Local advocates for high-speed rail want state legislators and other state officials to press ahead with the resurrection of passenger rail service here.
Leaders of the Northeast Indiana Passenger Rail Association scheduled a news conference today in which they planned to outline several goals and strategies to reach those goals.
Among the action points rail advocates here say they are working on:
• Making sure northeast Indiana has a voice in the state rail plan NIPRA says is being developed by the Indiana Department of Transportation.
“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,” the group said in a statement for the news conference.
• Projecting the economic impact of passenger rail service here.
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 for job creation. “We believe there is an opportunity to create jobs in construction, steel manufacturing, the orthopedic industry and many other sectors,” the group said.
• Bring Amtrak service back to Fort Wayne.
“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 mph. … Both routes leading west to Chicago could serve the Warsaw area.”
NIPRA is asking the state to work with Amtrak to add one train per day on one of these two tracks west to Chicago and east to Lima or Defiance, Ohio.
• Increasing the share of transportation dollars that are allocated to railroads by the state.
The rail group emphasizes it's not asking for new money to be raised; it wants 2 percent of the state's transportation budget to be spent on rail planning.
Shifting money toward rail development could be crucial to the state's ability to raise local matches necessary to spend federal funding.
Because governors in both Ohio and Wisconsin have turned down federal funding for rail development, Indiana may receive some of the funding those states rejected.
• Extending taxing authority for rail districts.
“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 … dependent upon corresponding support for east-west passenger rail linking Chicago to northeast Indiana and for similar regional taxing authority for the entire state,” the group said.