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Councilman to seek $200,000 from Legacy fund for train study

High-speed rail could 'transform' city, Geoff Paddock says

Friday, November 8, 2013 - 9:10 am

The city’s $71 million Legacy fund is supposed to underwrite ideas that will “transform” Fort Wayne.

City Councilman Geoff Paddock figures a project estimated to add thousands of jobs and billions of dollars to the region’s economy more than qualifies.

So as early as Tuesday Paddock, D-5th, will ask his fellow council members to use $200,000 from the Legacy account toward a $2 million study he hopes will return passenger rail service to Fort Wayne for the first time since 1990.

Paddock, a longtime advocate of high-speed rail, said the environmental impact study of a proposed route linking Chicago with Columbus, Ohio, is a necessary step toward providing service that could dramatically reduce travel time by reaching speeds of up to 110 miles per hour. Other cities along the route – including Gary, Valparaiso, Plymouth and Warsaw – are also expected to contribute to the cost of the study, said Paddock, who added that his $200,000 request “is in line with the benefits Fort Wayne would receive” should the project materialize.

The city has not had passenger rail service since Amtrak moved from the Baker Street depot to Waterloo 23 years ago. But a feasibility study released earlier this year by the Northeast Indiana Passenger Rail Association projected the line could attract 2.1 million riders and $116 million in revenues by 2020, creating the equivalent of 26,800 full-time jobs, $700 million in annual household income and $2.6 billion in economic development opportunities. Eventually, the study concluded, the line could be self-supporting, turning a $40 million profit by 2030.

Although no construction funding has been approved for the 300-mile, $1.1 billion project, Paddock said the Obama administration has signaled its support for mass-transit projects.

This would not be the first study intended to restore passenger service to Fort Wayne, however. A similar feasibility study was done about 10 years ago, for example. But Paddock said areas that have already completed environmental studies and other preliminary work are beginning to see tangible results.

“This could be a game-changer,” Paddock said, adding that the service could create 500 jobs in Fort Wayne alone while also promoting tourism.

If introduced next week, a vote could come within two weeks. Support of at least six of the nine council members is required for the use of Legacy funds.