Photo: Eli Christman
Another rail line may come to a halt this time next year unless the state opens its checkbook. Amtrak has run a budget deficit every year since Congress passed a law in 1981 requiring it to break even.
In one of the latest moves to save money, Amtrak is discontinuing service on all routes that are 750 miles or fewer in length one year from now unless state governments pay to continue service.
One of those is the four-day-a-week service between Indianapolis and Chicago. The route does not generate much business overall.
Rick Harnish, executive director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Coalition, says around 35,000 rode the line in 2011, which he says is almost five-times fewer than rode Amtrak‘s line between Springfield, Illinois and Chicago – roughly the same distance as Chicago to Indy.
But Harnish says the state of Illinois gives additional subsidies for train service in that state, giving riders a more pleasant experience than those who ride the Hoosier State Line.
The Amtrak stop in the small town of Rensselaer is vital according to it‘s mayor. Stephen Wood says the train station serves as a regional stop, with people traveling from all over the region to take the train toward Chicago or Indy.
Wood says the rail line serves a number of students at St. Thomas College in the town of less than 6,000, and says it is a vital link for other smaller cities such as Dyer, Lafayette and Crawfordsville.
It‘s believed that it would cost the state between $4 million and $5 million to keep the Amtrak line running, but whether a General Assembly controlled by Republicans is in a mood to spend that much money is another question.
State Senator Thomas Wyss chairman of the Senate committee that deals with transportation, says despite what Amtrak says now, much is still up in the air in Washington. If a budget deal is not struck before the end of the year, massive cuts in federal spending will be triggered through the sequestering process that was part of Congressional compromise to raise the federal debt ceiling.
Wyss also says that if Republican Mitt Romney is elected president, he has stated that all Amtrak service should be privatized.