Will Passenger Trains Ever Return?


Amtrak leaving Fort Wayne sign

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.

Waterloo, Indiana

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.

Japanese bullet train
Is it possible to have high speed rail service in Fort Wayne?
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.

Amtrak's Columbus Connection


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.

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 improvements
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.

PRR Signal at Monroeville, Indiana
Unfortunately after Amtrak left the Fort Wayne Line in 1990,
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 Monroeville, Indiana.


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.

Funding Issues

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.


Capitol Building
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.



© Original Content Copyright 1999-2007 David Safdy
© Design and Updates Copyright 2005-2007 Greg Lavoie