The past several years have not been kind to Indiana.
National indicators show the state at or near the bottom of numerous categories: education, personal income, transportation, entrepreneurship…In their zeal for low taxes, our elected officials have proudly handed us a state where we get what we pay for–which is to say, not much.
Now, this “good enough for Hoosiers” mindset is threatening the Hoosier State, one of the last trains serving Indiana.
The Hoosier State is certainly not state of the art, but it does run every day from Indianapolis to Chicago. That’s a far cry from the 10 trains a day in each direction that ran on that corridor until the late 1950s, it’s an even farther cry from the multiple 110 mph trains being built in Illinois and Michigan, but it is at least something.
The Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 requires states with passenger rail service of less than 750 miles to take financial responsibility for those routes by October 1, 2013, or lose them. Fifteen states were thus required to invest in their short haul routes; Indiana is the only state that has not agreed to do so. Once again, we are the only holdout.
Keeping the Hoosier State will cost just under 3 million dollars a year. (To put this in context, Indiana subsidizes a non-stop flight to San Francisco with a 1.5 million revenue guarantee.)
So what do we get for that money? What will we lose if we lose the Hoosier State?
- Amtrak boards over 35,000 passengers a year at Union Station. (That number would increase dramatically if the quality of the service increased, but that isn’t “on the table.”)
- Sixty percent of our convention visitors come from Chicago, and passengers can walk to most downtown hotels from Union Station. That gives us a strategic advantage over places like Louisville, Cincinnati, Columbus, etc. when we are pitching convention business (or Super Bowls).
- The 539 jobs at the Amtrak Beech Grove facility are important to our local economy; losing the Hoosier State probably means losing those jobs.
The transportation committee of the Indiana Legislature will have a hearing at 10:00 tomorrow, and there will also be a rally at 4:00 outside the Statehouse. But time is running short, and few lawmakers have shown a recognition of what is truly at stake.
Economics are one thing. Quality of life is another. But trumping both is the less tangible issue of self-image.
How long do we want to keep being the backward state–the “middle finger of the South”? How long will “good enough” be good enough?