Will we ever see a regular passenger train stop in Fort Wayne again?
The last regular passenger train service here was over 10 years ago.
Amtrak's Broadway and Capitol Limiteds were the last passenger trains to
grace the Baker St. Station downtown in November 1990. Here are my
thoughts on a possible return of passenger rail service to Fort Wayne.
The Reasons Why It's Not Here Anymore
So what exactly happened with the Amtrak service through Fort Wayne?
There are several things that Amtrak had going against them in keeping
the Capitol and Broadway Limiteds running on the ex-Pennsylvania Railroad
(PRR) routing across Ohio and Indiana. Conrail had always wanted
to downgrade this line west of Crestline, Ohio since it was duplicate track
to the Chicago Line (ex-NYC) through Elkhart and Toledo. Also, west
of Tolleston (Gary), Conrail had little to no use for the line. The
track west of Tolleston is how the two Amtrak trains connected to the Conrail
Chicago Line to make the journey to and from Chicago Union Station.
Once Conrail decided on downgrading the Fort Wayne Line across Indiana
and Ohio, Amtrak was left with two choices: to takeover the maintenance
of the line or to reroute the two passenger trains. They chose the
latter. In November 1990 The Broadway (later called the Three Rivers)
was placed on the CSX Garrett Sub (ex-B&O) line with a stop at Garrett
and the Capitol was routed onto the Conrail (now NS) Chicago Line with
a stop at Waterloo. The Garrett stop was ended in 1995 and the Three
Rivers itself was terminated 10 years later. Waterloo continues to
be a popular boarding stop for both the Lake Shore and Capitol Limited.
Long Distance Is Not The Way
It is hard to see a future or need for long distance passenger trains in
this country. Serious competition from the airlines and interstate
highways can only take place on the short haul corridors. Amtrak
currently has 3 trains running between Chicago and the East Coast.
These include the Lake Shore Limited to New York City, the Capitol Limited
to Washington D.C., and the Cardinal to Washington D.C via Cincinnati.
It is highly unlikely that any of these trains could serve Fort Wayne.
Our closest passenger rail service exists in this small town north of Fort
Wayne. It continues to be a stop on Amtrak's timetable because it
is within easy reach of many cities in the area, mainly due to its close
proximity to I-69. Lots of people board the trains here from Kendallville,
Auburn, Hillsdale, Coldwater, Angola and from cities even further away.
Short Haul Is The Only Answer
The only solution to get passenger rail service back to Fort Wayne is via
a short-haul train. Congress and the President have stated that the
future of Amtrak lies in the regional market. This makes sense to
me because the only way that a passenger train will make any money is if
it is faster or equivalent to another mode of transportation. Most
people these days don't have the time to travel 2 or 3 days to get someplace
and not many people will ride a train if it is slower than driving.
There is little question that a passenger train will be a faster journey
than driving on US 30 from Fort Wayne to Chicago.
One idea would be to add one long route to Chicago's elaborate Metra commuter
train system. It is possible that Metra could run a train between
Fort Wayne and Chicago if funding from Indiana was allocated for it.
This would be a very useful service to people who commute to Chicago from
Valparaiso and the surrounding communities, too.
High Speed Rail
Fort Wayne is currently on the planned Chicago to Cleveland high speed
rail corridor. This is very good news, but unfortunately this is
too far in the future and may take several decades to complete. Construction
of the high speed corridor through Fort Wayne is currently planned along
the existing Pennsy route, as well as on the former Wabash route to Toledo.
I believe the Fort Wayne to Toledo route should be placed alongside or
in the middle of the new proposed 4-lane US 24, similar to how the El is
constructed in Chicago. This would create a very convenient place
to board, conserve property along the route, and consolidate construction
costs. The overall main problem with high speed rail is that it requires
a commitment from not only the states, but from the federal government.
To me, the high speed rail concept is a pipe dream at best in this country
and we need to look at a more realistic approach.
Is it possible to have high speed rail service in Fort
Yes, but it will most likely take many generations to
complete due to its complex nature.
A New Amtrak Train
I think that the only way to return passenger service to Fort Wayne is
for Amtrak to initiate a new train between Columbus, Ohio and Chicago.
Columbus is currently the second largest city in the United States without
passenger rail service. I believe that the service would be well
patronized, especially if the times are convenient at the end points.
The proposed route would include using the NS Chicago Line, the RailAmerica
Chicago Fort Wayne & Eastern, and the CSX Columbus Subdivision.
