FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – In December 1990, the city of Fort Wayne saw its last passenger train leave Baker Street Station, heading towards Chicago. Now, the station no longer has trains passing through it and has become a place where the public can host events.
More than 30 years later, city officials are now making a push to possibly return passenger rail to the Summit City. Fort Wayne City Councilman Geoff Paddock has been advocating for bringing Amtrak back to the area.
Paddock along with other city officials held a press conference on April 13 announcing their plan, called the Midwest Connect Passenger Rail Corridor, which would set up a passenger rail route from Chicago to Pittsburgh, with Fort Wayne being one of the destinations it would run through.
“Amtrak at the time was having trouble maintaining many of the lines it had across the country. Without support from the state or federal level, they weren’t going to be able to maintain all of them,” Paddock said.
A challenge back then was having to share the railroads with freight trains. He said back in 1990, they weren’t able to accomplish that and some train lines including Fort Wayne’s were eliminated as a result of it.
“The line that runs through Waterloo ended up staying intact,” he said.
Paddock has been pushing this effort for more than 20 years and city got more involved in the effort in more recent years.
He, along with city officials and the Northern Indiana Passenger Rail Association (NIPRA), have been working together doing feasibility studies and they believe they have gathered enough evidence to prove that passenger rail will be viable in the city.
“We believe there is an untapped market in Fort Wayne that we can see a lot of ridership out of at the Baker Street station,” he said. “We are now working with the Indiana Department of Transportation and other surrounding states to put this plan forward with the Federal Rail Administration.”
The plan would be to return the Baker Street Station back into an operating Amtrak station. One thing that would have to be done is to install elevators in the back part of the station where people would board trains.
“Back in the old days, it didn’t have that,” he said. “Access for disabled people would have be added as well.”
He added that the building already has bathrooms and parking space. The one renovation that would have to be done would be making the elevated parts of the station for people to board the trains, like a ramp or elevator, accessible.
“That’s something we would need to get funding for but it would make it viable again,” he said.
The potential cost for this project would depend on what work will need to be done on the station. The passing tracks that were at the station when it was operating would have to be installed again along with train signals put back in.
He mentioned that an overpass would have to be built over a highway or a busy interstate.
“Building an interstate highway now costs about $20 million per mile and rail can cost about $3 million a mile. It’s not inexpensive, but it would not be an insurmountable challenge,” he said.
Paddock sees a pathway forward with this project because of the Federal Infrastructure plan passed by congress in 2021, where $66 billion of it is for rail lines.
City officials hope most of the funds to renovate the station would come from the state. They have been working with state legislators on securing funds for this potential project.
Bringing the Baker Street Station back could provide great benefits to the city as a whole. He said being that Fort Wayne is the second largest city in Indiana, this could provide people here with a new means of transportation.
“We’ve invested money into renovating our airport to allow it to offer more flights. Passenger rail can move a lot of people in each direction. This does have a mass appeal with business travelers but also young people,” he said. “We’ve invested in our highways to help improve them and now this could be a new means of transportation here.”