"Better know your history!" Zoli Téglás - Ignite
I was able to get my hands on a study that was done in 2004. It is named, "Downtown Indianapolis Railroad Relocation Feasibility Study". It is a 90 page, 2mb document (click here to open) that is 0ut of date but still considered good reading in my opinion. The study explored the rail belt that detours around the downtown metro area. I have attached a map to make it simple. The study reads more like a history book which is what I think makes it an interesting read. The belt has been on the ground for quite some time. It was built in the late 1800's and shows its age. You can spend some time going through the 90 page document to familiarize yourself if you wish. What was explored in the study was relocating the current through freight traffic to the belt starting and ending at the points shown on the map. By doing so, the consultants indicated a long list of benefits that include primarily the following: Protecting downtown Indy from hazardous materials, opening Union Station for full passenger utilization, possible removal of the viaduct dividing downtown and opening up the new land then available for further development, increasing travel time for through trains and overall increasing the capacity that the Indianapolis area can handle in terms of freight traffic. They estimated the cost at the time, at nearly $100 million to construct two full tracks with crossings and an advanced electronic signal & switching system. The old belt currently still sees duty although very limited due to it's condition which limits top speeds. The benefits to Indy would hinge on negotiating with CSX to relinquish ROW along the current through lines to the City of Indianapolis.
Why is a study that was issued in 2004 and is outdated due to the closure of some important industrial sites seem worth mentioning at this point? Because recently, the topic of rehabing it appeard in the CIRTA meeting minutes. I have not been able to track anything down in regards to current work being done surrounding the beltway, but it is a curious observation with so much commuter rail talk swirling around. The text of the NE Corridor AA/EIS information even spells out the possibility of on-street light rail from the 10th street through downtown. One can draw their own conclusions but raising $100-$150 million to relocate a freight line doesn't happen often.
It makes me wonder, are city planners talking about bypassing Union Station altogether in their implimentation of light rail? Union Station itself is in bad shape but is still utilized by Amtrak. Coupled with the Indygo Downtown Transit Center studies (the first of which in 2006 called for usage of the post office located south of Union Station), are planners attempting to skirt the usage of Union Station, and by extension, negotiations with CSX (which I would imagine come out costly no matter what the consusion) to reach a final plan? This would be a bold move when it seems nearly ALL rail plans that have been ventured over the years, involve some sort of usage of the station which resembles nothing short of a demilitarized zone... If I may be so bold, and I was, I created what a potential light rail system routing that doesnt utilize Union Station, could look like. I made use of Capitol & Illinois which are one way north/south avenues and have been mentioned as desirable paths of utilization. Inbound and outbound lines are differentiated by color, and the east/west Washington Street LR alignment is shown. CSX lines are in light gray. The NE line would still use the Nickel Plate but would depart onto 16th street and across to Capital/Illinois on its way in and out of downtown. The South line, I thought would use these same streets to get to Meridian outside of I-70 and then reconnect with the Louisville & Indiana RR ROW headed south for Greenwood. I may be a little off the wall with this idea, but apparently it's not too far off the mark. The Transport Politic reported today that Seattle is trying to apply these same ideas, albeit on a much longer scale, to a light rail line in their city. If it is true what they say about cost savings, then this is more ammo to suggest similar on street service here. In a perfect world, high speed rail could some day pass through Indianapolis funded in large part by federal dollars. If Indy could display its willingness to promote local rail transit by building a good network of street LR then the coming of HSR and associated infrastructure improvements could be funded by federal tax dollars. In short, a win-win situation. Like I said, perfect world....
I have not really spent much time disecting the Indyconnect bus related improvements. In studying the plans, expanded bus service is being proposed outside of the existing routes inside AND outside of Marion country. Outside of Marion County would represent a robust growth in service for Indygo, the local bus transportation provider.
A good hub would take into account existing bus lines, plus proposed expanded operations, into account. With the Indyconnect plan now being peddled, I can imagine any notions brought up in 2008 when the current study was started, could be reconsidered based upon the introduction of specific rail routes outlined.
I contacted Indygo in regards to the status of the HNTB study, and spoke with their director of procurement about the topic. He reported to me that the study is full speed ahead but was unable to share specifics at the moment. He passed me along to their Marketing Dept contact who told me, "We're still actively trying to identify the best location and plans for this project. The study continues. Several sites have been identified but we're working with FTA to explore the options."