West Lafayette and Tippecanoe County have finalized plans to fund Amtrak’s Hoosier State Line for one year. The city will pay $16,667 a month and the county’s share is $25,000 a month.
Mayor John Dennis says the agreement creates an oversight board made-up of the state and communities funding the service.
“If we feel that the service isn’t going appropriately or we have a problem with the way this contract is being executed, we have the authority to withdraw our communities from this particular agreement,” he says. “I think that’s critically important.”
He says they hope to increase the number of trips to Chicago and make those more reliable.
Tippecanoe County Commissioner Tom Murtaugh says promoting the service is another key piece. He also thinks the monthly payments are a good investment in economic development.
“If that goes away, it’s never coming back. It’s gone forever,” he says of the service. “I think we owe it to not only our community, but those along the corridor, to provide an adequate service, which we don’t have now.”
Lafayette, Crawfordsville, Rensselaer, Beech Grove and the state also are paying for the Hoosier State Line service.
While there was no public comment or discussion over the contract at the West Lafayette Board of Works meeting, there was a lot at the commission meeting.
Commissioner John Knochel voted against the agreement, calling it an unwise investment.
“This track has a terrible, terrible history,” he says, “and to think Tippecanoe County would invest $25,000 a month, I think is ludicrous.”
Knochel says there are more pressing funding needs, such as roads, the courts and housing.
Commissioner Dave Byers says he sees both sides to the argument, but thinks they need to try to improve the service.
“There is a time limit and if they don’t perform, we don’t keep paying,” he says is the reason he supports the contract.
West Point resident Paul Wright spoke out against the county subsidizing the service without any guarantee it will see a benefit.
“Can the three areas – Lafayette, West Lafayette and Tippecanoe County – benefit $60,000 a month? I mean, financially benefit?” he asks. “You can put as many people on that train as you want and increase the ridership. What about the revenue?”
Arvid Olson, who led the Greater Lafayette Commerce task force on the rail service, says the funding is not to continue the current offering. He says improvements must be made in the coming year.
“This tool we have been given right now of a 15 month contract, along with a request for other service providers, gives Amtrak the pressure to begin to improve their route,” he says.
Olson says Amtrak already is submitting a request to change the Hoosier State Line’s route north of Dyer, Indiana, which should decrease the travel time by 35 minutes.