No Hoosier State Funding in Final Budget

Efforts this week to save funding of Amtrak’s Hoosier State fell short when the Indiana General Assembly approved a two-year budget that does not include continued funding of the train.

The legislature approved a $34 billion budget on Wednesday night that did not include funding for the quad-weekly Chicago-Indianapolis train.

The state’s $3 million annual funding of the Hoosier State will end on June 30.

“I’m very disappointed,” said Sen. Ron Alting, of Lafayette Republican who said he had worked in the closing weeks with three other legislators whose districts are served by the train to find continued funding for it.

“I thought it was a small amount of money in a $34 billion budget, quite honestly,” Alting told the Lafayette Journal & Courier. “But the Hoosier State wasn’t in (Gov. Eric Holcomb’s) budget, and it wasn’t in the House version of the budget. So that was hard to overcome, at the end of the day. We gave it a 100 percent effort.”

One local official involved in the efforts to save the Hoosier State offered a glimmer of hope that an alternative funding source might be available.

“Oddly, there’s more funding for bringing a train back than for preserving one, which is totally backward,” said Arvid Olson, head of Greater Lafayette Commerce’s transportation committee. “Smart heads are working toward that right now.”

“If this, according to Gov. Holcomb, isn’t working, which is a valid thing to say, what will it take to make passenger rail work here?” Olson said.

Olson said that might mean such things as having the train make additional stops or the even the possibility of having a private operator take it over.

He cited the case of Richard Branson – owner of Virgin Atlantic Airways, Virgin Hotels, and Virgin Galactic – buying the Brightline intercity rail line in Florida.

In addition to state funding, the Hoosier State also received $500,000 annually from local governments served by the train.

The Hoosier State is slated to make its last trips on Sunday, June 30. Amtrak has also ready given notice that it will be “suspended” the next day.

“We’re open to any continued discussions with the state and the communities,” Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said about preserving the Hoosier State.

However, Indiana Department of Transportation spokesman Scott Manning said the state legislature having decided not to continue funding the train there is no state budget mechanism to continue funding beyond June 30.

“If the service were to continue beyond that date, it would need to be without state funding,” Manning said.

State officials have been saying since early this year that the Hoosier State’s ridership has been disappointing. INDOT said ridership fell in each of the past four years.

In fiscal year 2014 the Hoosier State carried 33,930. That had fallen to 27,876 by FY 2018.

Olson said Lafayette area leaders have been careful to avoid being too critical of Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb’s decision to end funding for the Hoosier State, “because he was making a good point.”

Although the Indiana Passenger Rail Alliance sought to drum up support for continued Hoosier State funding, the group’s president said he knew that was a long shot.

“Most likely, it’s going away, but for how long it will be gone is an interesting question,” said Steve Coxhead. “I think the battle is far from over, though. We know there are other ways, and we’ll be looking at them. If nothing else, the state opens a new budget cycle in two years. We have to be prepared to go the distance, if it goes that far.”

House speaker Brian Bosma said he would have “loved” for the Hoosier State to have worked, “but it’s just a subsidy that doesn’t appear to be taking hold.”

Magliari said the underlying problem that the Hoosier State faced was a slow schedule that was not competitive with the Chicago-Indianapolis drive time.

Coxhead described that as a “kind of a catch-22” in that slow service and low ridership led to funding cuts for a service that was initially under-funded.

“The governor says ridership has been disappointing, and we make the case that you have to have at least two trains in each direction each day, possibly three, in order to have a realistic chance of generating enough ridership to cover an operating cost,” Coxhead said.

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One Response to “No Hoosier State Funding in Final Budget”

  1. Rail Provocateur Says:

    In a postmortem over the “Hoosier State,” we should not forget how their are lessons to be learned, both upside and downside, that have implications for the future of Midwest corridor routes.

    1) For the first time, Indiana developed a process for financial participation by en route counties and cities.
    2) Between Amtrak and INDOT, given the route, a convenient suburban stop at Brownsburg was omitted. What potential travelers would drive all the way to downtown Indy to park (where/ how safe?) to board from a decrepit depot occupied by homeless for a departure before sunrise?
    3) Indiana evidenced classic naivete when seeking to throw-out Amtrak for a private operator in 2014.
    a) INDOT failed to fully vet all interested private parties before allowing their submission to the RFP to takeover the train. As a result, the first group focused on pizzaz to appeal to INDOT, who did not learn until forced to pull the RFP award that this group had absolutely no railroad operating experience; no financial heft to carry their start-up and working capital requirements (but actually attempted an MOU with INDOT); had no viable equipment to assume service; had no working relationships with Amtrak or Class 1s. Also, as Amtrak pointed out, they would not contract directly with this private party, but legally, only through INDOT.
    b) Upon realizing this lack of credentials, INDOT turned to a freight short line operator. Although enthralled with passenger trains, this operator apparently failed to understand the contract for service the train would operate under for Amtrak. Although creating a far improved version of Amtrak, this train continued to lose money as the timekeeping improved; increasing Amtrak’s costs to the Class 1(s) railroads
    c) For $500,000, two power switches could have been installed at Dyer, IN to change the route to the faster CN (ex-IC) lakefront route, accessing Chicago Union Station via the St. Charles Air Line. This would have eliminated traversing thru 5 separate railroad dispatchers over the current 29 mile route.

    A very sad lesson in the depreciation of a once viable corridor, as evidenced in the 3 hour timecard of NYC’s “James Whitcomb Riley” into the mid-1950s.

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