Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak’s Cardinal’

Amtrak Spokesman: We May have Underestimated Difficulty of Keeping State Funding of Hoosier State

July 6, 2019

An Amtrak spokesman acknowledged in an interview with Indiana Public Media that the passenger carrier may have underestimated how difficult it would be to convince Indiana lawmakers to continue funding the Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State.

“People don’t understand how this works, because culturally the Cardinal comes through there [Indianapolis] late at night or early in the morning, [and] people don’t see it. People don’t have a picture of how this works,” said Amtrak’s Marc Magliari.

In the interview, Magliari said Indiana gave up on the Hoosier State before it had a chance to be successful.

The Hoosier State ran for the final time on June 30 after the state legislature declined to continue its $3 million annual funding of the train, which operated four days a week on days that the Chicago-New York Cardinal did not operate.

Magliari drew a comparison between the Hoosier State and the Chicago-Grand Rapids, Michigan, Pere Marquette, which is funded by the Michigan Department of Transportation.

He said the Hoosier State and Pere Marquette routes are the approximate same distance of 181 miles.

“We have the same seat size on the Pere Marquette that you saw on the Hoosier Line, the same food service that you saw on the Hoosier Line, is on the Pere Marquette, and the same Wi-Fi,” Magliari said.

He said Michigan as a state is reaping the benefits of a long term investment in rail.

“No matter how wide you make the highway, it will probably get filled up,” Magliari said. “It’s cheaper to put money into rails than it is highway, rail improvements can last 10 or 20 years, you can see how long it takes for pavement to wear out.”

MDOT spent spent $4 million on the Pere Marquette in fiscal year 2019.
Michigan officials told Indiana Public Media that the state funding of the Pere Marquette equals about $41 per passenger per year, but they make some of that money back through ticket sales and concessions.

Indiana Public Media operates TV station WTIU and FM station WFIU, both based in Bloomington.

Penn Station Work Disrupts Schedules

July 2, 2019

During the period Northeast Regional Trains 110 and 127 will be cancelled. while Keystone Train 640 will terminate in Newark and Train 643 will originate in Newark.

The Cardinal No. 51 will depart New York early on weekdays only while the Maple Leaf Train 63 and Adirondack Train 69 will run as a combination train on Train 63’s schedule. The trains will split at Albany-Rensselaer, New York.

Specific schedule changes include:

Train 51 will depart New York 35 minutes earlier than scheduled, at 6:10 a.m., and will resume normal schedule at Philadelphia.

Trains 63 and 69 will run on their separate, regularly scheduled times on weekends and July 4. Train 63 will depart Albany 20 minutes later than scheduled on weekdays and 25 minutes later than scheduled from Niagara Falls. Train 69 will depart at the scheduled time from Albany on weekdays

Federal Grant to Help Rebuild Chicago Junction

June 13, 2019

A busy and often congested Chicago railroad junction used by Amtrak will get an upgrade with the help of federal funding.

The Federal Railroad Administration has awarded a $19.2 million CRISI grant to the Chicago Region Environment and Transportation Efficiency program to reconfigure Dolton Junction interlocking in Dolton and Riverdale, Illinois.
The interlocking is used by more than 100 freight and passenger trains of CSX, Norfolk Southern, Canadian National, Union Pacific and the Indiana Harbor Belt.

The work will involve upgrading and reconfiguring the connections, including the replacement of a NS connection between the CSX and IHB lines.

A third mainline will be built to provide direct access from CSX and Barr Yard to the UP mainline.

Crossovers will be built between two IHB mainlines, the connection between IHB and UP will be upgraded and remote control will be installed to automate Dolton Tower.

The project extends from 136th Place in Riverdale on the north to Monroe Street in Dolton on the south, and from Eggleston Avenue on the west to Center Street on the east.

Amtrak trains using the junction include the Cardinal and the soon to be discontinued Hoosier State.

CREATE said the work once completed will raise freight train speeds on multiple routes from 15 mph to 30 mph.

That will mean less potential for Amtrak trains to be delayed passing through the interlocking.

OurBus to Seek to Fill Gap Left by Hoosier State Demise

May 28, 2019

A New York-based bus line will seek to fill the void being left when Amtrak’s Hoosier State is discontinued on July 1 between Chicago and Indianapolis.

OurBus announced that it will operate service between the two cities for two months on a trial basis to test the market.

