Southsider Voice Correspondent
Beech Grove Mayor Dennis Buckley went for a train ride last week to Amtrak headquarters in Chicago and returned home with good news.
Buckley and U.S. Rep. Andre Carson joined Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman on the Hoosier State line’s new theater passenger car, which was built at the Amtrak Maintenance Facility in Beech Grove.
The train runs round trip four times a week with cars that feature complimentary Wi-Fi, light food, beverages and business class seating.
Boardman assured Buckley in their first one-on-one conversation that Amtrak would continue to utilize the Beech Grove facility and its 550 employees.
Amtrak adds $70 million to the economy of central Indiana, according to Carson.
“We discussed the future of the facility and its importance to Beech Grove, central Indiana and Amtrak,” Buckley said. “Amtrak will continue to hire skilled laborers at the facility.”
The future of the facility is secure for at least four years, said Buckley, who added that 1-in-4 new hires would be military veterans.
Last year the line was threatened with closure due to lack of congressional funding. In cooperation with the Indiana Department of Transportation, municipalities that benefitted from the line produced funding.
“Beech Grove does not pay one penny to subsidize the line,” Buckley said. “Ours is an in-kind contribution because of services that we provide for the maintenance facility.”
No property taxes are paid by Amtrak to Beech Grove due to a longtime congressional exemption. The Board of Works and Public Safety voted recently to continue the agreement with Amtrak into 2015.
Amtrak continued the line after INDOT, the Metropolitan Planning Organization plus Indianapolis, Crawfordsville, Lafayette, Rensselaer, West Lafayette and Tippecanoe County agreed to subsidize the much-needed line.
Amtrak’s roll-out of new car amenities coincided with a four-month extension to keep the line running before allowing INDOT to have a third party, Corridor Capital, operate the line from Indianapolis to Chicago.
Boardman contends that the Chicago-based Corridor Capital is not capable of operating the line. Amtrak spokesperson Marc Magliari contends that Amtrak would sign a contract with INDOT but not any third party such as Corridor Capital.
Buckley, who said a high-ranking CFX official joined the ride at Dyer, expressed the municipality’s desire to redevelop property that CFX owns north and east of the Amtrak.
Buckley, a former fire chief of the city, said he was enthused that talks with CFX would be ongoing. He noted that CFX is aware of recent multimillion dollar expansions of Kenetrex Energy, ADM Milling and Community Health Network.