When Rural Communities Lose Passenger Rail Service

Rally for Rail flyer.  Click here to download it.

This Friday, at 4:30 pm at the Baker Street Train Station, Northeast Indiana Passenger Rail Association will be holding a Rally for Rail.  The Rally will feature a speaker from Amtrak as well as local and state officials.  A note – this group, NIPRA, is not advocating for high speed rail, rather passenger rail service which would run at Amtrak speeds, which is around 80 mph.   The corridor could run as far east as Lima and terminate in Chicago.  If you are interested in seeing passenger rail service back in town, attend the rally and show your support.  Each day this week, I will feature an article or website that looks at passenger rail service in the United States.  After the jump is today’s article.

Dennis Brown, Rural Business and Development Policy Branch of the Food and Rural Economics Division, wrote an article in 1999 entitled, When Rural Communities Lose Passenger Rail Service.  Some excerpts from the article:

Some rural areas have recently had cutbacks in passenger rail service. While the loss of this service usually does not, by itself, threaten a town’s economic survival, it may have adverse effects that can be offset by public policy. This article explores some of the options available to these communities.

[…] Local opposition to proposed cutbacks in passenger train service can sometimes be very effective in ensuring that Amtrak service is preserved. When combined with the involvement of State and Federal officials, well-organized opposition can be an important element in preventing the loss of train service, as the following examples illustrate.

[…] The experiences of Quincy and Meridian indicate that local opposition to service cutbacks can sometimes make a difference. Whereas Quincy succeeded largely due to a recognition of the importance of Amtrak by the State, Meridian’s success resulted more from a combination of effective local leadership and involvement of key Federal officials.

[…] Not all communities have the flexibility of pursuing alternative modes of transportation when passenger rail service is lost. But the experience of Marion, Indiana, illustrates that communities in such situations can still benefit when they lose Amtrak service.

[…] In 1986, Marion permanently lost passenger rail and freight service on Amtrak’s Cardinal route connecting Washington, DC, with Chicago, when the host carrier, Chesapeake & Ohio (since renamed CSX Corporation), changed the route. Some residents of Grant County were deprived of an important link to Chicago, the most popular destination, and, to a lesser extent, to Cincinnati. Although local travelers can still get to these destinations via intercity bus service, all routes connect through
Indianapolis, which makes the trip much longer. For example, the 3 1/4-hour train ride to Chicago now takes 8 hours by bus, and the 4-hour train trip to Cincinnati is 8 hours by bus.

[…] While the loss of passenger rail service by a small community will not usually, by itself, threaten its economic survival, it may have adverse effects that can be offset by public policy. For this reason, it is important that communities carefully consider their options when faced with service cutbacks and look to the examples of other towns that have come out ahead.


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  1. Stephen, I moved to Huntington this winter – thus my reluctance to comment on your blog. Huntington has some good things happening, but it also needs some help. One thing that I have been thinking about it bringing back rail-transportation. I think this could happen in two ways.

    (1) Local service to Fort Wayne. This could encourage individuals to live in Huntington and work in downtown Fort Wayne, it could also bring people back and forth from the Huntington Downtown and Fort Wayne downtown. Hopefully this would help both downtown areas.

    (2) Distance service by either going to Fort Wayne and then out to Chicago, Columbus, Indianapolis, or some other location or by simply traveling directly from Huntington to these cities.

    If rail is coming back to the area, it would be nice for us all to benefit.

    • Hi Josh! Great to hear from you, feel free to comment no matter where you live. Your comments have always been well thought through and add value to any discussion.

      A discussion I had with someone earlier today started me thinking. I wonder if we are headed in the wrong direction. Perhaps instead of Chicago, we should be heading towards Indianapolis. I realize there’s not an existing direct route to Indy by rail, but it can be reached via the NS to Wabash and then south to the CSX at Anderson and into Indy. A little complicated, but I wonder if the chances would be better for higher utilization. A lot of people travel back and forth to Indy every day from the Fort. I was just down there for a meeting a couple of weeks ago and if I’d had the chance, rail would have been far better than a car. If you would like, you can download a map of existing railroad lines in Indiana. Source website.

  2. I agree, that is why I alluded to Indy in my comment – though I usually dismiss the thought because I don’t know if the non-direct route would be feasible.

    Indy does seems to make more sense. Although Chicago is a big name, more people travel to Indy and honestly I would help the economy of Indiana as a whole rather than sharing with Chicago. Chicago is Chicago so that is the attractive location, but perhaps it isn’t the best. That being said, I do think there are some benefits of Fort Wayne being on the Chicago line. If Ft. Wayne become a stop it not only will give people the opportunity to travel back and fort from Chi and Ft. Wayne it will expose others from the east to Ft. Wayne’s downtown and the city as a whole.

    Even if these ramifications are minor I think the potential of hiring individuals at the train station would be a great boost and the aesthetic of having rail travel would simply enhance the downtown and the city.

    Selfishly, if the rail went to Indianapolis the train would go through Huntington, which could be a great plus to our community. If anything, it would give the town exposure, which is a big part of what is needed.

    On the side, I grew up in Lynchburg, Va and I loved that I could hop on a train and go to DC, Charolottesville, and a variety of other locations – VA is trying to boost its rail travel as well.


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