Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak Indiana service’

INDOT Makes Official What Hoosier State Cities Knew

May 2, 2019

The Indiana Department of Transportation held a conference call this week to inform communities along the route of the Hoosier State what they already knew.

The train will be discontinued on July 1 and INDOT could not promise that the state would do anything to keep the quad-weekly Chicago-Indianapolis train going.

The conference call was made a day after Gov. Eric Holcomb approved a two-year $34 billion state budget that did not include any funds to continue supporting the Hoosier State.

The conference call was made to officials in Crawfordsville, Lafayette, West Lafayette, Rensselaer and Tippecanoe County. Those communities collectively contributed $500,000 annually along with INDOT’s $3 million to pay for the Hoosier State.

Holcomb had recommended earlier this year cutting the state’s funding of the train, citing low ridership.

The House and Senate concurred with amendments to reinstate the funding either voted down or not considered.

“I’m not aware of any new information on the status of the train,” INDOT spokesman Scott Manning said. “Our INDOT team briefed local officials this morning to reiterate that service will continue through June 30, but not beyond that date.”

Crawfordsville Mayor Todd Barton also said there was nothing new to report.

“There’s no new contract proposal to send to you and we appreciate everyone’s hard work over the past five or six years and that was about it,” Barton said, characterizing INDOT’s remarks.

However, Barton said he disagreed with an INDOT claim that it lacks discretionary funds that could be used to fund the Hoosier State.

He said he wants to meet with other leaders along the route to discuss what to do next to try to save the service.

All communities served by the Hoosier State will continue to have Amtrak service from the tri-weekly Chicago-New York Cardinal.

No Hoosier State Funding in Final Budget

April 26, 2019

Efforts this week to save funding of Amtrak’s Hoosier State fell short when the Indiana General Assembly approved a two-year budget that does not include continued funding of the train.

The legislature approved a $34 billion budget on Wednesday night that did not include funding for the quad-weekly Chicago-Indianapolis train.

The state’s $3 million annual funding of the Hoosier State will end on June 30.

“I’m very disappointed,” said Sen. Ron Alting, of Lafayette Republican who said he had worked in the closing weeks with three other legislators whose districts are served by the train to find continued funding for it.

“I thought it was a small amount of money in a $34 billion budget, quite honestly,” Alting told the Lafayette Journal & Courier. “But the Hoosier State wasn’t in (Gov. Eric Holcomb’s) budget, and it wasn’t in the House version of the budget. So that was hard to overcome, at the end of the day. We gave it a 100 percent effort.”

One local official involved in the efforts to save the Hoosier State offered a glimmer of hope that an alternative funding source might be available.

“Oddly, there’s more funding for bringing a train back than for preserving one, which is totally backward,” said Arvid Olson, head of Greater Lafayette Commerce’s transportation committee. “Smart heads are working toward that right now.”

“If this, according to Gov. Holcomb, isn’t working, which is a valid thing to say, what will it take to make passenger rail work here?” Olson said.

Olson said that might mean such things as having the train make additional stops or the even the possibility of having a private operator take it over.

He cited the case of Richard Branson – owner of Virgin Atlantic Airways, Virgin Hotels, and Virgin Galactic – buying the Brightline intercity rail line in Florida.

In addition to state funding, the Hoosier State also received $500,000 annually from local governments served by the train.

The Hoosier State is slated to make its last trips on Sunday, June 30. Amtrak has also ready given notice that it will be “suspended” the next day.

“We’re open to any continued discussions with the state and the communities,” Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said about preserving the Hoosier State.

However, Indiana Department of Transportation spokesman Scott Manning said the state legislature having decided not to continue funding the train there is no state budget mechanism to continue funding beyond June 30.

“If the service were to continue beyond that date, it would need to be without state funding,” Manning said.

State officials have been saying since early this year that the Hoosier State’s ridership has been disappointing. INDOT said ridership fell in each of the past four years.

In fiscal year 2014 the Hoosier State carried 33,930. That had fallen to 27,876 by FY 2018.

Olson said Lafayette area leaders have been careful to avoid being too critical of Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb’s decision to end funding for the Hoosier State, “because he was making a good point.”

Although the Indiana Passenger Rail Alliance sought to drum up support for continued Hoosier State funding, the group’s president said he knew that was a long shot.

“Most likely, it’s going away, but for how long it will be gone is an interesting question,” said Steve Coxhead. “I think the battle is far from over, though. We know there are other ways, and we’ll be looking at them. If nothing else, the state opens a new budget cycle in two years. We have to be prepared to go the distance, if it goes that far.”

House speaker Brian Bosma said he would have “loved” for the Hoosier State to have worked, “but it’s just a subsidy that doesn’t appear to be taking hold.”

Magliari said the underlying problem that the Hoosier State faced was a slow schedule that was not competitive with the Chicago-Indianapolis drive time.

Coxhead described that as a “kind of a catch-22” in that slow service and low ridership led to funding cuts for a service that was initially under-funded.

“The governor says ridership has been disappointing, and we make the case that you have to have at least two trains in each direction each day, possibly three, in order to have a realistic chance of generating enough ridership to cover an operating cost,” Coxhead said.

Would Any Message Have Been Successful?

April 24, 2019

The pending discontinue of Amtrak’s Hoosier State has been greeted by the type of hand wringing and indignity that is typical of the rail passenger advocacy community whenever a passenger train is in jeopardy of ending.

It also has triggered the typical overwrought comments of self-proclaimed fiscal conservatives.

