Amtrak, INDOT Says Relations Have Improved

The train name hasn’t changed, but the faces behind the Hoosier State have and that has made for better relations with Amtrak.

Amtrak took over complete responsibility for the quad-weekly Chicago-Indianapolis train on March 1.

Back in 2015, the Indiana Department of Transportation awarded Iowa Pacific Holdings a contract to operate the Hoosier State although Amtrak wasn’t entirely out of the picture.

IP provided locomotives, rolling stock and on-board service and marketing support. Amtrak provided operating crews and handled relations with the host railroads.

But IP didn’t think it was receiving enough money from INDOT and said it would cease operating the train after the state turned down a request for more money.

Amtrak wanted to continue operating the Hoosier State, but state officials say the price was too high.

That sent INDOT seeking another operator. An agreement with a private contractor fell apart, which sent INDOT to IP.

Now INDOT and Amtrak seem to be getting along just fine. What changed?

“Some of the faces have changed in the last several years,” said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari says. “A different governor, a different transportation commissioner, different people at Amtrak, too, sat down with a fresh sheet of paper and said, ‘What can we do?’”

INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield said the relationship improved when former Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman retired and was replaced by Charles “Wick” Moorman, the former CEO of Norfolk Southern.

“They’ve been an eager partner to work with us,” Wingfield says. “We have good things to say about the new Amtrak CEO and his team.”

Before IP came along, the Hoosier State was a bare-bones train. IP brought food service, free Wi-Fi and business class service.

Amtrak has agreed to continue providing those services even if its food service car won’t be serving the same freshly-prepared meals that IP served.

Wingfield declined to say how much INDOT and its funding partners along the route are paying to continue those services.

He did say, though, that INDOT is using all of the $3 million earmarked for the Hoosier State.

Amtrak also agreed to give INDOT a discount because the Hoosier State is used to shuttle equipment between Amtrak’s Beech Grove shops in suburban Indianapolis and Chicago.

Amtrak’s Magliari said the passenger carrier is looking at growing the business.

“The way you build ridership is to have frequencies that are attractive on a schedule that people can support and see is better than driving, and fares people can afford,” Magliari said. “Those are the three elements of the elixir to grow ridership – frequency, fare and schedule.”

The current contract between INDOT and Amtrak will expire on June 30.

That means the Indiana legislature has to agree to extend the funding. Wingfield said INDOT is asking lawmakers to approve Hoosier State funding for next two years.

Some lawmakers have indicated, though, that they have misgivings about a new deal because of the collapse of the public-private partnership between IP and INDOT.

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