NIPRA Legislative Agenda

Northeast Indiana Passenger Rail Assocation logo

Press release from the Northeast Indiana Rail Passenger Association:

The Northeast Indiana Passenger Rail Association has been working with State Legislators, rail planners, city officials, and the general public for over two years to promote the benefits of passenger rail service. We have also formed coalitions with our friends in the Warsaw area, rail promoters in northwest Ohio, the Indiana High Speed Rail Association, the Midwest Rail Initiative, and community leaders from other portions of our state. NIPRA has conducted two rallies that brought in over 800 people each, sponsored a public informational meeting with the Commissioner of INDOT, and held numerous other press events to inform the public.

Based on our work over the past two years, NIPRA is asking for assistance from our state officials to promote the following for Fort Wayne and our entire state.

1. PROMOTE THE STATE RAIL PLAN

In speaking with Mike Riley of INDOT, we understand a state rail plan is being developed and will be finalized this summer or fall. There are public hearings being proposed to receive input from Hoosiers in the months ahead. NIPRA wants to make sure a sensible rail plan is developed and funded that encourages the linking of more Indiana cities and towns with passenger rail, particularly Fort Wayne. We also request that one of the public hearings regarding this plan be held in Fort Wayne.

NIPRA is seeking support from the City of Fort Wayne and private economic development entities in this area, to conduct an economic impact study regarding the benefits of rail service as it relates to job creation. Warsaw and the Kosciusko County Chamber of Commerce are now completing a similar study. We believe there is an opportunity to create jobs in construction, steel manufacturing, the orthopedic industry, and many other sectors. Once this study is complete, we ask that Legislators help us put this in the hands of Gov. Mitch Daniels and other state leaders so they can see the benefit of advancing rail service in Indiana.

2. WORK TO BRING AMTRAK BACK TO FORT WAYNE

The $71 million in federal stimulus money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, will be used for congestion mitigation in the Lake County and Porter County areas in 2011 and 2012. This work, known as the Gateway Project, is vital to providing the means of eventually running a passenger train from Fort Wayne to Chicago. It removes a major physical obstacle to getting into Chicago directly from Fort Wayne, according to INDOT.

Once the Gateway Project is completed in 2012, NIPRA would like to see efforts made to revive Amtrak service to and from Fort Wayne. In speaking with INDOT officials, we believe upgrades to the Nickel Plate Railroad and the CSX (formerly Pennsylvania) Railroad could be achieved to accommodate Amtrak train service at a maximum of 79 miles per hour. It is believed the condition of the existing tracks is relatively good. The largest expense on either railroad would be signaling, and the Nickel Plate apparently would need less. Both routes leading west to Chicago could serve the Warsaw area.

We are seeking help from the state to work with Amtrak and add one train per day(each way) on one of these two tracks from Fort Wayne to Chicago and east to Lima or Defiance, Ohio. In speaking with INDOT and Amtrak officials, there is a strong belief that there is an untapped market that would support an additional train out of Fort Wayne. Of course our ultimate hope would be to see additional trains added, if this is successful.

3. SUPPORT FUNDING AND LEGISLATION FOR RAIL DEVELOPMENT IN NORTHEAST INDIANA

In order for future federal dollars to be allocated for rail planning and construction work, a state match will have to be provided, similar to the 80% to 20% Interstate Highway Act of 1956. There is an Industrial Rail Fund that provides some support for rail planning. NIPRA believes the State of Indiana must be more aggressive in its state set-aside. We are asking the General Assembly to designate 2% of the existing transportation budget, or about $35 million yearly, for this purpose. We propose this would be existing money from the state transportation budget and not new tax money.

Other Midwestern states, including Ohio and Wisconsin, appear ready to relinquish their recent awards of federal stimulus money to upgrade rail service. If this money becomes available (particularly from Ohio) we urge INDOT to work to apply for this money for necessary engineering and predevelopment work to achieve new passenger rail connections in our state. That is a major reason for which state matching money will be necessary to the future of Indiana’s passenger rail service.

Central Indiana has recently unveiled a $2.5 billion plan to create and upgrade passenger rail, light rail, and other transit options over the next two decades. The support of the State Legislature will be required for this plan to take effect, as it will also be approving a regional taxing mechanism to fund it. It is our strong recommendation that the Northeast Indiana Legislative delegation make its support for such an important and far-reaching plan, which benefits just one region of our state, dependent upon corresponding support for east-west passenger rail linking Chicago to Northeast Indiana and for similar regional taxing authority for the entire state. NIPRA has been a strong voice in promoting the benefits of passenger rail service and in keeping the general public informed of our efforts. We are considering another public meeting regarding this issue in early 2011.

NIPRA Board Members: Fred Lanahan, Rich Davis, Phil Wright, Pam Holocher, Tom Hayhurst, Mark Dobson, Skip Sassmannshausen, Victor Martin, Harry Reith, Zach Benedict, Karl Bandemer, Justin Stalter, Geoff Paddock

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