Amtrak, which hasn't been adequately funded by Congress, needs $3 million by Oct. 1 from state or local sources to continue its four-days-a-week service between Indianapolis and Chicago.
The federal government used to cover the full cost, but Amtrak now needs a local or state subsidy to help pay for that service. Fares alone are not enough.
The immediate conversation is about how to maintain the status quo, because that service is needed. But look at more than just keeping the existing trains running.
Amtrak's costs should be carefully analyzed, but not with the expectation that fares should pay the entire cost of the service. Customers should be expected to pay the full cost for food service, for example, but not for seats.
In the United States, it is customary to subsidize transportation. The government builds airports without passengers paying the full freight. Cars and trucks run on roads built by the government, and fuel taxes do not foot the full bill for those roads. The same is true of bus and rail service.
The federal government is working toward building a high-speed rail network. That work should continue.
Work should also continue toward the goal of building a West Lake Corridor passenger rail service. Northwest Indiana is woefully underserved by passenger trains, especially when compared to the rest of the Chicago metro area.
Indiana should pay the $3 million subsidy necessary to keep the Amtrak route alive and negotiate terms for daily service that would allow commuters to rely on Amtrak all week.
Service should not only be continued, but also expanded.
Indiana's congressional delegation needs to lobby hard for expanding the service, especially since the West Lake Corridor hasn't been built yet. When that happens, we can revisit the Amtrak service to see if it is still feasible.
For now, however, the Amtrak route must be first preserved and hopefully expanded.