LAFAYETTE, Indiana — Amtrak and Indiana officials are giving themselves another 60 days to reach long-term deals with a private contractor that will help operate a passenger line between Indianapolis and Chicago.
The Indiana Department of Transportation and Amtrak announced Thursday that they have extended their operations agreement for the Hoosier State line for a fourth time, this one running through June 30. The previous extension ended Thursday.
INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield said the parties are hoping to reach long-term agreements during the next two months for Amtrak employees to operate rail cars provided by private contractor Iowa Pacific Holdings.
July 1 is the tentative start date for the new operating model. Under the model, Amtrak would be the primary operator, working with host railroads, providing train and engine crews, and managing reservations and ticketing. Iowa Pacific would provide the train equipment, train maintenance, on-board services and marketing.
"That's a target we're shooting for," Winfield told the Journal & Courier (http://on.jconline.com/1DPgdt6 ). "We're getting closer day by day to getting everything in place, but there are still a lot of pieces to be put in place."
The Hoosier State, which began service in 1980, runs between Indianapolis and Chicago four days a week, with stops in Crawfordsville, Lafayette, Rensselaer and Dyer. It's the least-traveled Amtrak route, with just under 34,000 passengers in fiscal year 2014.
The line is one of 28 Amtrak routes under 750 miles affected by a 2008 congressional act that shifted most of the costs of those lines to the states in October 2013.
Indiana and the communities served by the line have paid Amtrak about $3 million since then to run the 196-mile route while the state pursued a new operating model for the line.
In the closing days of their session that ended Wednesday, leaders of the Indiana Senate and House cut future funding for the line to close a significant gap between the state's next two-year budget and a drop in projected revenues.
But that funding was restored after State Rep. Randy Truitt informed local elected leaders and rail supporters, who flooded legislative leaders with pleas to restore the funding. Truitt, a West Lafayette Republican, also lobbied his peers.
"I made the case that we're funding a new model, a public-private venture, and all the other states are watching what we do here," he said.
Information from: Journal and Courier, http://www.jconline.com
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