Amtrak, communities reach deal to keep Indy-Chicago train service

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It came down to the 11th hour to keep a daily train service running from Indianapolis to Chicago.

Under the direction of Governor Mike Pence, Amtrak and several local communities agreed Tuesday to split the $3-million in costs to keep the Hoosier State Passenger Rail running four days a week. The 186-mile route was set to go out of service Wednesday if a deal couldn’t be reached.

In 2008, Congress voted to end federal support for Amtrak routes less than 750 miles. Dozens rallied outside the State House last month, calling local communities to collectively fund the service to Amtrak’s hub.

“It provides options for people to travel to other trains through other cities: Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Cleveland to St. Louis,” said Doug Yerkeson of Hoosiers for Passenger Rail. “If we want to maintain our competitiveness with other states that are investing in rail, this was a wise move to make.”

Supporters said they’d hate to lose the Hoosier State train service. In 2012, 36,669 riders took the route. Under the agreement, ticket prices would stay the same at about $23 one-way, which is a cheaper option to flying and driving.

“I think world cities have world class train service, and Indianapolis is a world class city,” said Ted Collins, an Amtrak rider. “I’d like to see it improve. I think it might help us get another Super Bowl.”

The deal has also bought more time for officials to find ways to make improvements to increase ridership. Some have recommended adding more trains, Wifi service, food service and shortening durations of routes.

“It keeps the service operating and certainly that gives us the option for service improvements that haven’t even been explored to date,” said Will Wingfield of INDOT.

The deal has also helped keep more than 530 jobs at Amtrak’s Beech Grove facility. The Joint Study Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure will discuss the details of the agreement at 1 p.m. at the Senate Chambers Wednesday.