Corridor Capital is out, Iowa Pacific may be in and Amtrak is standing by in the ongoing saga of who will operate the Hoosier State.
The Indiana Department of Transportation has broken off contract talks with Chicago-based Corridor Capital, which had submitted the winning bid to operate the Chicago-Indianapolis train beginning on Oct. 1.
However, Corridor Capital and IDOT were unable to reach an agreement by that date and Amtrak is continuing to operate the route through January.
INDOT is now seeking information from Amtrak about continuing to operate the quad-weekly Hoosier State beyond Jan. 31, 2015.
However, INDOT is also negotiating with Iowa Pacific, raising the prospect that the Hoosier State might be a joint venture of sorts.
INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield said his agency “is requesting pricing from Amtrak to continue as operator after Jan. 31, minus certain elements of the existing service that Amtrak is providing, such as rolling stock, on-board services, and marketing.”
INDOT has not confirmed it is talking with Iowa Pacific Holdings Inc., which had been the runner-up to Corridor Capital, company spokesman Michael Hicks told Trains magazine that “we believe there are opportunities to work with Amtrak and the state of Indiana to make substantial improvements in Hoosier State service over the next year, and we are engaged in discussions with INDOT.”
Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari told Trains that it “continues to work closely with the State of Indiana on the continuation of daily service between Indianapolis and Chicago. Amtrak submitted a contract renewal in April 2014 for the current service model and has offered to work with the state on other viable models used in other states.”
Although INDOT has not said why it broke off talks with Corridor Capital, Trains reported that a major sticking point was financing the costs of getting the equipment in shape for the service.
Corridor Capital said that as late as last Wednesday it continued to provide resources and personnel to meet the demands of the Federal Railroad Administration emergency services contingency plan, which must be submitted to the agency no later than 60 days prior to commencement of any new service.
The company had thus far declined to reveal the specific passenger cars and locomotives that it planned to assign to the Hoosier State service.
It has only said that it “has had modern Amtrak certified equipment ready for retrofit and deployment” since June.
Trains reported that INDOT sent an email notification to Corridor Capital on Friday “rejecting the proposal” it had accepted in June and a certified letter would follow. That email message reportedly did not explain that contract negotiations would be terminated.
Corridor Capital claims that it only learned negotiations had been cancelled after reading a story in the Lafayette Journal & Courier on Saturday evening.
Amtrak spokesman Magliari noted that “Amtrak submitted a contract renewal in April for the current service model and has offered to work with the state on other viable models used in other states. However, time is growing short to resolve many open questions for daily passenger rail service to continue from Feb. 1 and onward.”
Railway Age magazine reported that Amtrak executives privately fumed over Indiana’s intent to farm out the Hoosier State to Corridor Capital.
Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman travelled the route in a special train on Oct. 1 from Indianapolis to Chicago during which he announced that Amtrak would provide free Wi-Fi, a business-class car and light snacks as a goodwill gesture during the last three months of the contract extension.
INDOT, Tippecanoe County. and the cities of Indianapolis, Lafayette, West Lafayette, Rensselaer, Beech Grove and Crawfordsville have collectively committed $2.7 million toward funding the Hoosier State since Oct. 1, 2013, to keep it operating after Congress eliminated federal funding for Amtrak routes shorter than 750 miles.
Last July news reports said Indianapolis said it will not renew its funding.
INDOT has said its goal was to continue the service and find an independent contractor that could overcome constant delays, run trains at more convenient times, provide amenities such as Wi-Fi, attract more riders, and operate the train more cost effectively than Amtrak.
However, Railway Age reported that numerous rail observers and rail advocates have questioned whether any company could offer even the modest economies of scale Amtrak can lend the underperforming Hoosier State, which runs four days a week.
Combined with the tri-weekly Chicago-New York Cardinal, the Indianapolis-Chicago route is served by one train each way per day.
Trains reported that if Iowa Pacific wishes to provide passenger cars and locomotives to be operated by Amtrak crews, that equipment must meet Amtrak safety requirements and Amtrak must be indemnified against lawsuits resulting from use of the equipment.
Arvid Olson of the Greater Lafayette Commerce has touted the economic benefits of keeping the Hoosier State going, but he lamented the latest developments.
“It creates genuine pressure on INDOT and the stakeholder’s ability to improve the Hoosier State beginning on Feb. 1, 2015,” he said.
Ridership on the Hoosier State during fiscal year 2014, which ended on Sept. 30, fell 8 percent and revenue dropped 10 percent.