Michiana downtowns make push for passenger rail
A multi-state project underway would connect three Michiana downtowns to major metropolitans with direct train routes.
The proposed "Midwest Connect Corridor" would run trains from Chicago to Pittsburgh, with stops in Valparaiso, Plymouth, and Warsaw.
The largest portion of the route, from Chicago to Columbus, OH, would use existing CSX tracks that haven't been used for passenger rail in about 35 years.
"We're restoring transportation option to people in Indiana that has been out of the picture for some time. Indiana used to be one of the passenger rail network states in the country," said Fred Lanahan, President of the Northern Indiana Passenger Rail Association.
The City of Fort Wayne, along with a coalition of inter-government organizations, submitted an application to the Federal Railroad Administration for a $500,000 grant to cover the cost of a development plan.
Lanahan expects the grant to be accepted. But even if it's passed over, he believes the project is far enough along it's not a matter of if it will happen, but when. He expects the Midwest Connect Corridor to be a game changer for economic development in the communities included.
"Each of these stops we anticipate being in the center of the downtowns of each of the communities," Lanahan said. "So it's going to be a great plus for downtown development."
Meanwhile, there's been a renewed push to add a new train station in downtown South Bend connected to the South Shore Line.
As ABC57 reported in December, NICTD, the operator of the South Shore Line, hired engineers to move plans forward on relocating the South Bend stop from the East side of South Bend International Airport to the West side. The move is expected to shave 15 minutes from the commute to Chicago, eventually reducing the total travel time to 90 minutes.
But some business leaders are pushing the city fund studies to add an additional stop to the historic Union Station building across from Four Winds Field.
"I think that there is growing support for the downtown train in part because people understand how transformational it could be for the city," Executive Director of DTSB Willow Wetherall said.
The owner of Union Station, Kevin Smith, tells ABC57 he's on board with passenger rail returning to the site. But the project faces major hurdles. Along with the cost, Wetherall said Norfolk Southern has said no to allowing passenger rail on its existing tracks running parallel to Union Station. Meaning new tracks would need to be added.
Comparing the potential economic impact a downtown station could bring, versus moving the existing stop, Wetherall believes the hurdles shouldn't stop the project from gaining steam.
"It's a big enough dream that its really inspiring but also achievable," Wetherall said. "The downtown train has really captured people's imagination."