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(INDIANAPOLIS) – Indiana may create a state panel to oversee a long-term commitment to passenger rail in the state — but there’s a catch.

The Senate has approved a bill creating an 11-member Select Commission on Passenger Rail, bringing together state and federal transportation officials, railroads, and passenger rail advocates to promote train service and pursue long-term funding plans. But the bill specifically bars the panel from studying or advocating passenger rail in Marion County.

Indiana Passenger Rail Alliance president Steve Coxhead calls the amendment to the bill “very strange.” The group has been lobbying for a train connecting Chicago to Columbus, Ohio, by way of Fort Wayne, and a new and improved version of Amtrak’s Chicago-to-Indy Hoosier State line, which shut down three years ago due to low demand.

Coxhead says he’s interpreting the amendment as banning the IndyGo transit system from adding light rail to its bus service. State law already bars IndyGo from using local income taxes to fund rail service. Coxhead argues since a potential Hoosier State train would be regional, it shouldn’t be affected by the bill — and says it would be “irrational” if it were.

The Hoosier State operated for 39 years. Coxhead says its failure doesn’t mean a new train on the same corridor couldn’t succeed. He bluntly describes the quality of service on the old line as “crap,” with trains arriving and departing at inconvenient hours. And he argues a revived train wouldn’t have to terminate in Indy, but could deliver continuing service from Indy to Cincinnati and Louisville.

Indiana is on track to receive a slice of President Biden’s infrastructure bill to enhance service on northwest Indiana’s South Shore railroad. Coxhead says the potential for additional funding from that package increases the need for a commission to bring different stakeholders together on a formal basis.

Four Republicans, including Kyle Walker of Indianapolis, voted against Indianapolis Republican Aaron Freeman’s amendment to cut Marion County out of the commission’s work. Walker joined all but one Republican in voting for the final bill, while Senate Democrats voted against both the amendment and the revised bill.

The bill is awaiting a committee hearing in the House.