Amtrak halts post-July bookings for imperiled Hoosier line

Waterloo Amtrak station reacts to nat'l tragedy_112309

Amtrak has stopped taking reservations beyond July 1 for an Indianapolis-to-Chicago passenger line that will come to a halt unless Indiana lawmakers provide $3 million annually for it under the state’s next two-year budget.

The government-owned passenger rail service is also contacting more the 500 people who have booked seats on the Hoosier State line, warning them they will need to make other travel arrangements if Indiana lawmakers end funding for the 196-mile route that runs four days a week. The halt in reservations amounts to a 90-day notice that the line could close.

“What would you do if you were us? Would you merrily take reservations? Or would you be transparent to customers? We’re being transparent to customers,” Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari told the Journal & Courier .

Indiana has contributed $3 million annually for Amtrak’s Hoosier State line since 2015, but Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb didn’t include that funding in his proposed two-year state budget. The Indiana House passed a version of the budget in February, and an amendment that would have added $6 million for the passenger line was overwhelmingly rejected. Indiana Senate budget makers so far haven’t added funding for the line for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Federal subsidies for Amtrak routes shorter than 750 miles (1,200 kilometers) were abolished in 2013, and the Hoosier State line has been surviving on the state funds and roughly $500,000 a year from Lafayette, West Lafayette, Tippecanoe County, Crawfordsville and Rensselaer.

But the local-state funding was conditional on improved performance, including ridership growth and fewer service delays. Amtrak has lost riders on the Hoosier State in each of the past four fiscal years. Ridership has fallen 17.8% between fiscal year 2014 and fiscal year 2018, when the line had 27,876 passengers.

Indiana Department of Transportation spokesman Scott Manning said the agency has calculated the line’s per rider revenue during fiscal year 2019 at $32.85, with a state and local subsidy cost of $100.89 per rider.

Amtrak’s vice president for state-supported services, Joe McHugh, said last week that without the state’s $3 million a year, the passenger line would end.

West Lafayette Mayor John Dennis, who’s been working with other officials to save the line, said he doesn’t see much hope that the funding will be added.

“Not right now,” he said Tuesday. “It seems to be beyond resuscitation. All that’s left is magic.”

Information from: Journal and Courier

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