INDOT Open to Continued Operation of Hoosier State

The Hoosier State may not be doomed after all. An Indiana Department of Transportation spokesman told Trains magazine that the state would consider continuing its support of the Chicago-Indianapolis train provided that Indiana gets relief from a Federal Railroad Administration decree that in supporting the train the state is a new railroad.

“The state would consider another short-term extension of the existing service if the FRA changed its position,” INDOT spokesman Will Winfield told the magazine. “The state and local communities are working together to get the maximum value for the taxpayer dollars being invested.” INDOT had been negotiating with Amtrak to continue operating the train and with Iowa Pacific Holdings to provide equipment and marketing support.

Then last week INDOT said that Hoosier State would makes its last trips on April 1, citing what INDOT termed the imposition of “burdensome” FRA regulations.

INDOT Commissioner Karl Browning has written to Federal DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx to protest the FRA regulations.

In his letter, Browing said the insistence by the FRA that INDOT serve as the principal entity of record for the purposes of ensuring compliance with federal railroad safety requirements had prompted Indiana’s termination notice for the quad-weekly Hoosier State.

“INDOT cannot agree to become a railroad or a railroad carrier as that would require a significantly higher commitment of resources, the assumption of additional liability, and uncertainty over employment practices,” Browning wrote.

Trains noted that Foxx was mayor of Charlotte, N.C., when the FRA tried to impose similar regulations on the North Carolina Department of Transportation, which funds Amtrak service between Charlotte and Raleigh, N.C. After North Carolina threatened to sue, the FRA backed off.

“We are experiencing the same regulatory impediments that the North Carolina Department of Transportation faced in 2008 in its discussions with the FRA,” Browning wrote to Foxx. “As you may recall, the FRA insisted that NCDOT serve as the railroad carrier. That matter was ultimately resolved when NCDOT contested that FRA determination.”

Some observers have described the FRA’s latest ploy to make Indiana a “railroad” because it funds Amtrak service as the opening act in decreeing that all states that fund rail passenger service are “railroads.”

In response to INDOT’s Hoosier State termination notice, Amtrak President Joseph Boardman issued a statement saying that continued operation of the Hoosier State can be done on a month by month basis.

Wingfield told Trains that Amtrak, FRA, and U.S. Food and Drug Administration officials made an initial inspection of Iowa Pacific equipment on Jan. 27 in Chicago with additional inspections scheduled this month.

Indiana’s fight with the FRA has also begun to attract support from officials with other agencies that fund rail passenger service. Among them is Patricia Quinn, chair of the States for Passenger Rail Coalition Inc., and Executive Director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority,  sponsors Amtrak’s Downeaster between Boston and Maine

“It is a sad day when the federal agency which administers federal funding for Amtrak, and who has played such a critical role in providing grants to states to develop and improve intercity passenger rail services, also is determined to require states and intercity service sponsors who contract with Amtrak to become railroads,” Quinn said in a statement. “We trust that this conflict between federal and state governments can be worked out.”

 

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