The Northeast Indiana Passenger Rail Association, Inc. (NIPRA) announced today the release of a business plan that would include Warsaw in an 11 city passenger rail corridor between Columbus and Chicago. Though Warsaw has been included in the preliminary groundwork, Warsaw Mayor Joe Thallemer said there is still much work and funding necessary before the plan can be brought to fruition.
According to NIPRA, the proposed system would operate 12 trains each way per day, including at least six express schedules. With modern diesel equipment running at speeds of up to 110 miles per hour to start, the 300 mile trip between downtown Chicago and downtown Columbus would normally require only 3 hours and 45 minutes (express service), or 4 hours (local service). Track and safety improvements in a potential future phase would support speeds up to 130 mph and a downtown Chicago to downtown Columbus express time of 3 hours and 20 minutes.
According to Thallemer, passengers boarding at the potential Warsaw station could expect to arrive at several major cities at unparalled speeds. With Amtrak trains traveling at speeds no greater than 40 mph, the new railway could make major differences in the lives of commuters and travelers alike. Thallemer stated the total time for a passenger boarding in Warsaw for a trip to Union Station in Chicago would be approximately 1 hour and 18 minutes. A passenger boarding in Warsaw traveling to Fort Wayne can expect to travel the 37 miles there in approximately 29 minutes.
“Certianly this would be a great point of connectivity,” stated Thallemer. “This would move a lot of people in a timely fashion to the airports from downtown.”
With the continual interruptions Warsaw citizens have endured as a result of delays and stops with the north to south Norfolk Southern Line, many may question what additional rail traffic would do to drivers already impeded by preexisting lines. According to Thallemer, a location for a possible station is still under consideration.
“Where the stop would be would have to be determined,” stated Thallemer. “The NIPRA folks will have to determine where that would be. I don’t think all trains would stop in Warsaw, as there are express trains who might not stop. We have to get into an area that won’t disrupt crossings. If we had the stop where the station is right now it would block downtown, but that is assuming it would be where its at right now… Passenger trains are not as long as a freight train and I think the disruptions would be minimal. I don’t think it would be near what we are experiencing now, as passenger trains likely have less cars (than the freight trains).”
Funding is another concern under consideration. According to Thallemer, though the Federal Rail Association is expected to fund up to 80% of costs if the plan is approved, 20% of the total cost would be divided up between the state and local governments. Thallemer noted that in terms of a cost estimate, there is still too much up in the air to give an accurate idea of what the project could amount to locally.
“The focus now is for all the communities along the line to come up with funding,” said Thallemer. “There is obviously no guarantee. The study is just building a case for this. We could do all our homework and support the early study and then if there is no federal money available, there is no que to get in. We could get in the que and get denied, delayed or rewarded, that’s the difficult part. Projects of this magnitude are competitive and require a lot of coordination between communities, state and federal government. There are mayors from all three states promoting this so hopefully we have this come to fruition.”
Should the plan be accepted, Thallemer states construction for the new transportation line could fall anywhere between 5 to 12 years. According to NIPRA, a financial analysis of the plan indicates a significant surplus of benefits from the project. NIPRA anticipates over 2 million riders per year will utilize the track, following a 12-24 month start-up period. Furthermore, NIPRA states that over the 30 year life of the project, benefits of over $6 billion could be generated with a positive benefit to cost ratio of 1.7 (1.70 in direct benefits for each dollar invested). The analysis also indicates that private operation of the system would be possible without annual government subsidies.
Regional economic benefits over the life of the project are projected to include creation of 26,800 new full-time equivalent jobs; $700 million per year in additional household income; and $2.6 billion in joint development opportunities for the corridor communities.