Dyer balks at Amtrak route subsidy

2013-11-07T18:00:00Z 2013-11-08T11:13:06Z Dyer balks at Amtrak route subsidyKeith Benman keith.benman@nwi.com, (219) 933-3326 nwitimes.com
November 07, 2013 6:00 pm  • 

Dyer has ended up as the lone holdout in the state-led deal to rescue the Hoosier State Amtrak route.

Other communities that benefit from the Hoosier State are contributing combinations of money and services to keep the service running, according to the Indiana Department of Transportation. That includes Rensselaer, whose train stop has the fewest passengers of any of the five Indiana stops.

INDOT requested Dyer contribute $5,000 per month to help keep the Hoosier State running, but the town declined, Town Manager Rick Eberly said.

"We just don't have the ridership to justify those kind of dollars," Eberly said.

Dyer provides care taking services for the train platform and shelter at 913 Sheffield Ave. and performs upkeep and minor repairs under an existing contract with Amtrak. According to Amtrak statistics, 2,934 passengers got on and off trains in fiscal year 2013 at the Dyer platform.

The Hoosier State, which runs four days per week, and The Cardinal, which runs three days per week, will continue to stop to board and let passengers off at the Dyer platform, according to Amtrak.

In early October, INDOT inked a deal with Amtrak to provide a $2.7 million subsidy for the Hoosier State to keep it running for one more year. The deal includes an option to continue the subsidy and the train service for four more months after that.

Congress decided in 2008 to end federal support for Amtrak routes shorter than 750 miles. The Hoosier State travels 196 miles between Indianapolis and Chicago.

Altogether, the communities of Rensselaer, Indianapolis, Crawfordsville, Lafayette, West Lafayette, Tippecanoe County and Beech Grove will put up about half the $2.7 million the state has pledged to subsidize the Hoosier State route, INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield said.

Rensselaer, where 2,239 people boarded or alighted from a train in fiscal year 2013, decided it was in its best interest to help keep the Hoosier State running, Mayor Stephen Wood said.

The city plans to use some of its share of the county's economic development income tax to pay the $1,500 per month INDOT requested, Wood said. That amounts to $18,000 for the year. That works out to a local subsidy of about $8 for every rider getting on or off there.

With the subsidy payment, Rensselaer also wins a seat at the table when it comes to negotiating any changes in the Hoosier State service to keep it running, Wood said. St. Joseph College and the city's history as a rail center make the subsidy worth it, he said.

"And we just felt if we lost Amtrak service, we would never get it back," he said.

In August, Amtrak and city officials in Rensselaer cut the ribbon on a new one-story red brick station stop funded by Amtrak. Two years previously a $500,000, 550-foot long concrete platform was completed there using federal stimulus funds.

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