Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak Indiana service’

Hoosier State Struggled to Run on Time in June

August 3, 2017

Amtrak trains are struggling to operate on time in the Chicago to Indianapolis corridor and the passenger carrier says its contract railroads are to blame.

Just one in three trains bound for Indianapolis arrived on time in June. On the other hand, the on-time performance of trains running from Indy to Chicago was nearly 90 percent during the month.

Combined, that represents an on-time rate of 62 percent, which is down from the 80 percent rates that the route had been posting.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said almost all the delays have been caused by freight-train interference and dispatchers giving priority to freight trains over Amtrak trains.

“We made it clear to them that we’d like June to be an outlier performance,” Magliari said.

Since taking over the quad-weekly Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State from Iowa Pacific Holdings earlier this year, Amtrak has launched business class, food and beverage services, free Wi-Fi and the ability to make reservations for carry-on items in an effort to match the level of service that IP provided.

The Indiana Department of Transportation is working with an engineering firm to study the ways to shorten the travel time, including the possibility of using a different route.

The Hoosier State operates on days that the tri-weekly Chicago-New York Cardinal does not operate.  Both trains serve intermediate stations in Crawfordsville, Lafayette, Rensselaer and Dyer.

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Amtrak, INDOT Says Relations Have Improved

March 7, 2017

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.

One Morning in Crawfordsville, Indiana

March 6, 2017
Amtrak train No. 851 approaches the Crawfordsville station in August 2011.

Amtrak train No. 851 approaches the Crawfordsville station in August 2011.

When I lived in Indiana between 1983 and 1991, Amtrak’s Hoosier State was a part of my life for periodic day trips from Indianapolis to Chicago.

I actually preferred to ride the Cardinal because it had a full-service dining car and slumber coaches, which offered a reasonable fare for a return trip to Indy.

But the Cardinal only ran three days a week so more often than not I wound up going to Chicago on the Hoosier State.

After leaving Indiana for Pennsylvania and, later, Ohio, I rarely saw the Hoosier State again.

I followed its story from afar, including how it was discontinued in 1995 only to be brought back because operating a hospital train to and from Beech Grove shops in suburban Indianapolis didn’t work out so well.

In August 2011 I was on my way to Illinois. I stayed overnight in Indianapolis and got up early the next morning to get to Crawfordsville before No. 851 did.

The sun wasn’t yet above the tree line when the Hoosier State arrived, but there was enough light to document the coming and going of the train.

Since making these images, the Hoosier State has had a rough ride at times with the latest development being the takeover of the train by Iowa Pacific Holdings in July 2015.

IP won high marks for its on-board service, but the Indiana Department of Transportation declined IP’s request for more money.

So IP pulled out and Amtrak has resumed operation of the Hoosier State. Actually, Amtrak was never completely out of the picture with Nos. 850 and 851 because it provided the operating crews and handled relationships with the host railroads.

So now what was the usual state of affairs in Crawfordsville is back again. Here is a look back at a morning not too long ago when the Hoosier State came calling.

A typical Amshack that is so typical in smaller cities served by Amtrak.

A typical Amshack that is so typical in smaller cities served by Amtrak.

The old Monon station is no longer used by Amtrak.

The old Monon station is no longer used by Amtrak.

All aboard for Chicago and all intermediate stops.

All aboard for Chicago and all intermediate stops.

And away it goes to its next stop in Lafayette.

And away it goes to its next stop in Lafayette.

A ;l;ast look at the train, which has two cars being ferried from Beech Grove to Chicago.

A ;l;ast look at the train, which has two cars being ferried from Beech Grove to Chicago.

Indiana Legislators Taking Note of IP Exit as an Operator of the Hoosier State, Future Uncertain

February 4, 2017

Indiana lawmakers aren’t saying just yet if they will continue to support paying for the Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State.

iowa-pacificAn Indiana radio station reported that legislators were prepared to continue the funding in the next state budget, but that has been called into question with the exit of Iowa Pacific Holdings as a partner in operating the train.

The Indiana General Assembly provided $6 million in one-time funding in the current state to pay for the quad-weekly Hoosier State.

Senator Brandt Hershman (R-Buck Creek) said he thought the service provided by Iowa Pacific was good.

“It’s comfortable, you don’t have to worry about traffic, you can get work done, you get something to eat, you have Wi-Fi – all those things help the value proposition of the train,” Hershman says.

Another lawmaker, House Ways and Means Chair Tim Brown (R-Crawfordsville), is skeptical that Amtrak can provide that level of service.

“We know that performance under Amtrak wasn’t what we wanted,” Brown said. “We got better performance out of Iowa Pacific and I don’t know if there’s another vendor out there but we’ll just have to have more talk about this.”

The budget for the next fiscal year has yet to be released.

Iowa Pacific and Amtrak have a partnership to operate the Hoosier State with IP providing equipment, marketing and on-board service, and Amtrak providing operating crews and handling relationships with the host railroads.