Advocates have been sharply critical of the decision by Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb to end funding for the quad-weekly Chicago-Indianapolis train and the refusal of the Indiana General Assembly to reinstate it.

Both the Indiana House and Senate have declined to fund the Hoosier State beyond June 30 and Amtrak has announced that the train will be “suspended” on July 1.

The passenger carrier used “suspended” rather than “discontinued” because at the time the notice was issued there was a slim chance the legislature might funding the Hoosier State after all.

Last Friday the Rail Passengers Association weighed in. RPA described the legislature as “throwing the baby out with the bathwater by cutting their state train’s operating funds.”

After recounting the perils of Pauline struggle the Hoosier State has faced since 2013, RPA commented, “the Indiana state legislature is responding with apathy, doing the shortsighted, pound-foolish thing.”

And what does RPA mean by that? It argues that the Hoosier State saves the state $3,154,432 in road maintenance and congestion costs.

The number was arrived at by figuring that the loss of the train will add 1.6 million vehicle miles traveled to Indiana highways.

If you wish to read further about how this figure was computed, read the RPA post at https://www.railpassengers.org/happening-now/news/hotline/hotline-1-113/

It is an argument that goes over well with rail passenger advocates and their allies, but does nothing to persuade governors and state legislators to appropriate public funds to underwrite the cost of a four times a week passenger train.

Likewise, the argument that the Chicago-Indianapolis market is ripe for development as a rail corridor “if given a chance” won’t change their minds either.

As they see it, ridership of the Hoosier State has declined by double digits in recent years and the travel time is slower than driving.

The statistic about saving road maintenance and congestion will be dismissed as irrelevant assuming they reached lawmakers at all.

You have to wonder if there are any arguments that rail passenger advocates could have made that would persuaded Holcomb and the legislature to continue Hoosier State funding.

This reality is not unique to Indiana. It is the same dilemma passenger advocates face throughout the United States.

Intercity rail passenger service is not a growth industry. It faces entrenched opposition that does well at hiding its motives even if those can gleaned somewhat by careful study of how transportation policy in this country is and is not made.

Amtrak has been giving signals that its vision for the future is a series of corridors linking urban areas, particularly in the South and West.

Federal law requires that routes of less than 750 miles must be funded by state and/or local governments.

Assuming that Amtrak is serious about developing these corridors – and I’m not sure that it is – it will have to win hearts and minds of legislatures in places that have never funded intercity rail passenger service.

This 750 mile rule is what got the Hoosier State into trouble in the first place. It was discontinued in 1995 but restored in 1998 because Amtrak needed a way of ferrying equipment to and from its Beech Grove shops in suburban Indianapolis that did not delay the tri-weekly Cardinal during its Indianapolis station stop.

RPA probably is correct in saying the Chicago-Indianapolis corridor “may now take a generation to be revealed.”

There is also much truth to RPA’s assertion that the Hoosier State “has been treated like an ugly stepchild  . . . acts like it.”

I don’t want to be too critical of RPA because beyond rhetoric and calls for its members to contact their legislatures it doesn’t have many weapons to overcome the entrenched opposition to its vision for intercity passenger rail.

I’m reminded of a comment made by the president of a Jesuit university where I once taught.

He wanted to get the city to close a street that ran through the campus, but the mayor was opposed.

The president said every time he met with the mayor he would mention closing that street because “the more you hear something the less it seems like a foreign idea.”

Alas, the president died before he could persuade the mayor to close the street and to this day it remains open through the campus.

It may be that it takes repeated exposure for a message to sink in and be taken seriously. But they also say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

Maybe if rail advocates keep repeating their vision for intercity rail service it will begin to gain traction. But a generation can be a long time and time is running out for the current generations who have dutifully repeated the “we need passenger trains” message for decades now.

Amtrak to Improve Hoosier State Schedule

March 23, 2019

In a bid to save the Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State, Amtrak has reached an agreement with host railroad CSX to shave 15 minutes off the train’s running time and to reschedule it for more convenient times.

The schedule changes are to take effect in April, but may be too little, too late.

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb has recommended ending the state’s $3 million annual funding of the quad-weekly train and the House of Representatives defeated an effort to add funding for the train to the state’s biennial budget, which is now being considered by the Senate.

In addition to the $3 million in state funding, the Hoosier State also is funded by more than $500,000 contributed by local governments along the route.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the changes are intended to attract passengers.

He said Amtrak is also talking to CSX about changing the schedule of the tri-weekly Chicago-New York Cardinal, which uses the same route as the Hoosier State in Indiana and which operates on days the Hoosier State does not.

“We wanted to show that there’s improvement that’s possible,” Magliari said. “And there’s more improvement that’s possible. But there has to a train to improve for it to be improved.”

In a news release, Amtrak said the Hoosier State will depart Indianapolis later than its current 6 a.m. departure time and arrive back in Indy earlier than the current 11:39 p.m. scheduled time.

Amtrak said the schedule changes will save $72,000 in annual operating costs to the state, although it not clear how that will be achieved.

The Hoosier State operates northbound on Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday and southbound on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

“Together, these trains [Hoosier State and Cardinal] carried more than 60,000 customers last year and provide daily service on an important Amtrak Midwest route, one with great potential that we look forward to developing with our partners at INDOT and CSX,” said Joe McHugh, Amtrak’s vice president for state-supported services, in a statement. “As partners, we can further improve the financial performance, reduce trip times and offer a still better option than driving I-65.”

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.

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.