Lilly suggests taking rail out of Downtown
Lilly suggests taking rail out of Downtown
CSX, Amtrak oppose plan to reroute trains to Belt line.
By Dan McFeely
January 13, 2003
With an eye on future development south and east of the city's
center, Eli Lilly and Co. is proposing a radical plan to eliminate
all Downtown rail lines, including the elevated lines running to
Such a plan, if approved, would mean the end of historic Union
Station as a destination point for Amtrak passengers -- and the
beginning of a new passenger station, probably located at
Indianapolis International Airport.
Trains passing through Indianapolis on national routes would be
shifted to the Belt Railroad, a line that bypasses Downtown and
is owned by Lilly.
The Peterson administration is officially interested but not yet
sold on Lilly's plan. Its key concern: Union Station has long been
envisioned as the hub of a future rail system.
"We are entering into this with a totally open mind," said Mike
Peoni, who heads the mayor's Division of Planning. "We are
looking at both costs and benefits, and we agree that it would
probably be a positive thing for development of Downtown.
"There is a lot of land with rail on it that is just sitting there. It's
pretty obvious the rail lines are an impediment to growth. We're
talking about opening up opportunities for businesses like Lilly
and Anthem to become more a part of the regional center."
At this point, Amtrak is opposed to the idea. So is CSX, which
owns most of the rail lines Lilly wants to remove.
"We use Union Station, and we enjoy using that station," said
Amtrak spokeswoman Kathleen Cantillon, who worries about a
new station's impact on travel distance and time.
"Something along this line has been in the air for a while. Over
the summer, we did send a letter to Mayor (Bart) Peterson, and
basically we do believe this proposal would have a significant
adverse impact on Amtrak."
Lilly sees it having a positive impact on Downtown:
Removing the "physical barriers to future development" would
unite the separated Wholesale District and the Indy South
District. The tracks-free land would become attractive to
developers of new office buildings, residential areas or an
expanded convention center.
Maybe even a new football stadium.
With the city already looking at future Downtown growth and a
possible rapid-transit system, Lilly's real estate manager says the
timing is perfect for this proposal.
"Certainly, this kind of idea belongs somehow in that process,"
said Jack Leicht, whose job is to determine where Lilly can grow
in the future.
"In many cities, this is just a pipe dream because they have
nowhere to go with the rail lines. We do. Now we want to test to
see if there is some other interest beyond Lilly."
Outside the immediate Downtown area, the existing rails would
likely remain in place for future use. Lilly is most interested in
removing the infrastructure within the borders created by White
River and the interstate highway system. The Belt runs from the
White River, south beyond I-70 and then loops around the city
to a point near 25th Street and Sherman Drive.
The proposal grew out of Lilly's original desire to remove the
elevated rail infrastructure that parallels Delaware Street. Its
concern: The infrastructure interferes with vehicular and
pedestrian movement between the Lilly Corporate Center and its
expansion west of the tracks, where the two Faris buildings and
the Brougher building, gym and child care center are located.
The Delaware Street line is also unattractive, but Lilly says that's
not the overriding factor. Lilly is helping the city pay for a
beautification of the area, which includes the rail infrastructure.
There is also some concern about safety issues in the event of a
derailment on the aging tracks.
Last month, Lilly unveiled its new, expanded plan to a group of
power brokers representing Downtown businesses, government
and community groups. They included representatives of
Anthem, Conseco Fieldhouse, Farm Bureau, the Indianapolis
Chamber of Commerce, the Indianapolis Convention & Visitor's
Association, Indianapolis Downtown Inc., Indy Partnership and
state and city officials.
Neither Amtrak nor CSX representatives were present.
Spokesman David Hall said CSX was not asked to discuss this
Lilly proposal. But two years ago, Lilly made a similar proposal
that would have required considerable capital improvements to
the Belt by CSX.
"The proposal we got from Lilly suggested that we assume those
costs, but CSX doesn't expect to see enough return on
investments to justify that expense," Hall said.
Lilly's new plan does not address funding issues.
But it would take "tens of millions" of dollars to build a new
station, upgrade the Belt for faster train travel, rip out existing
rail lines and demolish the aging concrete bridges that span above
Downtown streets. Leicht said part of the plan would be to
pursue federal grants available for such relocation efforts.
Other cities have taken on such projects. Lafayette recently
completed a major rail relocation project designed to make
intersections safer and to unite divided segments of its
downtown. Most of that project was funded by federal tax
dollars. There is a similar proposal for suburban Chicago and
cities in northwestern Indiana to move rail lines closer to Lake
Michigan and free up land for badly needed urban development.
It's unclear what effect there might be on retail operations at
historic Union Station, which closed in 1979 as a railroad station,
then reopened as a retail, dining and entertainment facility.
Also unclear is the impact on Greyhound, which operates out of
the first floor of the train station.
There also are transportation concerns, especially since the city
recently launched a $1.5 million Metropolitan Rapid Transit
Study, for which local taxpayers paid $300,000 to assess the
possibility of a rail system connecting Downtown to several
outlying suburban communities -- presumably on existing rail
"We're concerned about the future of high-speed rail and the
flexibility a rapid transit system would have to use these rails,"
Dennis Hodges, president of the Indiana High Speed Rail
Association, shares that concern. He has recommended that the
Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce's transportation task force,
of which he is a member, study and monitor the plan closely.
"The Lilly study is one that we will have to urge caution along
the way, and watch with a critical eye," said Hodges, whose
group supports rail relocations in general and a new train station
at the airport.
"However, we also have a vision for Union Station being a
centerpiece for economic prosperity in Downtown Indianapolis. I
would hope the study does not prejudice against any economic
business expansion that could result from high-speed trains
coming to Downtown Indianapolis."
By the end of January, Leicht hopes the group will agree on how
to fund a new study, which he believes could be done in less
than a year. The study would likely be paid for by private
Staff reporters Jeff Swiatek and Kristina Buchthal contributed to
Call Star reporter Dan McFeely at 1-317-444-6230.