INDIANAPOLIS — Rail service between Indianapolis and Chicago will continue for at least another year under a tentative agreement reached between Indiana and Amtrak officials.
Gov. Mike Pence announced Tuesday that the deal will keep the Hoosier State passenger rail service operating for one year with an option for an additional four months. Funding for the operation will come from the Indiana Department of Transportation and seven communities, including Indianapolis, Lafayette and Crawfordsville.
The rail line's future had been in doubt since Congress voted in 2008 to cut off federal funding for passenger lines of less than 750 miles. Indiana lost about $3 million in annual funding for the Hoosier State line. The decision also affected 18 other states.
Amtrak had given Indiana and several other states six months of notice last spring that new funding was needed for shorter passenger rail services or they could face cancellation. That notice was set to expire Wednesday, but Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the rail company had continued selling tickets for the route.
Indiana was the final state to reach a funding agreement to continue service.
Pence praised the agreement in a statement issued Tuesday afternoon.
"This agreement will make Hoosier jobs more secure and preserve an important transportation link for Indiana," he said.
The 196-mile Hoosier State runs four days a week and carried nearly 37,000 passengers last year. The line makes stops in Crawfordsville, Lafayette, Rensselaer and Dyer.
The service brings convention and tourism business to Indiana from Chicago, and Indianapolis' downtown Indianapolis train station is ideally suited for Chicago passengers, said Bill Malcolm, a member of Hoosiers for Passenger Rail, an advocacy group formed to push for the continuation of passenger rail service in Indiana.
Department of Transportation Commissioner Karl Browning said Tuesday's agreement allows the state and local communities to build ridership and explore ways to ensure the line's long-term success.
That's good news to Malcolm.
"It's just really an asset we'd hate to see thrown away," he said. "Once the service ends, it will be really hard to get it back."
Indianapolis residents wouldn't have been completely shut out of Chicago rail service if no new agreement had been reached. Amtrak's long-distance Cardinal service operates three days a week between Cincinnati and Chicago, via Indianapolis, and was not affected by the loss of federal funding.
But Malcolm said there's demand for a more frequent service than three days a week.
"A lot of people can't plan their life around that," he said.