The company might face some stiff competition as Greyhound has eight roundtrips daily between Chicago and Indianapolis while Megabus has six roundtrips.

“We know the train is being taken away,” said OurBus co-founder Alxel Hellman. “We think it means there are a lot of people who are looking for a new transportation option. The routes can go wherever they need to be.”

OurBus plans to lease buses from Gold Shield Transportation in Indianapolis. The buses will have reclining seats and WiFi.

Hellman described them as “high-end buses” that are typically chartered for business conferences or traveling sports teams.

The OurBus service will initially only serve Chicago and Indianapolis, but Hellman said if 100 or more people express interest in a stop by going to the company’s website the service will add it to the schedule.

The Hoosier State, which operates quad-weekly on days that Amtrak’s Chicago-New York Cardinal does not operate, serves intermediate stations in Indiana at Crawfordsville, Lafayette, Rensselaer and Dyer.

The initial fare will be $10 but increase to between $20 and $40.

Although schedules and boarding sites are still being worked out, OurBus said the daily roundtrip will leave Indy in the morning and Chicago in the evening, similar to the current schedule of the Hoosier State.

OurBus has 15 regular routes, mostly in the Northeast and Southeast. This would be the company’s first route in the Midwest.

Hellman said his company, which was founded in 2016, is different from other bus lines because it can quickly adapt to changing needs.

He said OurBus also can offer flexible routes that only run some days of the year to serve, for example, college students returning home to campus before or after semester breaks.

One Menu Cover Being Used in Amtrak Dining Cars

May 9, 2019

While looking around on the Amtrak website recently I noticed that the carrier is now using the same menu cover for all of its full-service dining cars on long-distance trains.

Until recently, menu covers featured an image specific to each of those trains.

That practice, though, has been dropped. Train-specific images still are being used on menus for dining cars on the City of New Orleans and Cardinal.

Specific menus are also shown on the Amtrak website for the Auto Train, Lake Shore Limited and Capitol Limited but no train-special images accompany those menus.

The Auto Train has two menus, one for coach passengers and one for sleeping car passengers. If you were wondering, the entrees available in coach include flat iron steak, panko-crusted pollock, roasted chicken breast and lasagna.

The sleeping car menu on the Auto Train features beef petite tender filet, lemon pepper cod, thyme roasted chicken and mushroom bolognese lasagna.

Each menu has the same children’s menu of chicken tenders or macaroni and cheese. The desert fare is mostly the same in coach and sleeper except that sleeping car passengers are advised to ask their server about that day’s Amtrak signature dessert.

The menus for the Lake Shore Limited and Capitol Limited are identical and there is no mention of the train names.

Amtrak has used a largely standardized dining car menu for its long-distance trains for a few years now although there were a few slight variations for some routes.

Also gone from the dining car menus are entrees created by chefs who were members of an Amtrak culinary advisory committee.

One thing that hasn’t changed are the high prices for entrees. The priciest is the land and sea combo, which features a Black Angus flat iron steak and a lump crab cake for $39.

If you just want the steak it will cost $25 if you are paying for your meal as opposed to it being included in your sleeping car room fare.

The crab cake is only available in the land and sea combo. The seafood entrees is Norwegian salmon. The chicken entree is thyme-roasted chicken breast while the pasta entree is a rigatoni pasta that is billed as being vegan compliant.

At $16.50 the rigatoni pasta is the least expensive dinner entree. As has been the practice for several years now, a side salad costs extra, although it is complimentary for sleeping car passengers.

Lunch entrees include an entree salad with chicken breast for an additional charge, black bean and corn veggie burger, Angus burger, baked chilaquiles, and steamed mussels.

Prices of the lunch entrees range from $14.50 to $12.50. At lunch and dinner there are four desert items available, including sugar free vanilla pudding, a flourless chocolate tart, New York-style cheesecake and a seasonal desert.

The breakfast fare seems rather pricey for what you get. Three pancakes cost $10.50, which doesn’t include a breakfast meat.

Scrambled eggs with roasted potatoes or grits and a croissant cost $8.50.

The continental breakfast of cereal or hot oatmeal accompanied with fresh seasonal fruit, Greek yogurt and a croissant is $8.75.

Other breakfast entrees include a made to order three-egg omelette, and cheese quesadillas with eggs and tomatillo sauce. Both of these come with a croissant and omelette also has potatoes or grits.

Breakfast meats include pork sausage, chicken sausage and bacon, but must be ordered separately. You will also pay extra for such toppings as cheese or guacamole.

