Riding the Rails after Two Decade Absence?

By Megan Trent

August 23, 2011 Updated Aug 23, 2011 at 5:26 PM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Indiana's NewsCenter) - Could passenger rail be on its way back to the Summit City after a 21 years absence? The decision rests with the Legacy Task Force.

The Northeast Indiana Passenger Rail Association (NIPRA) recently submitted a proposal for $2 million to Fort Wayne's Legacy Task Force Committee. NIPRA officials are hoping for a slice of the $80 million in available I&M light lease settlement funds.

Founding board member for NIPRA, Geoff Paddock, says the exact cost of upgrading the Norfolk-Southern line to Chicago isn't known yet, but he knows it will be costly. That's why it's important, he says, to secure local funding. The money could serve as motivation for state and federal agencies to match funding.

Paddock says a feasibility study into the project's costs and economic benefits is in the works, but he estimates 500 jobs could be added to the Fort Wayne community with a passenger and freight rail system in place.

The NIPRA proposal was rated first by committee members in the Infrastructure and Transportation category after being compared with 20 other projects. It must now compete against the top suggestions in other categories.

The project would include upgrading more than 100 miles of existing rail line between Fort Wayne and Chicago, running parallel to U.S. Highway 30. NIPRA also hopes lines running east to Cleveland or Columbus can be upgraded in the future.

A recent study out of Kosciusko County indicates a high level of support for the return of Amtrak in the Warsaw area. The Orthoworx study says 750 jobs could be added over the next 20 years if passenger rail were available. It estimates $160 million could be added to the local economy, and property values could increase by as much as $53 million.

Furthermore, Paddock says work on the Gateway Project in Lake County is about to begin. The project will cut down on transportation congestion and create better conditions for rail connection between Chicago and Fort Wayne.

NIPRA continues to push state and local legislators for more funding for freight and passenger rail in the area. Paddock says the movement has been gaining momentum in recent years. "I think there's more interest in train travel now, because there's more congestion on highways, high gasoline prices, and because some airports are clogged."

Paddock also says a rail system is cheaper than building highways and interstates, because old rail lines already in place could be upgraded and traveled on at speeds in excess of 120 mph. Also, he says, the amount of land needed for massive road projects is quickly being depleted.

The Legacy Task force will meet again on Tuesday, August 30th. They are expected to make a recommendation to Mayor Tom Henry as early as September.

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