GOP senator wants to save Amtrak route

Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) is seeking to protect Amtrak service between Indianapolis and Chicago as state officials consider cutting the rail line because of a recent change to federal regulations that would increase the cost of operating the route. 

The Indianapolis to Chicago line, which is known as Amtrak’s Hoosier State route, is one of Amtrak’s “state-supported routes.” States pick up the tab for such shorter routes, which are usually within their borders. 

Coats said in a letter to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) that a move by the agency to legally consider states the operators of the short-haul routes, instead of Amtrak, would force Indiana officials to stop running the trains, which are popular with commuters. 

{mosads}“I am contacting you about the recent decision by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to designate the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) as a ‘railroad carrier’ with regard to the Hoosier State Line (HSL) rail service between Indianapolis and Chicago,” Coats wrote in a letter to Acting FRA Administrator Sarah Feinberg. “I urge the FRA to reconsider its unwarranted determination in order to avoid termination of the HSL.” 

The Hoosier State Line is one of nearly 30 state-supported Amtrak routes that have become popular with state lawmakers as a way to boost commuter rail service within their jurisdictions. 

Amtrak has said its state-supported routes were responsible for 14.7 million of its 30.9 million overall passengers in the 2014 fiscal year, which concluded at the end of September. The Hoosier State Line carried 33,930 passengers during that period, according to the company. 

Coats said in his letter to Feinberg that he is “puzzled” by the FRA’s decision to legally consider Indiana a rail operator, which officials have said would expose the state to undue financial risk that is far beyond the scope of the original agreement with Amtrak.  

“DOT has historically contracted with Amtrak to operate the HSL service,” Coats wrote, referring to the Department of Transportation. “Due to the HSL’s inadequate quality of service, however, INDOT proposed to contract with a third party to enhance the service and encourage additional ridership. 

“Amtrak continues to operate the rail cars, provide engines and crews, and operate the reservation and ticketing services,” the Indiana senator continued. “INDOT does not function in any of these capacities. It does not ‘conduct rail operations over rail infrastructure.’ Indeed, INDOT does not fit any common-sense definition of a ‘railroad,’ so the communities along the HSL are rightly puzzled by the FRA’s decision.” 

Officials with the Indiana Transportation Department have said that they will keep operating the trains between Indianapolis and Chicago while the FRA reviews its request to reconsider changing the terms of the state-supported rail program. 

“The Amtrak Hoosier State service between Indianapolis and Chicago will continue through the end of April,” the department said in a statement. “The announcement follows a Federal Railroad Administration phone call with INDOT Commissioner Karl Browning, during which Acting Administrator Sarah Feinberg committed to reconsider the position that would force the Hoosier State service to end.” 

Tags Amtrak Dan Coats Hoosier State line State-supported routes

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