Amtrak will take full control of the Hoosier State on March 1.

Divorcing Amtrak is Hard to Do

February 3, 2017

The great Hoosier State privatization experiment is about to end. It started in July 2015 when Iowa Pacific Holdings began “operating” the quad-weekly Chicago-Indianapolis train.

amtrak-2I put the word “operating” in quotation marks because in one sense IP did not “operate” the Hoosier State.

It had a partnership with Amtrak. IP provided the equipment and marketing support and was in charge of on-board service.

But the operating crews were Amtrak employees and the nation’s passenger carrier handled the relationships with the host railroads, primarily CSX.

As it turned out, Amtrak has received most of the money paid by INDOT and its partner communities that fund the service.

For awhile, Iowa Pacific received many kudos because of what it wasn’t, which is Amtrak.

Under Amtrak auspices, the Hoosier State was a bare-bone operation that shuttled equipment between Chicago and the Beech Grove Shops in suburban Indianapolis.

By comparison, the IP operation of the Hoosier State was a luxury train, with business class, meals freshly prepared on board and a full-length dome car for those willing to pay extra fare.

IP head Ed Ellis – who once worked at Amtrak – talked about expanding service and the need to cut the travel time.

He said IP would aggressively market the service, seeking to build markets that Amtrak had ignored.

One marketing gambit IP talked about was running a bus between the Crawfordsville station and Bloomington, the home of Indiana University.

IP correctly recognized the college market is a good source of passengers, but apparently the Bloomington shuttle never got on the road.

Iowa Pacific had a lot of people rooting for it to succeed with the Hoosier State, many of whom believe that a private operator can provide better service than Amtrak.

Ellis always knew that increased daily service and faster trains hinged upon the willingness of government entities within Indiana to provide the capital funding needed to upgrade the slow meandering route used by the Hoosier State and Amtrak’s tri-weekly Chicago-New York Cardinal.

If IP could demonstrate that the Hoosier State was a success despite its route limitations, then perhaps Indiana officials would be amendable to funding track work in the same manner that the departments of transportation in neighboring Michigan and Illinois have.

But that has always been a long shot. Indiana has never been as supportive of intercity passenger rail as its neighbors.

Amtrak will take back the Hoosier State in Toto on March 1. Although INDOT said it has a verbal agreement that some of IP’s services will be retained, that is not a sure thing. It is unlikely that the food service will be freshly-prepared meals if there is any food service at all.

It remains to be seen if INDOT will seek an operator other than Amtrak and, for that, matter, how much longer the state and on-line communities are willing to pony up money to underwrite the operating losses.

One key take away from the IP Hoosier State experiment is that divorcing Amtrak is more difficult than it might seem or that some people might wish.

Connersville Amtrak Ridership Fell in FY 2016

February 2, 2017

Connersville is the only Amtrak station in Indiana that does not see daily service.

Amtrak CardinalThe town of 13,000 located southeast of Indianapolis is served in the middle of the night by the tri-weekly Chicago-New York Cardinal.

It also earned in 2016 the distinction of having the lowest ridership of the 11 Amtrak stations in the Hoosier state.

That came on the heels of record ridership in 2015 in Connersville.

Amtrak figures show that ridership in Connersville fell 24 percent last year from what it was in 2015. In 2016 Amtrak boarded and discharged 586 passengers, compared with 770 the year before.

Revenue earned from business in Connersville was 23.2 percent less in 2016 than the year before at $37,650 for fiscal year 2016, compared with $48,990 in 2015.

Going back to 2008, ridership at Connersville has been in the 600 to 700 range. The lowest ridership was recorded in 2011 when 532 boarded or got off.

What happened in Connersville was not all that out of line with Amtrak’s ridership in Indiana generally.

Amtrak ridership in Indiana during FY 2016 was 134,012 riders, a decline of 1.1 percent from the 135,509 who rode in 2015.

In the meantime, Amtrak plans this year to rebuild the Connersville station to bring it into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Amtrak Will Run Hoosier State a While Longer

July 7, 2015

The Indiana Department of Transportation has asked Amtrak to continue operating the Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State while it works out contract details for having Iowa Pacific take over the train.

It is the fourth time that INDOT has requested an extension on an October 2013 contract with Amtrak after federal lawmakers stopped funding routes shorter than 750 miles.

INDOT has an agreement with Iowa Pacific whereby it will furnish locomotives and passenger cars while Amtrak continues to provide operating crew members. Iowa Pacific will take an active role in marketing the service, which operates quad-weekly on days that Amtrak’s Chicago-New York Cardinal does not operate in Indiana.

Iowa Pacific was originally set to take over the Hoosier State on July 1 and conducted a test run in late June.

INDOT says that Amtrak will continue operating the Hoosier State for only as long as it takes to finish the contracts and give the required notices of a change in service.

Iowa Pacific Holdings President Ed Ellis has said that planned improvements to the Hoosier State will include food and beverage service, WiFi and a business class section.

