'Friends' Offer Hoosier State A Little Help

Only weeks away from expiration of a contract extension to keep the train running, Indiana passengers who stand to lose their service on the embattled Hoosier State line between Chicago and Indianapolis are getting a little boost from their neighbors in West Virginia.

West Virginia’s “Friends of the Cardinal” formally called on “all parties involved with the continuation of The Hoosier State to work carefully, completely, and above all quickly, to resolve any differences left outstanding so that there will be no disruption of service on The Hoosier State on February 1.”

If Indiana and its communities can’t get a deal done before a four-month extension of Amtrak’s Hoosier State operating contract expires on Jan. 31, INDOT says it might look to do another, short-term, extension. But Indiana says that its talks with Iowa Pacific, which is angling to snatch control of the route away from Amtrak, “have advanced to the point where the discussions with Amtrak are now on a critical path.”

Riders in communities served by the railroad – Lafayette, West Lafayette, plus Tippecanoe County and four other towns along the route – last year faced loss of access to rail service. But INDOT and local officials came up with a short-term rescue, agreeing to share in the approximate $3 million annual operating cost.

At the same time, Indiana moved to open the route to rival bidders, a contest that Chicago-based Corridor Capital LLC “won,” but later lost as it was never able to set up shop and take over the route. Indiana broke off talks with Corridor Capital in November, throwing The Hoosier State’s fate once again into limbo with only three months left on the one-year extension.

The Friends of the Cardinal last week praised Indiana’s citizens and the Indiana Passenger Rail Alliance for “fostering a continued growth in ridership, continued expressions of official support for The Hoosier State, through participation in meetings, Town Halls, through making resolutions and many other appropriate forms of citizen participation in democratic decision-making.”

When Congress moved a few years ago to cut funding for Amtrak routes of less than 750 miles, it left states and communities to pick up the slack, and struggles with timeliness, service and infrastructure improvements on The Hoosier State led Indiana to look for alternatives.

The Cardinal -- Amtrak's long-distance train linking Chicago to New York City via Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Charlottesville, VA and Washington, D.C. -- operates three days a week over The Hoosier State's same 196-mile stretch when the Hoosier is idle.