INDOT, Iowa Pacific, Amtrak Reach Agreement on 2-Year Contract for Operating the Hoosier State

Terms of the contract between the Indiana Department of Transportation and Iowa Pacific Holdings call for the state to receive 25 percent of any operating profits that the Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State earns.

It is one of many details contained in a contract signed last weekend pertaining to the quad-weekly train.

Amtrak, which had operated the Hoosier State through July 31, was also a party to the contract because Amtrak employees will continue to make up the operating crews for the train. Amtrak is also serving working with the host railroads and managing ticket reservations for the train.

Amtrak will be reimbursed by INDOT for its expenses not covered by ticket revenue with Amtrak providing the state with any excess revenue.

INDOT is expected to pay $254,527 per month for the Hoosier State while Crawfordsville, Lafayette, Rensselaer, Tippecanoe County and West Lafayette will pay a combined $21,194 per month for the service.

The contract expires on June 30, 2017, but INDOT has an option to extend it up to four additional years.
Iowa Pacific is furnishing the locomotives and passenger cars while also providing maintenance, food service and marketing.

The first trips on Aug. 2 under Iowa Pacific auspices suffered the same type of delays that often hindered the Amtrak-operated Hoosier State.

Both trips were delayed by freight train congestion at Union Pacific’s Yard Center in Dolton, Illinois.

The outbound trip from Chicago was 9 minutes late leaving Union Station because Amtrak delivered the equipment to the depot 25 minutes late.

CSX held the Indianapolis-bound train at Dyer, Indiana, for a half-hour due to an automobile accident south of town that did not involve the Hoosier State.

Further glitches occurred when Amtrak send patrons on the first runs what Trains magazine described as “ominous email and telephone message warnings to passengers.”

One passenger told the magazine’s passenger travel correspondent that when she called Amtrak back to ask what the email meant she was initially transferred to a closed customer service office. Another Amtrak agent checked with a supervisor and told Hill that she would be riding “a less luxurious train.”

That assertion was laughable on its face. Under Amtrak operation, the Hoosier State offered coaches and nothing else. The train did not offer food service or onboard Wi-Fi service.

However, one of the three Iowa Pacific cars assigned to the Hoosier State is a former Santa Fe full-width dome lounge offering food service.

Eventually, the dome section will be reserved for business-class passengers who will served hot meals and drinks.

For now, though, anyone can sit in dome lounge Summit View. Trains correspondent Bob Johnston reported that the car features white tablecloths and serves breakfast and dinner.

The top prices range between $6 and $8, respectively. The “Blue Plate Special” on the trip to Indianapolis was sautéed chicken breast. Other choices included Chicken Caprese Panini, an entrée salad, a turkey club sandwich, and cheese or pepperoni pizza.

“For the first month, everybody gets to come in here and say, ‘wow, is this cool?’” Iowa Pacific Holdings president Ed Ellis said. “So then when the fare goes up, we hope they’ll say, ‘yeah, I want to be sitting up there.’ ”

He was referring to the launch of business class service at a yet unannounced date.

Iowa Pacific has directed that two tickets on each Hoosier State trip are to be sold for $1 apiece. Normal an adult “saver” ticket between Chicago and Indianapolis is $24 on either the Hoosier State or Amtrak’s Chicago-New York Cardinal.

Ellis described the $1 fares as a conversation starter with college students who might have used competing Megabus service, which similarly offers a handful of fares at the same price.

Iowa Pacific has hired a full-time marketing manager who will be supported by IP’s own Chicago-based tourist train and Pullman Rail Journeys marketing operation.

The Hoosier State marketing efforts are heavily focused on stimulating business from intermediate communities along the route, in particular Purdue University in West Lafayette.

Ellis said Iowa Pacific sees Purdue as a largely untapped market. IP also wants to launch a connecting bus service between Crawfordsville and Bloomington to reach the Indiana University market.

“We’re treating this as one of the world’s nicest excursion trains between two great Midwest destinations,” Ellis said.

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