Iowa Pacific operates several excursion trains around the country, including a service on the back of Amtrak’s City of New Orleans that uses restored vintage Pullman cars.

Hoosier State to Stay With Amtrak For Now

July 1, 2015

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.”

INDOT, FRA Reach Pact on Passenger Safety Rules

April 6, 2015

The efforts of the Indiana Department of Transportation to improve the Hoosier State have cleared another hurdle.

The agency and the Federal Railroad Administration reached an agreement on “clear lines of accountability for passenger rail safety and accessibility.”

Meeting in Indianapolis with FRA staff, INDOT Commissioner Karl Browning said that the two sides discussed the roles and responsibilities of each party connected with the Chicago-Indianapolis train.

Indiana wants to contract with Amtrak and Iowa Pacific Holdings to operate the service and both will be expected to meet FRA requirements.

INDOT will designate a staff member responsible for overseeing contract compliance. “INDOT and the FRA share the guiding principles of access to safe mobility,” Browning said in a statement. “Based on these guiding principles, we are both committed to a path toward continuing the Hoosier State service.”

Talks are continuing to reach agreements between INDOT and Amtrak and Iowa Pacific. Amtrak, FRA, and U.S. Food and Drug Administration are continuing to inspect the Iowa Pacific equipment that is expected to be assigned to the Hoosier State.

The Hoosier State operates four times weekly, running on days that the tri-weekly Chicago-New York Cardinal does not operate.

Currently, the Hoosier State is being underwritten by INDOT and many of the communities that it serves.

Amtrak is expected to serve as the primary operator, working with host railroads, providing train and engine crews, and managing reservation and ticketing. Aside from rolling stock and locomotives, Iowa Pacific would provide equipment maintenance, on-board services and marketing.

Hoosier State to Continue Through April 30

March 14, 2015

The beleaguered Hoosier State, the quad-weekly Amtrak train between Chicago and Indianapolis, has survived yet another brush with the grim reaper for another 30 days.

The Indiana Department of Transportation said on Friday that the train will continue operating through April 30 while the Federal Railroad Administration reviews a policy that it had said it would impose on Indiana that would have made the state a “railroad.”

A week earlier, INDOT Commission Karl Browning had issued a news release saying the Hoosier State would make its last trips on April 1. He cited an FRA policy that an entity funding rail passenger service would be responsible for the FRA passenger safety standards.

INDOT said that acting FRA Administrator Sarah Feinberg told Browning during a telephone call that her agency would reconsider that policy.

“It is not clear that the FRA will change its mind,” Browning says. “Because Ms. Feinberg committed to reviewing this, we want to give the FRA another opportunity to consider the problems Indiana has been airing.”

INDOT doesn’t own any tracks or railroad equipment and Browning said the FRA’s position would increase costs and paperwork for INDOT.

The department along with most of the communities served by the train have funded it during the past year. INDOT had been negotiating with Amtrak and Iowa Pacific Holdings on a long-term contract to operate the train.

In the meantime, Indiana U.S. Sen. Dan Coats has written to the FRA asking it to reconsider its position that if INDOT continues to fund the Hoosier State that that would make it a “railroad.”

Coats wrote that “INDOT does not fit any common-sense definition of a ‘railroad,’ so the communities along the HSL are rightly puzzled by the FRA’s decision.”

INDOT was close to a deal in which Amtrak would operate the trains and Iowa Pacific would supply the cars. But INDOT officials said if the state has to act as the railroad, it would have to carry expensive liability insurance and hire new staff.

“INDOT is not in a position to assume either the additional liability or the regulatory burdens that a designation of ‘railroad carrier’ would impose,” Coats wrote.

In 2008, Congress voted to end funding for Amtrak routes of less than 750 miles. That left states to fund intercity rail on their own.

The FRA has said that states that oversee rail passenger service are required to act as rail carriers to ensure that safety standards are followed.

Another public official who has also assailed the FRA position is State Rep. Randy Truitt of West Lafayette, who represents several portions of Tippecanoe County.

“The Hoosier State Line provides a vital service for Hoosiers in the Greater Lafayette area and across Indiana. I was disheartened to learn about the new rules imposed by the Federal Railway Administration that could potentially end this service in April, which would be devastating to our local economy,” Truitt said in a statement.

Truitt has been an active supporter of the Hoosier State and has sponsored House Bill 1217, which would appropriate $3 million annually to fund the train.

Truitt hopes that INDOT, by working with the Federal Railway Administration, will eventually be able to find a solution that allows the Hoosier State to continue running.

“The preservation of Indiana’s transportation infrastructure is vital to economic growth, and I will continue to work with state and local leaders as well as INDOT to find ways to keep the Hoosier State Line functioning,” Truitt said.

The Hoosier State makes intermediate stops in Indiana in Crawfordsville, Lafayette, Rensselaer and Dyer. The route is served by the tri-weekly Chicago-New York Cardinal on days that the Hoosier State does not operate.