The CSX Toledo Branch/Scottslawn Secondary could also be utilized to reach
Columbus off of the Fort Wayne Line at Dunkirk. Below is a map of
the proposed route and stops.
There are many issues to tackle in the above plan; one being the lack of
a connector in the correct quadrant of the diamond at Upper Sandusky.
There is no doubt that several construction projects will be needed in
order to initiate this train. Here are some of the issues broken
down by segment.
Columbus to Upper Sandusky: This is a busy stretch
of railroad. Will CSX even allow a passenger train to run on this
line and where would the train stop and layover in Columbus?
Upper Sandusky to Fort Wayne: This is probably the
least used portion of the proposed route. Between Cole in Lima and
Fort Wayne there are no passing sidings. There is light freight traffic
on this portion of the line. This could present a problem, but a
short passing siding placed somewhere between Lima and Fort Wayne would
probably solve this.
Fort Wayne: Norfolk Southern has trackage rights on
a 4 mile stretch of the Fort Wayne Line in the city between Mike and Sand
interlockings. This combined with RailAmerica's own traffic creates
a lot of congestion in the city on this line. Getting through Mike
interlocking is difficult since the crossing diamonds are now gone.
Double tracking the line between these two segments would be necessary
to run the passenger train.
Fort Wayne - Clarke Junction: RailAmerica operates
between Sand and Tolleston (Gary). There are also locals that
ply the line, especially between Fort Wayne and the SDI plant in Columbia
City. Several passing sidings exist on this section of the line but
only one of them (Selby) is currently used for meets. The rest are
either out of service or are used as storage tracks. Most likely
at least one of the other passing sidings would need upgrading in order
to run the passenger train. Between Tolleston and Clarke Jct. there
is little to no traffic on the Fort Wayne Line.
Clarke Junction - Chicago: At Clarke Jct. the train
would join the NS Chicago Line. This segment is double track and,
except for the Cardinal, is already used by all Amtrak trains to/from the
East Coast. No upgrade necessary.
Winona siding in Warsaw is one of the longest on the
line west of Lima,
however it is in very bad shape and would need major
to support a passenger train.
Track Conditions and Speeds
The bulk of the proposed route is on the ex-Pennsy mainline and most of
this track is currently in less than ideal condition for a passenger train.
Would the passenger train need to attain high speeds on this section in
order to attract adequate ridership? This is difficult to say.
There is no question that higher speeds would create a competitive alternative
to driving to Chicago on stoplight-ridden US 30. When Amtrak ran
on the Fort Wayne Line, speeds were never 79 mph. The highest was
70 and that was only on the welded sections. The trains averaged
around 60 mph between Lima and Valparaiso. This speed could be attained
today on the existing segments of welded rail. Other than the welded
rail installed by NS in 1997 west of Fort Wayne, the line really looks
no different than it did in 1990 when the Broadway and Capitol Limiteds
were removed from it.
With the exception of the portion between Mike and Sand and also the segment
between East Hobart and CN Crossing, the RailAmerica CFER is currently
run dark west of Crestline with track warrants or Form D's and the only
signals exist at interlockings such as Estry in Van Wert. Any future
Amtrak train would require some type of signaling system. This would be
one of, if not the most expensive upgrade in the route. The rest of the
proposed route is signaled territory.
Unfortunately after Amtrak left the Fort Wayne Line in
Conrail turned the Pennsy position light signals perpendicular
to the track and then switched them off permanently.
This is the dual directional signal at milepost 304 in
In order to lighten the financial load off of the states, each city that
would want passenger service would have to come up with its own plan to
either construct or restore their existing stations for service.
It is likely that if Amtrak guaranteed service for "x" number of years
to these communities, that most cities would gladly spend the money to
create a stopping point on the route.
So who will help pay for a new passenger train between Columbus and
Chicago? There certainly is no simple solution. Running a train
between Columbus and Chicago would almost certainly require financial assistance
from the Ohio and Indiana Departments of Transportation. For sure
to run a conventional passenger train between the two points will be much
cheaper and more feasible than a high speed project. It could also
happen much sooner.
It takes enormous support from the public to acquire and retain passenger
rail service in his or her town. If Congress feels that the constituents
will use the service, then they are more likely to approve funding for
new rail service. By showing your support in public hearings or to
other transportation organizations, you are increasing the chances of the
federal and state governments gaining more interest in rail service.
It is also a good idea to educate your family and friends on the importance
and value of passenger rail service. With enough support and education,
we could see a return of rail service to Fort Wayne in the near future.