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Amtrak Deficit To Force Rail Line Closure

amtrak train

Photo: Eli Christman

It could cost the state between $4 million to $5 million to keep Amtrak running.

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.

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  • David R. Yale

    Amtrak is a vital part of America’s transit system and needs adequate subsidies. Airlines, airports, and highways are heavily subsidized by the government. But passenger rail is expected to pay its way out of the farebox. This is crazy and counterproductive. Passenger rail, properly subsidized, is pleasanter than air or bus travel, better for the environment, and on many runs, faster than air or bus travel.

  • WL

    This article doesn’t mention that Indy also has service on the Cardinal route, which connects Chicago and Indy and then continues through Ohio, Kentucky, W Va, and VA to DC and New York. As this service is over 750 miles it would miss the proposed cut.
    What is at stake is daily service to Chicago, as the Cardinal only runs three times a week, with the Hoosier State covering the off days. Towns like Rensselaer would still have service, just not as often.

    Ridership is a moot point, though, because for both routes eastbound trains arrive in Indy at midnight, and westbound ones depart at 6AM. If the state were serious about this connection to Chicago it would push for greater frequency, and daylight departures.

  • Malcolm636

    The highway trust fund hasn’t been in the black for eight years. Your SUV doesen’t make money either. ALL transportation is SUBSIDIZED. In the long run America needs modern, oil free electrified High Speed Rail. NOT $TRILLION oil wars…

  • Pingback: Amtrak Munchies: Rail Service Loses $833.8 million In Decade

  • JiminGA

    I recently read Amtrak’s food operations have lost money for a decade. I have a novel idea….why not charge what both a meal and a seat actually cost? If any enterprise can’s survive without government subsidies (think USPS) then it is either unable or unwilling to modernize its business model. Or could it have more to do with organized labor?

    Welcome to Greece.

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