January 11, 2019

Holcomb's Budget Proposal Could Derail Hoosier State Line

Original story from   IPBS-RJC

Article origination IPBS-RJC
Passengers board the Hoosier State train Friday, Aug. 19, 2016. - Chris Morisse Vizza/WBAA, file

Passengers board the Hoosier State train Friday, Aug. 19, 2016.

Chris Morisse Vizza/WBAA, file

Gov. Eric Holcomb’s proposed budget eliminates the state’s annual subsidy to fund the Hoosier State Amtrak train. The announcement came as a surprise to local officials whose cities are served by the line.

In the governor's proposed budget, the Amtrak-operated train would no longer receive $3 million in annual financial support after June 30, 2019. The Hoosier State Line runs from Indianapolis to Chicago each day, making stops in Crawfordsville, Lafayette, Rensselaer, and Dyer.

Crawfordsville Mayor Todd Barton says he was surprised to hear about the budget cut and had received no prior notification from the state.

“Kind of disappointing to communities like ours who have been a faithful partner and have stayed in this relationship to hear that maybe the other side is going to walk away from it,” he says.

Barton says he believed his town’s ridership was growing.

“Our ridership numbers here are very good, they’re very solid, and we’ve become really a destination for people from other places to come and board the train here,” says Barton.

But Amtrak monthly reports show the line consistently losing money.

Last budget session two years ago, the state began allocating $3 million annually to pay for operations, with communities served by the line continuing to kick in money as well. But in the intervening two years, the train has failed to become profitable and remains one of the least-ridden lines Amtrak operates.

Lafayette Mayor Tony Roswarski says state money is the only way to subsidize continued service.

“There’s no way that we can do any more than we’re doing right now to help and have some skin in the game, but if that falls to local communities then it’s just going to go away,” says Roswarski.

However, he says without more daily trains or better on-time service, he understands why it continues to be on the chopping block.

“But without those track improvements, nobody’s going to ride it if it consistently takes you know six hours to get there or you’re three hours late getting back,” says Roswarski.

Amtrak spokesperson Marc Magliari declined to comment, citing the early stage of the budget process.

Amtrak took over the operations for the line in 2017 after a private contractor, Iowa Pacific Holdings, severed its deal to run the trains over concerns it wasn’t making enough money from a deal with Amtrak and the Indiana Department of Transportation.

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