Transit.

INDOT said that the FRA has “partially inspected” the equipment and another inspection is scheduled.

“Our goal is to handle more people, selling the fact that you can increase ridership with better service. Because business class passengers will pay more for the service, we can increase the Hoosier State’s financial performance,” Ellis said. “We hope the FRA issue can be resolved to INDOT’s satisfaction.”

In a related development, the Indiana Passenger Rail Alliance reported that legislation in the Indiana legislature designed to ensure funding for the Hoosier State has been attracting support.

“All those interested in seeing a modern passenger rail system in our state are smiling a bit more, after learning that the Indiana House of Representatives has included an annual appropriation, which can be used for the Hoosier State, in House Bill 1001, the budget bill,” the Alliance wrote in its newsletter.

House Bill 1001 will now be considered by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“If this committee holds to form, it will invite budget presentations from various state agencies, including the Indiana Department of Transportation, before it adopts its own version of the budget,” said Tim Maloney, a board member of the Alliance.

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