By Geoff Paddock, City Councilman, Fifth District; November 11, 2013

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, Inc. 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 revenues exceeding costs.

The business plan, prepared by Transportation and Environmental Management Systems, Inc., recommends 10 trains running daily between Chicago and Columbus, OH 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 is now the center of a hub-and-spoke system for upgraded passenger rail service, 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 potion of Indiana.  The initial construction cost for the Indiana portion is estimated to be about $550 million, 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 highway construction.  New track, signals, overpasses, and station work would 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 an expected 2.7 million riders by 2030 and would add $700 million in annual household income and $2.7 billion to property values over that period.  Most new jobs are projected to be in educational services, healthcare, manufacturing, retail, tourism / hospitality, and professional, scientific and administrative services.  This is in addition to 12,000 temporary jobs created by the 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 thousands of people accessing downtown from throughout the region, Fort Wayne will have a wonderful opportunity to market our city for tourism and hospitality.

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.   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 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.  The next stop on this journey begins this week.  Mayor Henry and I are asking the City Council to appropriate $200,000 from the Legacy Funds to help pay for the next step—a Tier I Environmental Impact Study–for the corridor project.  These Legacy Funds are designated for transformational projects that will create jobs and improve our lifestyle.   This project certainly falls in that category.  The total cost for the Tier I program is about $2 million, with Indiana and its participating localities assuming responsibility for half of the total.

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 cities around the United States.  We cannot afford to miss this opportunity.  Please contact your City Council representative today and ask him to support funding a small portion of what could be a lasting legacy for the future of Fort Wayne ( http://www.cityoffortwayne.org/city-council.html  ). And follow updates on http://www.niprarail.org , http://facebook.com/nipra2rail , or http://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, Inc.