The Indiana Department of Transportation is allowing companies to compete for the passenger rail service from Indianapolis to Chicago.
Congress cut off $3 million in funding for the Hoosier State line last year, prompting INDOT and cities along the line to step in with a promise to subsidize the line for at least another year.
Now, INDOT is looking for other long-term options.
Amtrak operates the line now, but the state is asking other companies to submit proposals for how they would run part or all of the line.
“We’re opening this up to competition so that we can make sure taxpayers are getting the best value for their dollars and the service is being operated at the lowest possible cost,” INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield says.
An Amtrak spokesman says officials there are aware of INDOT’s plans but they have no comment.
The Hoosier State line has the fewest riders of any Amtrak line with less than 37,000 rides last year.
Lafayette Mayor Tony Roswarski says he and other stakeholders have met with Amtrak on several occasions to discuss improvements.
“But we don’t have the luxury of saying ‘Well we’ll give you guys the whole year or the whole 14 months and boy we hope you got it improved and if you don’t we’re done without exploring any other opportunities,” he says.
Roswarski says simple changes such as offering Wi-Fi and food on the train could make the service more attractive, and while he expects the state and cities along the line will have to subsidize the line for several years, he hopes they will be able to reduce their contribution over time.