Rally for Rail – 4/3/2009

The Northeast Indiana Passenger Rail Association held a Rally for Rail on Friday, April 3, 2009 at the Baker Street Train Station.  The Rally was scheduled to begin at 4:30 pm, however, people began arriving around 3:30 pm.  The band, Lee Miles & the Illegitimate Sons kicked off the rally with music.

NIPRA board member Geoff Paddock started things rolling by introducing some of those responsible for the rally.  He fired up the crowd by invoking the now iconic phrase, “Yes, we can!”, but transforming it into, “Yes, we will!”  He also talked about the need to work with those governing to bring Federal stimulus funds to Indiana and to come up with a rail plan that, “…connects more cities in Indiana together, and that rail plan must include Fort Wayne.”

Elected officials attending the rally included:

State House of Representatives: Phyllis Pond, Win Moses and Phil GiaQuinta

The City of Fort Wayne: Mayor Tom Henry, City Council President Tom Smith and City Council members Karen Goldner, Mitch Harper, Marty Bender and John Shoaff

Allen County: County Council President Roy Buskirk

Wayne Township: Wayne Township Trustee Rick Stevenson

Lima, Ohio: Mayor David J. Berger

Not elected, but in the attendance: Fort Wayne Deputy Mayor Greg Purcell and former Deputy Mayor Mark Becker, Cheri Becker, Invent Tomorrow and staff of the Downtown Improvement District including leader Rich Davis.

The ever popular Dr. Tom Hayhurst was next up.  He led a cheer of his own about three things that are important about passenger rail service:

  1. Rail is real!
  2. Rail means jobs!  A reference to Steel Dynamics and their manufacturing of rail.
  3. Rail is green!

Mayor Tom Henry talked about his desires for a “balanced transportation system.”  While he is usually talking about bicycle infrastructure in regards to this balanced system, it should,

…also include an option for passenger rail service.  We cannot, we must not continue to rely on cars and trucks as our only way of getting around.  A diversified transportation network is not only good for our economy, it’s good for our environment and it’s good for our community.

Lima, Ohio Mayor David J. Berger then took the stage.  He talked about the 1990 announcement of Amtrak’s cancellation of passenger rail service through Lima and Fort Wayne.  Options were explored to keep the trains running through the two communities.   He talked about a recent effort, endorsed by the then Mayors of Chicago, Illinois, Fort Wayne, himself and Columbus Ohio, to convince then Ohio Governor Taft to include this rail route, with a leg to Columbus, in the Ohio rail plan.  This became a dotted line.  However, the reason it remains a dotted line is because,

…frankly, as we were told this week, it has to do with the lack of progress on this side of the Indiana line.  So I’m here today to tell you that we absolutely depend upon the citizens of Fort Wayne and Northeast Indiana to motivate your legislators and the State of Indiana to in fact, do what needs to be done quickly, responsibly to reestablish a line and the plans that are necessary to bring high speed passenger rail through our communities.

He went on to talk about Ohio Governor Ted Strickland’s push of a bill through the Ohio Legislature to establish passenger rail service from Cleveland to Columbus to Cincinnati.  This was driven by citizens lobbying their elected officials through the writing of letters and emails.

Fort Wayne City Councilwoman Karen Goldner then talked about effective and ineffective responses to the rally.  The most effective response would be to go home and immediately write a letter to the many elected officials in positions to make passenger rail service through Fort Wayne happen.

Derrick James, Senior Governmental Affairs Advisor for Amtrak, took the stage and talked about the changes we are seeing.  Including those occurring because of environmental concerns and those changes in governmental policy.  Last year saw a record year for the number of passengers transported by Amtrak.  He stated that more passengers could have been carried if the equipment had been available.

An aside: Something not talked about a lot during former President George W. Bush’s administration, was his cutting of the Amtrak budget to lows that almost made it impossible to continue service and threatened the existence of Amtrak.

James went on to talk about the sadness Amtrak experienced over having to pull out of Fort Wayne and Lima in 1990 because of lack of available funding.  He stated that today, “…with the administration we have, we are committed to putting Fort Wayne back on the map.”  He also talked about being late because of all the traffic lights on US 30 between Fort Wayne and Chicago, which garnered laughter and applause from the crowd.  He finished by saying he looked forward to being able to travel to Fort Wayne by train in the next few years.

Dennis Hodges, board member of the Indiana High Speed Rail Association, encouraged the audience to push Governor Mitch Daniels because if enough citizens push, he will do something about passenger rail service in Fort Wayne.  He talked about the upcoming 200th anniversary of Indiana’s statehood – 2016.  In 1916, Indiana was a leader in passenger rail transportation with more passenger miles than any other place in the world.  “Indiana can do it again.  Indiana should be a leader and innovator in passenger rail transportation and we can begin it right here in Fort Wayne.”

Fred Lanahan also spoke briefly, but I have to be honest.  I chose not to tape his portion because my camera battery was getting low and I wanted to make sure to capture the thoughts of the next speaker, and have enough power to do a recap with Geoff Paddock and Dr. Tom Hayhurst.  My apologies to Fred.

The next speaker was Richard Teets, Executive Vice President for Steelmaking and President & CEO of Steel Operations at Steel Dynamics in Columbia City.  He affirmed SDI’s support of the development and deployment of passenger rail in Northeast Indiana.  He talked about the SDI plant at Columbia City and it’s role in manufacturing rail and recycled composite rail ties.  SDI has refocused, with the decline of the market, from structural steel to rail production.  They have shipped more tons in the last three months than they have in the last five years of operation.  SDI’s competitors are limited to producing rail in 80 foot lengths.  SDI can now produce rail in 320 foot lengths and then take these rails, in their new facility and weld them into strands of up to 1,600 feet long or almost a third of a mile.  The rail is then transported on specially designed trains which also in a safe, quick and efficient way install the rails.

SDI also has a subsidiary, Dynamic Composites, which produces a unique and composite railroad tie.  The ties have a steel core and are made from a variety of recycled materials, including ground-up automobile tires and plastic.  They are an environmentally friendly replacement to creosote and wood ties. Â

Mr. Teets suggested that an application for the long rails and ties produced by his companies would be for passenger rail going through Fort Wayne.

Phil Wright, a NIPRA board member introduced Rick Harnish, Executive Director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association who talked about President Obama’s rail initiatives and push for more passenger rail service.

 

After the rally, NIPRA board memebers Geoff Paddock and Dr. Tom Hayhurst talked about the success of th erally and what those interested in once again having passenger rail service in Fort Wayne should do.

httpsv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ag0-0KI3O2M

 

 

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Great summary of the meeting. Fantastic job to all those involved with putting this rally together! Ft. Wayne would benefit so greatly from passenger rail and high speed rail through the community. Perhaps the Congressman from NE Indiana could help secure federal funding for INDOT (in coordination with additional funding from Ohio) to complete an environmental impact statement for the Chicago to Ft. Wayne to Toledo route. That needs to be completed before any Federal funds can come to the route. That needs to be the first thing that gets done.

    • Thank you, Tom! I could have covered a few more of the comments in depth, but I was lucky to accomplish what I did.

      Now that you mention it, there were no officials from the Federal level, outside of Derrick James from Amtrak. That’s a bit disappointing.

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