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Riding the Rails
By ANDREW LOGSDON | firstname.lastname@example.org
Much of our region's history has centered on railroad service.
For nearly one hundred years Fort Wayne had daily rail service in and out of the city.
That ended over twenty years ago.
But right now, a local group is trying to bring it back to Fort Wayne.
They say it could boost the economy, promote tourism, and possibly keep local college grads in the area.
WFFT’s Andrew Logsdon gives us a closer look--in this WFFT special report...riding the rails.
The Baker Street Station in downtown Fort Wayne was once a hot spot for activity.
Since then, the tracks sit empty.
But the Northeast Indiana Passenger Rail Association is hoping to change that within a few years.
It could be bustling with activity as people ride the rails.
"We've been telling everybody what a wonderful experience it is, and that we could really love to see and do it more,” says Dan Hamilton.
Hamilton and his wife are visiting Fort Wayne from Colorado.
But they arrived on the Amtrak line that runs through Waterloo.
Back in 1999, Amtrak condensed their routes...leaving the Summit City derailed.
"Columbus, Ohio, happens to be the largest city in the nation, with a population of about 850,000, without passenger rail service, and we are the largest city in the state of Indiana at 250,000 without rail service,” says Geoff Paddock.
Paddock is a board member of the Northeast Indiana Passenger Rail Association, who is working with cities from Columbus to Chicago to build a high-speed passenger rail line.
Just this week, the Fort Wayne City Council approved $200,000 in legacy funds, for an environmental impact study.
"A feasibility study that we funded, NIPRA funded, along with some other sources, showed that this has potential, not only to be self-sustaining, but a line like this could also make a profit at some point in the future,” Paddock says.
High-speed rail travels at 110 miles per hour.
The Amtrak that travels across northeast Indiana, only reaches 78 miles per hour.
Paddock says passenger rail wouldn't replace the current line- but compliment it.
Currently, trains come twice a day and share tracks with freight trains.
Amtrak runs from Chicago to New York or Washington D.C. with only a few stops.
A new passenger-only line would have ten to twelve trains a day and would run from Chicago to Columbus- stopping in Fort Wayne.
"But you're also stopping in a number of cities that can allow folks to come into Fort Wayne. That gives us an opportunity to promote our city, promote our downtown...” Paddock says.
In addition to promoting our city, a new rail system, could help to stop the brain drain...
Local college graduates leaving the area for larger cities.
"So we're just asking you to make the choice tonight, to create that kind of city of us, so that we don't have to make the choice to leave,” said one former student.
But if they build it, will people ride? Or is just driving to Chicago or other cities easier?
I decided to find out by hopping a ride on the current system- and compare that to driving to my destination.
Keep in mind the proposed new system would be much faster, saving you time.
I started my trip in Waterloo, headed to Chicago.
It took just over three hours each way.
My ticket cost $48.
Compare that to my drive:
Roundtrip about 378 miles, and over 6 hours in my car.
Driving a standard sized car, with regular gasoline at around $3.40 a gallon.
My fuel cost was $47.60, not mention the wear and tear on my vehicle.
Add in toll road fees there and back, $21.
Don't forget parking fees for a few hours, $10.
Total cost: $78.60.
"I's easier, it's cheaper.... Yea, it does, it seems like a good idea,” says Elizabeth Heckathorne.
"That'd be fantastic. I think that economically for everyone that be, I can't even think of a word for it. That's just amazing,” says Christina Evans.
Once the impact study is complete, developers say you could see a high speed rail system up and running within 2 to 3 years.