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.

Indiana Senate Also Snubs Hoosier State Funding

April 21, 2019

The Indiana Senate approved a budget last week that did not contain funding to continue operation of Amtrak’s Hoosier State between Chicago and Indianapolis.

Furthermore, the Senate refused to take up an amendment offered by a Lafayette senator to keep the state funding in place.

Senator Ron Alting said he wasn’t giving up on finding funding for the Hoosier State, including as part of the conference committee that will reconcile differences in the two-year budget between the House and Senate.

The legislature plans to wrap its session by April 29.

Indiana currently pays $3 million a year to operate the quad-weekly train, which operates on days that the Chicago-New York Cardinal does not operate.

The state’s funding expires on June 30 and Amtrak earlier ceased to take reservations or sell tickets for travel on the Hoosier State starting July 1.

Alting said the Senate sponsors of the authors of budget bill “expressed their reluctance to have me present my amendment.”

The House had defeated an amendment made by state Rep. Chris Campbell of West Lafayette to include Hoosier State funding in the house version of the budget.

“While it saddens me we could not resolve this problem, I have spoken with the authors of the Senate’s budget proposal, and they are keeping an open mind in terms of possibly adding the funding during a conference committee,” Alting said in a statement.

“We’ve faced some obstacles, but I’m not giving up,” Alting said. “This is about persistence, and I will continue to work to obtain funding for the Hoosier State rail line.”

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari told the Lafayette Journal & Courier that Amtrak hasn’t given up on the Hoosier State, but also said the carrier would not continue to operate the train without the $3 million in the state budget each of the next two years.

Other Hoosier State funding includes $500,000 from Lafayette, West Lafayette, Tippecanoe County, Crawfordsville and Rensselaer.

“We’re continuing to work with legislators and other interest groups regarding the continuation of daily service on this route, which is funded four days a week by our contract with (INDOT),” Magliari said.

Lafayette Mayor Tony Roswarski said he supports his city’s continued financial support of the Hoosier State provided that Amtrak and the state commit to improvements in speed and on-time performance.

“I’d like to see it saved, if we can,” Roswarski said. “I would say that’s a very difficult hill to climb. That’s a long shot, right now.”

Indiana began funding the Hoosier State in 2015 because by federal law state and/or local governments must pay for Amtrak routes of less than 750 miles.

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb had earlier this year submitted a budget request that omitted Hoosier State funding.

The Indiana Department of Transportation has said that 2018 ridership was down 17.8 percent from the 2014 level.

The day after the Senate passed its version of the budget without any Amtrak funding, a group of Indiana state senators and representatives urged Holcomb to continue funding for the Hoosier State.

Amtrak to Suspend Hoosier State July 1

April 9, 2019

With state funding set to expire in just over two months, Amtrak has ceased selling tickets for its Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State.

Amtrak said on Monday that the Hoosier State would be suspended on July 1 when state funding will end.

Gov. Eric Holcomb removed funding for the quad-weekly train from the budget proposal that he submitted to the Indiana General Assembly earlier this year.

Neither chamber of the legislature has taken steps to continue the funding.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the 500 passengers who have purchased tickets to ride the train after June 30 will be accommodated on the Cardinal, which operated between Chicago and New York via Indianapolis three days a week.

“This service only exists because of the state contract,” Magliari said. “We can’t in good conscience continue to sell tickets without a contract in place.”

The Indiana Senate is expected to approve is budget plan late this week, but news reports have suggested that funding for the Hoosier State has not gained enough support in that chamber.

The Indiana Department of Transportation has provided $3 million annually for the Hoosier State in recent years with another $500,000 being contributed by communities served by the train.

One news report in Indianapolis said Amtrak continues to discuss with Indiana policy makers saving the Hoosier State, but it is not clear if those efforts will bear any fruit.

Nor is it clear if Amtrak will implement a previously announced plan to cut the Chicago-Indianapolis running time by 15 minutes and reschedule the Hoosier State in late April.

Rensselaer Mayor Stephen Wood said he has discussed saving the train with state legislators but it is unlikely funding will be restored before the June 30 deadline.

Although he said the outlook for the train “looks pretty bleak,” he said some deal to fund the Hoosier State is still theoretically possible, if highly unlikely.

Wood said there has been a report going around that Holcomb wants to use the funding normally given to the Hoosier State to underwrite more non-stop flights for Indianapolis International Airport.

