Plan lays out future of passenger rail service in Lafayette, Midwest

A new plan envisions the future of passenger rail service in Indiana and across the Midwest. Under the plan, Lafayette could see more frequent and higher speed service to nearby cities.

Posted: Oct 14, 2021 4:19 PM
Updated: Oct 14, 2021 6:38 PM

LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) — A new plan envisions the future of passenger rail service in Indiana and across the Midwest.

Under the plan, Lafayette could see more frequent and higher speed service to nearby cities.

Passenger rail service has dried up here at the depot over the past several years. Now, the station is serviced only by the Cardinal line, which runs from Indianapolis to Chicago three times a week.

But an ambitious plan wants to make rail travel more viable in the decades to come.

Among the biggest challenges in Indiana: Stopping passenger trains from being sidelined to make way for freight trains.

"To really have long-term success it's critical to have that on-time performance and frequency ... so that rail can compete with traveling by car, traveling by plane," says Scott Manning is a spokesperson for the Indiana Department of Transportation, one of several transportation agencies contributing to the Midwest Regional Rail Plan unveiled yesterday in Chicago.

"That Indy to Chicago corridor is our highest priority and where we see the most potential for any future expansion of passenger rail," Manning says.

That could mean more frequent and higher speed service in Lafayette. But it'll come at a cost.

"This is all really very exciting but there are a whole lot of buts in this. Number one is frankly the cost, which is high, and who is going to pay for it," says Arvid Olson is the transportation chair for Greater Lafayette Commerce.

Olson says reliable passenger rail service would be an economic boost for Lafayette.

"We agree the infrastructure for transportation needs to be broader in every way ... regular airline flights out of Lafayette, six lanes on the interstate and we also the see the impact and importance of frequent passenger rail going through Lafayette," he says.

The price tag? $130 billion over the next four decades. But it's an investment that could pay out over the long term, says Jim Mathews, CEO of the Rail Passengers Association.

"Everywhere you make these kinds of investments, private capital follows and we've seen it in Denver, we've seen it in Meridian, Mississippi, we've seen it everywhere you do this," he says.

The Rail Passenger Association says the Midwest Regional Rail Plan would include 3,100 route miles, 33 million annual trips and about $2 billion in annual revenue by 2055.

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