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PASSENGER RAIL MAKING PROGRESS FOR RETURN TO FORT WAYNE

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A broad coalition of support is building in Indiana and Ohio to bring passenger rail service back to the region--linking Fort Wayne with Chicago and Columbus, Ohio--at speeds up to 110 miles per hour. A feasibility study and business plan, released by the Northeast Indiana Passenger Rail Association, proposes a new model of rail service that is both efficient and affordable. If we make an initial investment in infrastructure improvements, we could see a rail system that would serve over 2 million passengers a year, and achieve operational revenue exceeding costs.

The business plan, prepared by Transportation and Environmental Management Systems, recommends 10 trains running daily between Chicago and Columbus with stops in several cities along the route, including Warsaw and Fort Wayne. This designated route has the potential to achieve priority status among those regional corridor projects being considered for funding by the Federal Railroad Administration. Such designation could make 80% federal funding available for new track, signals, and overpasses required for 110 mph service. Chicago has become a hub-and-spoke system for upgraded passenger rail service over the past decade, connecting the third largest U.S. city with many smaller cities across the Midwest. Currently, upgraded routes are being planned or funded between Chicago and Detroit, St. Louis, Milwaukee, and the Quad Cities. Decisions made in the next few months, will determine if Fort Wayne and Columbus will become the next priority for passenger rail service from Chicago.

Investment in such a system would be an economic boon for the northern portion of Indiana. The initial construction cost for the Indiana portion is estimated to be about $550 million through the Hoosier State, with the state picking up 20% of the cost spread over three to five years of construction. This cost is about $3.7 million per mile as compared to $15 to $20 million per mile for interstate highway construction. New track, signals, overpasses, and station work that allow for maximum speeds and safe integration with freight rail service.

The project would create employment opportunities equivalent to 26,000 full-time jobs over 30 years throughout the corridor. Trains would attract 2.7 million riders by 2030, add would add $700 million in annual household income and $2.7 billion in property values over that period. Most new jobs are projected to be in educational services, healthcare, manufacturing, retail, hospitality/tourism and recreation, and professional scientific and administrative services. This is in addition to 12,000 temporary jobs created with construction of the system.

Many Fort Wayne area manufacturing companies producing parts for airplanes, trucks, and automobiles, can also make parts for locomotives and passenger cars. Neighborhoods located near the expected stop at the Baker Street Train Station, would become more valuable to young people who want to live and work near a full service transportation hub—providing nearby Citilink bus service to all parts of our city, including Fort Wayne International Airport. With hundreds of people accessing downtown from throughout the region, Fort Wayne will have a wonderful opportunity to market our city for tourism and hospitality. We can more efficiently market our airport as well.

Perhaps most significant to the success of this rail system, is that it is expected to operate at a profit by the third full year of operation. By the 10th year, it would show a profit of $28 million, according to the business plan. Over the lifetime of the project, $1.25 billion in additional federal income taxes can be collected as well as $679 million in additional property taxes within the corridor.

This project, which is energy efficient and can save fossil fuels, has strong bipartisan support. Mayor Tom Henry and County Commissioners Linda Bloom, Therese Brown, and Nelson Peters, have been working with me to secure support from Governor Mike Pence and other state and federal officials to invest in such a passenger rail system. On February 11, the City Council voted to appropriate $200,000 to help pay for the next step—a Tier I Environmental Impact Study--for the two state project. The total cost for the Tier I is about $1 million for each state. All cities to be served along the route will be participating in the cost, as well as the Indiana and Ohio Departments of Transportation.

Completion of this Tier I EIS, expected to take 18 to 24 months, will help insure that Fort Wayne becomes the next destination served by the growing passenger rail movement that is linking together cities around the United States. We cannot afford to miss this opportunity. (Follow update on www.niprarail.org, www.facebook.com/nipra2rail, or twitter.com/NIPRArail!)

Geoff Paddock is the Fifth District City Councilman for Fort Wayne and a founding member of the Northeast Indiana Passenger Rail Association. He wrote this for area newspapers.

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