Of trains and of gardens

I’ve just ridden home to Crawfordsville on Amtrak’s Cardinal.  I hopped on in Baltimore and in a quick 22 hours stepped off at Crawfordsville’s Green Street station. It was 7:15 a.m. so we went for coffee and ate treats I’d carried from Ellicott City, Maryland; I spoke of the awe-inspiring Appalachian wilderness and the spectacular New River carved through it. Those things I’d seen out my train window. The ticket cost about the price of two tanks of gas. The chance to daydream and read for most of a day was beyond price.

We’ve lived here now for 32 years and for every single day of that time (and for decades before) Crawfordsville has had daily train service: to Chicago (and stops in between) each morning; and, to DC and New York City (and points in between) several evenings a week. This is public transportation for average citizens. Most communities would give their eyeteeth for such convenient daily access to the whole nation. (Long distance Western and Eastern trains leave each afternoon from Chicago’s Union Station.)

Now this is ending. On June 30 the Hoosier State, which serves us four days a week, will quit running: we lose our daily service. We will still have the long-distance Cardinal three days a week (Saturday, Monday and Thursday). How did this happen? Gov. Eric Holcomb left Hoosier State funding out of his budget. Despite wide hue and cry and valiant efforts, nothing has changed. The few millions it costs to run the Hoosier State annually is what it costs to build an entrance to a freeway or two: a drop in the INDOT bucket.

This decision seems to be a grave error in terms of calculating for the state’s economic benefit. Our nearby states — Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Missouri — are benefiting dramatically because they have expanded their daily train service into Chicago. (Trains run seven times a day between both St. Louis and Chicago and Milwaukee and Chicago.) Indiana has lost. Those states are keeping and attracting young talent of all sorts at a much higher rate than we are because of affordable, commuter public transportation. As Mayor Todd Barton, who, along with the other mayors along the Hoosier State line, has been a big supporter of retaining and expanding train service, notes, “The next generation will need to do this” (since it is so much in their interest).

But for now, it’s time to say goodbye. About 15 years ago, my students and I began creating a perennial garden at the Amtrak station and refurbished the surrounding area and the station itself. It was a showpiece. It has fallen into disrepair. As a way to say thank you to the engineers and crews of the Hoosier State, I would like to make it alive and thrive again.

I invite the community — Master Gardeners, former PBL: Amtrak students, and any of you who don’t mind getting your hands dirty — to join me in cleaning up and beautifying the Amtrak garden on Green Street across from the police station on Saturday and Sunday. We’ll work from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. both days, lopping, weeding, trimming, planting and mulching. Would you like to help? Bring your gloves and garden tools. Bring some mulch, a bunch of hostas or a flat of flowers. Bring us a snack. Come to show gratitude for this community asset we’ve enjoyed for decades.

Next week (June 24-30) will be the Hoosier State’s last week. Once the garden looks welcoming and colorful once more, we’ll put up a thank you sign in front of it so the scores and scores of passengers who look out the window at our town every day will know we cared and that public transportation matters.

Please come and help Crawfordsville say thank you and goodbye. We will miss you, Hoosier State.

Helen Hudson


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