Hoosier State Down to its Last Strike

March 6, 2019

To use a baseball analogy, Amtrak’s Hoosier State is down to its last strike.

The quad-weekly Chicago-Indianapolis train has swung and missed twice now, first when Indiana Gov. Eric Holmcomb declined to seek continued funding for the train in his budget proposal and, second, when the lower house of the Indiana General Assembly also rejected continued funding.

The House actually voted against Hoosier State funding twice. A House committee declined to reinstate the funding to Holcomb’s proposed budget and then the full House voted against an amendment to add the funding back.

Now the hopes to continue the train go to the Senate which, in theory, could restore the funding. But it would then have to get through a conference committee.

Much of the political support for continued Hoosier State funding has come from Lafayette and West Lafayette.

Those two cities along with Tippecanoe County and the cities of Crawfordsville and Rensselaer collectively contribute $500,000 a year. The state’s share for the Hoosier State is $3 million annually.

The train’s supporters in Lafayette knew that keeping state funding going was a long shot once the governor deleted it from his budget.

“We’ve been working and we knew were going to have to keep working,” Arvid Olson head of Greater Lafayette Commerce’s transportation committee, told the Lafayette Journal & Courier shortly after a House committee declined to reinstate funding for the train.

Olson acknowledged that the train’s ridership isn’t where its supporters would like it to be and, so-so ridership was one reason that Holcomb gave for ending the funding.

“We’re not flailing,” Olson said. “We’re just making the case that the Hoosier State is an important economic development piece for our community. And if it goes away, it’s going to be very expensive, if not impossible, to get back.”

Indeed it will be. But it won’t be impossible.

The Hoosier State has a long, colorful and at times troubling history.

It began on Oct. 1, 1980, as demonstration project mandated by Congress at the behest of former  Indiana Senator Birch Bayh.

Bayh had slipped an amendment into the 1979 Amtrak Reorganization Act directing Amtrak to launch a Chicago-Indianapolis route.

No small part of the rational for the amendment was to give Amtrak a dedicated train to ferry equipment to and from the Beech Grove shops.

The same law that gave birth to the Hoosier State had also made possible the discontinuance of Amtrak’s last train to serve Indianapolis, the New York-Kansas City National Limited.

From Day One the Hoosier State has been hindered by a slow and circuitous route.

None of the traditional passenger routes between Chicago and Indianapolis were intact when the Hoosier State was launched. Things have not improved since then.

The Hoosier State might have folded in the 1980s because, then-Amtrak President W. Graham Claytor, told Congress in March 1984, it failed to meet the Congressionally-mandated loss per mile and passenger-mile-to-train mile criteria.

But operating the Hoosier State was cheaper for Amtrak than paying Conrail to ferry equipment to and from Beech Grove.

The Hoosier State became a quad-weekly train on April 27, 1986, when the Chicago-New York Cardinal was rerouted between Chicago and Cincinnati via Indianapolis.

Then as now, the Hoosier State, which had been renamed Cardinal at the time that it became quad weekly, ran on the days the tri-weekly Cardinal did not run between Chicago and Indianapolis.

Restoration of the Hoosier State name and daily operation began on Oct. 25, 1987.

An Amtrak budget crunch in 1995 led to the Hoosier State reverting on June 11, 1995, to tri-weekly operation.

That resulted in no rail service from Indianapolis to Chicago on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and no rail service from Chicago to Indy on Mondays and Wednesdays.

Amtrak said it only kept the Hoosier State in order to ferry equipment to and from Beech Grove.

After Amtrak decided not to discontinue the Cardinal between Chicago and Cincinnati as part of its September 1995 route restructuring, it discontinued the Hoosier State instead.

The state of Indiana declined to provide funding to keep the Hoosier State going, a decision made by then-Indiana Gov. Evan Bayh, the son of the man whose efforts had been key in creating the Hoosier State.

Amtrak created a Chicago-Beech Grove “hospital train” to ferry equipment, but it often received unfavorable dispatching from the host railroads and crews often outlawed.

Using the Cardinal to ferry equipment between Chicago and Indianapolis also proved to be unsatisfactory because of delays incurred in switching cars at Indianapolis Union Station.

Amtrak reinstated the Hoosier State as a tri-weekly train on July 19, 1998, operating on days that the Cardinal did not run between Chicago and Indianapolis.

