Rail line on track for bigger things?

(Lafayette) Journal and Courier

You might have to read between the lines to gauge the new expectations for the Hoosier State, the passenger rail line that stops four days a week in Lafayette on runs back and forth between Indianapolis and Chicago.

Last week, Ed Ellis, president of Iowa Pacific Holdings, was spreading the word in communities along the rail line to tout what he believes his company can bring to making the Hoosier State something it’s not under Amtrak’s management.

The stories out of Indianapolis, Lafayette and Chicago detailed high hopes that stretched beyond the requests for such amenities as reliable Wi-Fi connections, food service and nicer compartments.

Ellis was building new expectations, including a future in which the passenger trains would make 12 runs a day between Indianapolis and Chicago. He spoke about how the Hoosier State’s clientele would be built on excursions instead of on sheer transportation need.

That would fall in line with local Hoosier State fans’ dreams that, if done right, passenger rail could actually be the ticket for day trips to Chicago, in which families could bring their bikes on a morning train, ride Lake Shore Drive all afternoon and then return to Lafayette’s Big Four Depot before sunset. Or it could be used as a key component for a day game at Wrigley Field.

Ellis, whose company is in negotiations with the Indiana Department of Transportation to maintain and market the Hoosier State, made all that sound possible.

The reaction?

One sample: “If Iowa Pacific can pull this off, it’s going to be an absolute positive for this community,” Dana Smith, former head of Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce, told the J&C.

If Iowa Pacific can pull this off …

The Hoosier State might very well be the new patron saint of lost causes by now, if it weren’t for dogged work of some of passenger rail’s biggest fans.

After Congress dumped Amtrak’s shortest lines, including the Hoosier State, that regional coalition persuaded local mayors and the state that the line was worth saving — and to pony up the $3 million to make it happen. And when the Federal Railroad Administration threw a wrench into negotiations of a long-term deal by putting additional demands on the state, that coalition provided the voices that persuaded the feds to back away from the ledge and give INDOT room to maneuver on a new public-private, Hoosier State deal.

So with the Hoosier State, everyone has learned to believe in the minor miracles that come through persistence.

Will the state commit millions in infrastructure improvements to make Ellis’ dreamy talk of a dozen trains a day a reality? That might not be the easiest of sales jobs, given that two years ago the Statehouse seemed perfectly willing to let the Hoosier State wither instead of fund what the governor believed should be financed by Congress. Maybe reliable Wi-Fi, better marketing and better on-time service would be the place to start.

But we’ve been down that track of lost causes before. And the Hoosier State keeps surviving.

Distributed by the Hoosier State Press Association. Send comments to dr-editorial@greenfieldreporter.com.

This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association. Send comments to awoods@tribtown.com.