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Posted on Sat. Sep. 22, 2012 - 12:18 am EDT

Indiana Amtrak route in peril

Money spat may end Chicago-Indy train

LAFAYETTE — An Amtrak passenger line that runs between Chicago and Indianapolis could come to a halt next year unless Indiana and federal officials resolve a funding dispute.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari has confirmed that Amtrak plans to end the Chicago-to-Indianapolis Hoosier State route effective Oct. 1, 2013. That route has stops in Lafayette, Rensselaer and Dyer, with an optional stop in Crawfordsville.

Under the expected change, the separate Cardinal route that travels from New York to Chicago would continue to serve Lafayette three mornings and three nights a week on its route.

“It is very likely there could no longer be daily service in Lafayette,” Magliari told the Journal & Courier for a Friday story.

Nearly 27,000 people got on and off the Hoosier State and the Cardinal passenger trains in Lafayette last year. The two routes combined allow passengers to ride to Chicago in the morning and return the same night.

The mayors of Lafayette and West Lafayette said the trains are a convenience for passengers as well as an economic development tool.

“Access to transportation and to major metropolitan areas is a strong consideration for businesses considering locating here,” West Lafayette Mayor John Dennis said.

Amtrak says states are responsible for fully funding routes shorter than 750 miles under a funding methodology established by Congress in 2008. But state officials in Indiana disagree.

“Our understanding is that the methodology was a discussion and was not a commitment (by Indiana) to subsidize the Hoosier State,” said Indiana Department of Transportation spokesman Will Wingfield. “There was no money provided along with the federal mandate. It is still not entirely known what Amtrak is requesting of Indiana.”

In March, the federal Surface Transportation Board rendered a decision about the cost methodology and declared that “affected states, other than Indiana, have adopted the methodology.”

The board’s report said Amtrak informed the panel that Indiana did not say why it isn’t using the funding methodology. The report also said that last November, INDOT said the governor’s office “decided to not sign (Amtrak’s) request” to accept the proposed methodology.

“The state doesn’t pay anything until it has an invoice,” Wingfield said. “The amount is still not known.”

Lafayette Mayor Tony Roswarski said the service reductions would be “a step backward” at a time when Indiana needs to be working toward high-speed rail service to connect Indiana cities to other states.

“Many of our highways are at capacity, and we need to look at ways to expand transportation of goods and services,” he said.

Roswarski and state Reps. Randy Truitt and Sheila Klinker said they expect the community to take a unified message to state leaders.

“Time is of the essence,” Truitt said. “We need to communicate quickly with INDOT before it prioritizes its federal funds.”

Klinker said passenger rail supporters should call their congressmen.

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