WARSAW — Nothing is going to happen over night. It may take years, but the potential to have passenger rail service return to Warsaw and Kosciusko County is a step closer to reality.
“It’s exciting for the community if it gets to the point it becomes a reality,” says Warsaw Mayor Joe Thallemer. “I’m excited, but guarded.”
The high speed rail service from Columbus, Ohio, to Chicago, Ill., has been discussed for years. Communities along the route formed an association, Northeast Indiana Passenger Rail Association, to raise funds for an initial study and work with Columbus, Ohio, officials to present a proposal to the Federal Rail Administration. Late in 2016 the FRA recognized the proposal and initiated an environmental assessment study. The study is expected to take four to six months.
“The project is now a dotted line on the map,” says Thallemer. He noted support, funding and a commitment to transportation by the federal and state government is crucial.
In 1856 the city was founded on train routes, noted the mayor. There was an east/west track and a north/south track. Passenger rail service to the city continued for over 100 years. That stopped in 1990 when Amtrak discontinued its once a day stop in Warsaw. “It’s been a fabric of our community for a long time,” Thallemer says.
For Warsaw “it’s exciting for the community, if it gets to the point it becomes a reality. It’s a large project,” Thallemer says. The return of passenger service is another level of connectivity. “Connectivity of the community to other areas is important. It opens connectivity for schools, the orthopedics … citizens and residents.” This connectivity can bring tourism to the community. The benefits touch on the workforce, business, travel, tourism and students. “Connectivity for educational institutions is a big part,” Thallemer states.
The proposal is to run the passenger rail service on an existing rail corridor. In Warsaw, this is the CF&E line that runs east/west through the city.
It is still early to know if this project will go beyond the environmental assessment. Funding will be a key with federal and state funds (Indiana Department of Transportation) involved. Politics may play a major part in further progress. “Once FRA and INDOT invest in engineering, funding will be the next issue. I don’t think they would do an engineering project without intent,” said Thallemer.
Work on this project began five years ago. Thallemer has been involved in meetings with officials from Fort Wayne, Plymouth, Valparaiso, Gary — all proposed stops along the route — and officials in Columbus, Ohio. “It involves three states, three state administration, the federal government and those along the local stops. It’s a cumbersome project.”
Even though still in the preliminary stages, there are some considerations Warsaw will need to make. The city will have to discuss a station. “It’s to early to talk about what to do – a small shelter (like along the South Shore line) or a station,” the mayor states. “There are several spots to look at for a five minute whistle stop.”
It is possible the rail service would travel up to 80 to 100 miles per hour, making a trip to Chicago from Warsaw in 1 hour, 18 minutes.
Following Warsaw signing a memorandum of understanding – a commitment to be involved, the city raised $70,000 toward the environmental assessment. Contributions were made by the city of Warsaw, county government, city of Winona Lake, OrthoWorx, Kosciusko Chamber of Commerce, KEDCo, Grace College, Kosciusko County Visitors Commission and community foundations.
A copy of a study by Transportation Economics & Management Systems Inc., titled Northern Indiana/Ohio Passenger Rail Corridor feasibility study and business plan executive summery can be found on the city of Warsaw’s website home page.