Hoosier State to Stay With Amtrak For Now

The Indiana Department of Transportation announced on Monday that contracts enabling Iowa Pacific Holdings to begin operating the Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State on July 1, have yet to be reached.

Amtrak will continue to operate the quad-weekly train, which runs on days that the Chicago-New York Cardinal does not operate.

The announcement came after Iowa Pacific completed a test run last weekend on the route with its own equipment.

Iowa Pacific will furnish the locomotives and passengers cars along with providing on-board service. Amtrak engineers and conductors will continue to make up the operating crews.

Once Iowa Pacific takes over, the trains are expected to have Wi-Fi and food and beverage service.

INDOT officials remain optimistic that Iowa Pacific will be taking over the service and note that a number of snags have occurred to prevent that from happening thus far.

It took four safety inspections of the equipment to be used on the trains before inspectors from Amtrak and the Federal Railroad Administration cleared them to carry passengers.

During a June 5 inspection at Iowa Pacific’s shop in Bensenville, Illinois, FRA and Amtrak inspectors cited equipment problems that had been identified during the first inspection but still hadn’t been fixed.

“We had expected the things that were found wrong in the previous two inspections would be corrected by now . . . which is troubling,” said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said at the time.

Iowa Pacific President Ed Ellis said his company took steps to comply with the safety regulations.

“There was a pin in the air brake chain that was the wrong size that has to be changed,” he said. “That has to be the right size.”

Ellis also said that some federal regulations had changed since Iowa Pacific acquired the cars from Amtrak.

“For example, we now have cars that have separate bins for trash and recycling and we had to build those specifically for these cars,” he said. “Two or three steps were involved because we built them the way we thought they met the standards, but (inspectors) requested changes.

“As the regulations have changed, we’ve worked to comply.”

The rail cars did pass an inspection conducted during the second week of June.

INDOT and Amtrak initially signed an agreement for funding the Hoosier State in October 2013 after Congress stopped funding Amtrak routes that are shorter than 750 miles.

The state and communities served by the 196-mile route agreed to pay Amtrak about $3 million annually.

Ellis said he’s ready to go, but Amtrak is not as enthusiastic.

“Our crew was able to operate the equipment for a test run to and from the location in suburban Indianapolis where we’re told Iowa Pacific will service it,” Amtrak’s Magliari said.

“There are many unresolved issues, and we’ve supplied INDOT with a list of the open issues.”

Neither Amtrak nor INDOT officials would be specific about those issues.

“In addition to the contracts, some documentation needs to be done in terms of the inspections that have taken place,” said INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield.

“And then there’s information that we’re working to obtain from the parties.”

That includes INDOT developing contract language that ensures accountability and consequences for compliance with Amtrak and federal safety standards, an issue that raised by the Federal Railroad Administration in March.

No one will estimate how long it will take to resolve these issues, but some local Indiana leaders still expect Iowa Pacific to take over the train.

“Everybody is still trying to reach that end goal,” Lafayette Mayor Tony Roswarski said. “Whether it’s July first or sometime later, I feel we’re still moving forward.”

In Crawfordsville, Mayor Todd Barton has posted a public celebration he’d planned for Wednesday evening at the Amtrak station.

“We checked with INDOT to make sure everything still looked good and July 1 was still a firm date,” he said. “We will reschedule when they have a firm transition date.”

Wingfield mentioned the transition more than once during an interview with a reporter from the Lafayette Journal & Courier.

“A short term agreement with Amtrak may impact the transition schedule,” he said. “There are many threads that run through this.”

However, Wingfield told Trains magazine that “contract discussions with Amtrak and Iowa Pacific are advanced. As with any such negotiations, it is hard to predict a time duration. We are working with the parties to gather the remaining information and complete some steps in sequence before finalizing and signing the long-term service agreements.”

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