Federal Funds Supporting New Indiana Passenger Rail Exploration

Federal Funds Supporting New Indiana Passenger Rail Exploration

New daily passenger rail routes between Chicago and Indianapolis could be on the horizon for the Hoosier state at some point in the future, depending on the outcome of a study that will be launched by the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT). The agency received federal support to begin an exploratory study late last year when the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) awarded Indiana $500,000 to support the assessment and potential development of a new passenger rail corridor.

Currently, there is only one such route between the Windy City and the Circle City. Amtrak operates a long-distance line called the Cardinal that departs three times a week. The entirety of the line runs through New York City, Washington DC, Charlottesville, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and Chicago. Catching a train ride from Chicago to Indy along this route takes about five hours.


Preliminary Work

The new funding for the study comes to INDOT through the FRA’s Corridor Identification and Development (Corridor ID) Program, which has been working to guide intercity passenger rail development throughout the country. The goal is to establish a pipeline of passenger rail projects that will run between major U.S. cities. Nationally, federal officials awarded $8.2 billion in grants for all kinds of varied rail development initiatives, including high-speed rail services in western states, new corridors in multiple regions, and passenger rail expansion studies in 44 states.

“[The] Bipartisan Infrastructure Law gave us a once-in-a-generation opportunity to think smart and think big about the future of rail in America, and we are taking full advantage of the resources we have to advance world-class passenger rail services nationwide,” said FRA Administrator Amit Bose.

Here in Indiana, INDOT is going to use the new grant funding to begin preliminary work and preparation for a Service Development Plan. This is intended to be a comprehensive plan that incorporates information such as necessary track improvements and facilities, operating costs, ridership statistics, and state support that would be necessary to begin sustainable service. At this point in the process, no state matching funds are required for these phases of planning and study.

“This is a first step toward expanding passenger rail in Indiana,” said INDOT Commissioner Mike Smith. “Receiving this funding allows us to gather essential information to make more informed decisions going forward.”

“The purpose of this funding is to prepare for a Service Development Plan (SDP), which will allow us to determine what may be possible and what levels of investment would be required for those possibilities,” said INDOT Strategic Communications Director Natalie Garrett.


Other Corridors in Indiana

There were three other rail corridors in Indiana that also received funding for their respective studies. These were applied for by various regional entities, and include:

  • Chicago – Fort Wayne – Columbus – Pittsburgh (Midwest Connect Corridor). This was applied for by the City of Fort Wayne.
  • Louisville – Indianapolis. The Kentuckiana Regional Planning and Development Agency (KIPDA) applied for the funds for this study.
  • And finally, daily service on the Cardinal long-distance route, applied for by Amtrak. This is for a study that covers the overall line as a whole, from New York to Chicago. But it does include the potential for an expansion to the portion of the line that runs between Chicago and Indianapolis.


Potential Economic Gains

All of these proposed projects, should they one day come to fruition, could create solid economic gains for Indiana. In the case of Fort Wayne’s Midwest Connect Corridor, for example, officials with the Northern Indiana Passenger Rail Association (NIPRA) commented that after the planning phases are completed, the $2.5 billion rail line could be operational in just four short years. Federal dollars could cover up to 90 percent of the initial costs to build the infrastructure.

U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown’s (D-OH) office said that projects of this type would receive priority funding under the FRA’s Fed-State Partnership – National (FSP-N) Program. $2.4 billion is available per year for fiscal years 2022 through 2026 for the FSP-N program under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Thousands of construction jobs could be added by this one project alone, in addition to the hiring of approximately 4,500 permanent workers to maintain and operate the new corridor. The NIPRA estimates that for every $1 invested in this initiative, a return of $1.70 would be generated.

Economic impact data of this type is not yet available for the Chicago to Indianapolis expansions that INDOT and Amtrak are currently studying, but one could presume a similar positive return may occur.


Hear Those Trains Coming

New avenues of passenger connectivity could be a great thing for Indiana, and it will be interesting to see how these studies manifest into future projects. The Hoosier state has always billed itself as being one of the best states for transportation and logistics. Further developing our portfolio of modalities with new potential projects like these will only make that position even stronger.

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Category Features, Logistics