On Dec. 17, 1999, the Hoosier State was extended to Jeffersonville, Indiana, across the Ohio River from Louisville, Kentucky, in a bid to build mail and express business. It was renamed Kentucky Cardinal.

The move was part of Amtrak’s ill-fated Network Growth Strategy that sought to make the passenger railroad financially self-sufficient through head-end business.

That didn’t pan out as hoped and in January 2003 Amtrak said it would end the Kentucky Cardinal in July because of low ridership, high financial costs and the failure of head-end traffic to develop.

However, Amtrak returned the Hoosier State name and operated the train between Chicago and Indianapolis on the Cardinal’s off days.

And that was where things stood until 2015 when a proviso of the 2008 Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement took effect that required states to fund Amtrak trains operating less than 750 miles.

It was not a sure thing that Indiana would approve funding to keep the Hoosier State but a deal was worked out with the Indiana Department of Transportation and online communities chipping in funding.

The train was turned over to a private company, Iowa Pacific Holdings, although Amtrak operating personnel actually operated the trains under contract.

Under IP stewardship, the Hoosier State had full-service dining in a full-wide dome car. IP actively sought to market the service.

In late January 2017 Iowa Pacific said it would cease operating the Hoosier State after the state rebuffed its request for more money. Amtrak took over the Hoosier State on March 1.

Funding of the Hoosier State is assured through June 30, 2019, and INDOT has said that it will discuss with Amtrak when the train is to be discontinued.

It’s possible that some last-ditch plan to save the train might materialize.
Amtrak will have to ferry equipment from Beech Grove on the Cardinal or in hospital trains. As the carrier discovered several years ago, those can be less than ideal from an operations standpoint.

Then again Amtrak President Richard Anderson recently hinted that Beech Grove may not remain an Amtrak repair shop forever.

In announcing that he was cutting Hoosier State funding, Gov. Holcomb said the train “hasn’t performed as originally billed.”

Primarily he meant that ridership has been disappointing. Patronage in fiscal year 2018 fell 5.5 percent, from 29,504 in 2017 to 27,876 in 2018.

In fiscal year 2014 the Hoosier State carried 33,930 passengers, which means that ridership has fallen 21.7 percent over five fiscal years.

Rail passenger advocates have pointed out – correctly – that ridership would improve if the Hoosier State has a faster travel time. Amtrak has said the same thing.

But getting there won’t be inexpensive and it’s unlikely that Indiana will agree to contribute capital funding toward that end.

Legislators may not understand the ins and outs of why the Hoosier State is so slow. Nor do they care about such things. They only see the falling patronage and wonder why spend limited public funds on a service that is losing ridership.

Olson of the Lafayette chamber of commerce understands that. State lawmakers are under pressure to increase funding for such priorities as the Department of Child Services and education.

“People, we’re finding, are sympathetic,” Olson said. “At the same time, everyone’s approaching this realistically.

“This falls below those things, even though it has value. The governor set the bar high on this. “We haven’t cleared the bar, yet. Can we clear the bar? I think we can. This [is] maybe one of those things we appreciate only after it’s gone.”

Trains Canceled Ahead of Storm

January 18, 2019

Amtrak has canceled several trains in advance of a coming weekend winter storm expected to slam the Midwest and East while modifying the schedules of several other trains.

The modified schedule will be in effect on Saturday and Sunday (Jan 19-20) with service restored pending improved conditions.

Canceled on Saturday and Sunday are all three eastern long-distance trains, the Capitol Limited, Lake Shore Limited and Cardinal.

However, the Cardinal will operate between Chicago and Indianapolis on Saturday.

Other schedule modifications include the following:

Acela Express: Trains 2250, 2254, 2249, 2251, 2253 will operate only between New York and Boston. Train 2290 is canceled.

Northeast Regional: Trains 160,164, 88,161,135,167 will operate only between New York and Boston.

Keystone Service:  Trains 662, 664, 672, 661, 667, 671 are canceled.

Pennsylvanian:  Canceled over its entire route.

Vermonter:  Trains 54 and 57 are canceled between St. Albans, Vermont, and New Haven, Connecticut.

Northeast Corridor service between New York and Washington and points south will continue to operate as scheduled.

In a service advisory, Amtrak advised travelers to check the status of their train at its website on its smart phone app.

Passengers with reservations on trains that are canceled will typically be accommodated on trains with similar departure times or another day.

Amtrak said it will waive additional charges for passengers seeking to change their reservation.