In a March 18 letter, U.S. Senator Joe Donnelly (D-Indiana) urged the Indiana Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration to continue the Chicago-Indianapolis “Hoosier State” train service and to improve the service to attract more riders. Among the improvements, he advised INDOT and FRA to extend the train service to Cincinnati. All Aboard Ohio thanks Senator Donnelly for his constructive, well-timed letter supporting the Cincinnati extension.
He joins Senator Dan Coats (R-Indiana) in supporting the Hoosier State service. Senator Coats’ recent letter dealt with a dispute involving INDOT and the FRA (see last paragraph of this blog posting) rather than any expansions or service improvements. Regardless, the bipartisan support of this train is much appreciated.
All Aboard Ohio believes that the best way to boost ridership on the Hoosier State is to:
- Run the northbound and southbound Hoosier State trains daily (each currently runs four days a week with Amtrak’s Cardinal service on the other three days)
- Reschedule the Hoosier State two hours later northbound and two hours earlier southbound
- Reroute it via faster tracks into Chicago
- Add three new passing sidings and install more seamless welded rails for higher speeds (already underway)
- Improve grade crossing safety with “triggers” set farther from road crossings and constant-warning-time circuits
- Extend the train service to current and future Amtrak stations in Connersville, Indiana plus Ohio stations including Oxford, Hamilton, I-275/Tri-County area and Cincinnati Union Terminal
- Provide coordinated, connecting bus service with through-ticketing to off-route destinations such as Middletown, University of Dayton and downtown Dayton.
Numerous cities, businesses and civic organizations are supporting the Hoosier extension to Cincinnati including the Hamilton County Commissioners, city councils of Hamilton, Norwood, Oxford, Wyoming and Cincinnati Council’s Transportation Committee Chair Amy Murray, Miami University, University of Cincinnati, the U.S. Bank/Haile Foundation, Cincinnatians For Progress and others.
All Aboard Ohio Executive Director Ken Prendergast noted the Cincinnati expansion depends on continuing the Hoosier State train service beyond April 30.
“You can’t expand and improve a train that no longer exists,” Prendergast said. “That’s why were so interested in what’s going on in Indiana. The long-term future of this train must be secured first. Then we want to consider expanding a faster, more frequent version of this train service to Cincinnati and Southwest Ohio.”
Senator Donnelly acknowledged this course of action in the letter he sent today to INDOT Commissioner Karl Browning and FRA Acting Administrator Sarah Feinberg.
“I write today to support the continued service of the Hoosier State line. I was pleased to see that the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) has announced the continuation of service through the end of April, and I ask that INDOT and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) work together to continue the safe operation of the Hoosier State well beyond that time.
“As you know, the Hoosier State is an important transportation option connecting Indianapolis, Chicago, and the communities in between. Even as its future has been uncertain in recent years, demand for the service continues, with nearly 34,000 passengers during Fiscal Year 2014. 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.
“I know many Hoosiers support the state working to improve and expand the Hoosier State service. 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.
“It is my hope that INDOT and FRA will quickly reach a resolution that will ensure the safety and continued operation of the Hoosier State line. If I may be of assistance, please do not hesitate to let me know. I stand ready to assist you,” Senator Donnelly wrote in his letter.
INDOT and the FRA are attempting to work through new rules implemented by the FRA to assign safety and liability compliance on states who are already required by a 2008 federal law to sponsor passenger rail routes of 750 miles or less. Longer routes are a federal responsibility. Indiana is the first state to be notified by the FRA, apparently because it is attempting to involve a private-sector third party (Iowa Pacific Corp.) to provide train equipment and on-board service crews to improve customer service over what Amtrak has delivered. North Carolina Department of Transportation was the first the state to engage a private-sector third party in 2008 which was also met with resistance from the FRA, then administered by Joseph Boardman. Boardman is now the president and CEO of Amtrak. NCDOT sued the FRA which then backed off.