Dem senator wants feds to save Amtrak route

Getty Images

Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) is seeking to protect Amtrak service between Indianapolis and Chicago, as Indiana state officials may be forced to cut the rail line.

Donnelly, in a letter to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT), called for the agencies to “work closely” together to prevent an interruption in the Indianapolis-to-Chicago service, known as Amtrak’s Hoosier State route, which is popular with commuters. 

{mosads}The service is one of the company’s “state-supported routes.” States typically pick up the tab for shorter routes, which are usually within their borders. But changes to federal regulations will increase the costs for Indiana to continue operating the route.

“As you know, the Hoosier State is an important transportation option connecting Indianapolis, Chicago, and the communities in between,” Donnelly wrote.

“Even as its future has been uncertain in recent years, demand for the service continues, with nearly 34,000 passengers during Fiscal Year 2014,” he added. “I regularly hear from constituents who rely on the Hoosier State, as well as from those who would like to see the service improved and extended into southern Indiana communities and Cincinnati, Ohio.” 

At issue is a move by the railroad administration to legally consider states the operators of the short-haul routes, instead of Amtrak, which Indiana officials say would price them out of running the trains. 

Donnelly said the rail link between Indianapolis and Chicago was too important to interrupt because of a legal hang-up. 

“I know many Hoosiers support the state working to improve and expand the Hoosier State service,” he wrote. “I am sensitive to concerns related to employment practices and state resources that may result from FRA policies. It also is important, however, that the state work closely with FRA to ensure the safe operation of the Hoosier State line. I also expect FRA to continue working with the state to address their concerns, while also ensuring that the safety of Hoosiers is not compromised.”

Donnelly’s letter comes after fellow Indiana Sen. Dan Coats (R) last week wrote to federal officials with similar concerns.

Coats told FRA Acting Administrator Sarah Feinberg that he is “puzzled” by the 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.

“Amtrak continues to operate the rail cars, provide engines and crews, and operate the reservation and ticketing services,” Coats wrote. “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.” 

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. 

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 last week. “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.” 

Donnelly said he is hoping that “INDOT and FRA will quickly reach a resolution that will ensure the safety and continued operation of the Hoosier State line.”  

Tags Amtrak Dan Coats Hoosier State line Joe Donnelly State-supported routes

Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video