5 p.m. MONDAY UPDATE:
The president of the Indiana Passenger Rail Alliance is disappointed by INDOT‘s decision to end Amtrak’s "Hoosier State" rail service on April first.
But Steve Coxhead thinks the federal ruling on rail service shorter than 750 miles was rushed into effect because Indiana was negotiating with a private company.
“The FRA, they have a procedure where they, rulings of this sort, they’re supposed to be publicized, they’re supposed to be appearing for comments. Evidently, that is scheduled to happen this summer but for some reason the FRA has jumped the gun on Indiana,” Coxhead says.
Coxhead says his group and others will urge Governor Pence to continue talks with Iowa Pacific, which was set to own the equipment on the line and will encourage Hoosiers to urge U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Fox to suspend the FRA ruling.
The town of Dyer isn‘t one of the big stops on Amtrak‘s "Hoosier State" service – and has drawn criticism from municipal officials in other cities with stops for not paying to keep the trains running during the last year -- but town officials are still hopeful that the service can be retained past April 1st.
Town Administrator Rick Eberly says he and other community officials were told in a Friday conference call about the decision . Eberly says as recently as a couple weeks ago he felt there was a chance Iowa Pacific could actually make improvements.
“I was just hopeful that the service would be improved and that was in the works until this ruling by the FRA,” Eberly says.
Eberly says he, too, is hopeful that the FRA decision can be reversed or suspended.
A news release from the Indiana Department of Transportation today indicates the agency's intention to stop the Hoosier State service as of April 1st. Details will follow. Here is the news release from INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 6, 2015
Hoosier State Passenger Rail Service to End April 1
FRA to classify state rail sponsors as railroad carriers
INDIANAPOLIS – The Indiana Department of Transportation today announced that the Hoosier State passenger rail line, which operates four days per week between Indianapolis and Chicago, will have its last day of service on Wednesday, April 1.
The announcement follows a Federal Railroad Administration decision requiring the state of Indiana to serve as a railroad, even though it owns no track or trains.
“Passenger rail providers and the host railroads are already required to comply with FRA rules,” said INDOT Commissioner Karl Browning. “Requiring a redundant layer of bureaucracy would not create improvements in passenger rail service or safety, it would only increase taxpayer costs.”
Proposed long-term service
INDOT has been working for a year to improve the Hoosier State service, and had been making progress in negotiating long-term agreements with two experienced passenger rail providers.
“INDOT thanks our partners Amtrak and Iowa Pacific Holdings as we worked together to preserve the Hoosier State service,” Browning said.
Under the proposed service, Amtrak would have served as the primary operator, working with host railroads, providing train and engine crews, and managing reservation and ticketing. This would have taken advantage of the priority access and pricing that Amtrak enjoys with the host railroads. Iowa Pacific would have provided the train equipment, train maintenance, on-board services and marketing.
The proposed service was modeled after Amtrak’s successful Piedmont service, which operates between Charlotte and Raleigh, N.C. The North Carolina Department of Transportation owns the track over which the Piedmont operates, and contracted with Amtrak and private contractors to improve and grow passenger rail.
NCDOT sued the FRA in 2008 when it attempted to place the same impediments on the Piedmont service. INDOT was unsuccessful in convincing the FRA to formally reconsider its decision. Copies of INDOT’s correspondence with FRA and letter of intent with Iowa Pacific are available at www.in.gov/indot/3200.htm.
States as railroads
Congress voted in 2008 to end federal funding for certain Amtrak routes of less than 750 miles. Six years later, the FRA is developing rules governing states that now support the cost of passenger rail services.
Under new rules that the FRA is testing with Indiana, all states that support passenger rail services would be considered railroad carriers. This burdensome interpretation exposes states to significant increases in cost, paperwork and liability, including:
- Liability for the actions of passenger rail providers up to $200 million for each occurrence of injury, death or property damage,
- Hiring new staff to monitor plans and programs in compliance with federal rules, and
- Interpretation that state employees are rail employees, subject to retirement and employer liability rules and limits.
After April 1, INDOT encourages Hoosier State travelers to take advantage of alternative transportation options between Indianapolis and Chicago:
- Amtrak’s Cardinal service (Trains 50 & 51) will continue to operate three days per week – Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays northbound and Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays southbound – with intermediate stops in Crawfordsville, Lafayette, Rensselaer and Dyer. Tickets are available at www.amtrak.com, 800-USA-RAIL and other sales channels, including Amtrak mobile apps.
- Greyhound offers express bus service with intermediate stops in Lafayette. In addition, INDOT uses federal transit funds to support once-daily regional service with stops in Merrillville, Gary and Hammond. For fare and schedule information and to buy tickets, call 800-661-8747 or visit www.greyhound.com.
- Megabus offers frequent express bus service. Visit www.megabus.com for additional information about the service, schedules, arrival and departure times and fares.