Posts Tagged ‘Chicago-Indianapolis corridor’

Hanging With the Hoosier State in Its Final Week

August 4, 2019

Boarding has begun for the Chicago-bound Hoosier State on June 25 at Indianapolis Union Station.

By the time I arrived in Indianapolis Amtrak’s Hoosier State had just one week left to live.

I would experience No. 851 three times before it made its final trip on June 30, riding it once and photographing it trackside twice.

I have ridden the Hoosier State several times but not since August 1991.

Interestingly, my purpose for riding the Hoosier State nearly 28 years later would be the same as why I rode it in 1991.

I was moving and needed to go back to my former hometown to pick up a car and drive it to my new hometown.

In 1991 I had driven from Indianapolis to State College, Pennsylvania. In 2019 I drove from Cleveland to Indianapolis.

Boarding of No. 851 began shortly after I arrived at Indianapolis Union Station on the morning of June 25.

I was the second passenger to board the Horizon fleet coach to which most Indy passengers were assigned. The car was about two-thirds full.

The consist also included an Amfleet coach, an Amfleet food service car and two P42DC locomotives, Nos. 77 and 55.

We departed on time but a few minutes later received a penalty application near CP Holt that required a conversation with the CSX PTC desk.

We would later encounter a delay between Crawfordsville and Lafayette due to signal issues.

Yet there was no freight train interference en route that I observed. We stopped briefly in Chicago so a Metra train could go around us.

That was probably because we were early. We halted at Chicago Union Station 20 minutes ahead of schedule.

I had heard the former Monon can be rough riding, but I didn’t think it was any worse than other Amtrak routes I’ve ridden.

There wasn’t any of the abrupt sideways jerking that I’ve experienced on other Amtrak trains.

The journey did seem to be slow going at times, particularly through the CSX yard in Lafayette; on the former Grand Trunk Western west of Munster, Indiana; through the Union Pacific yard on the former Chicago & Eastern Illinois; and within Chicago.

Overall, the experience was much the same as riding any other Amtrak Midwest corridor train although it featured an entrance into Chicago that I had not experienced before in daylight.

The crew said nothing about it being the last week of operation for Nos. 850 and 851.

My next encounter with the Hoosier State came in Lafayette on June 28.

No. 851 arrived on time with a more typical consist that included cars being ferried from Beach Grove shops to Chicago.

These included a Superliner sleeping car, a Viewliner baggage car, a Horizon food service car, and a Heritage baggage car in addition to the standard Hoosier State consist of three cars. On the point was P42DC No. 99.

I was positioned next to the former Big Four station at Riehle Plaza so I could photograph above the train.

Although a sunny morning, the tracks were more in shadows than I would have liked. Nonetheless I was pleased, overall, with what I came away with.

After No 851 departed – it operates on CSX as P317, an original Hoosier State number – I went over to Fifth Street to photograph it sans railroad tracks.

One stretch of rails has been left in the street in front of the former Monon passenger station.

My last encounter with the Hoosier State would be my briefest.

I drove to Linden to photograph the last northbound run at the railroad museum at the former joint Monon-Nickel Plate depot.

No. 851 was 24 minutes late leaving Indianapolis Union Station and about that late at Crawfordsville.

It had a consist similar to what I had seen in Lafayette two days earlier. P42DC No. 160 had a battered nose with some of its silver paint peeling away.

I wasn’t aware until I saw them that two former Pennsylvania Railroad cars had been chartered to operate on the rear of the last Hoosier State.

They were Colonial Crafts and Frank Thomson. The latter carried a Pennsy keystone tail sign on its observation end emblazoned with the Hoosier State name.

It was a nice touch and after those cars charged past the Hoosier State was gone in more ways than one.

 

That’s my Horizon coach reflected in the lower level of the Lafayette station.

 

Watching the countryside slide by west of Monon, Indiana.

The Hoosier State has come to a halt on Track 16 at Chicago Union Station. That’s the inbound City of New Orleans to the left.

A crowd lines the platform in Lafayette as the Hoosier State arrives en route to Chicago.

The former Big Four station in Lafayette was moved to its current location to serve Amtrak. At one time it also served intercity buses.

Pulling out of Lafayette on the penultimate northbound trip to Chicago.

P42DC No. 160, which pulled the last northbound Amtrak Train No. 851 had a well-worn nose.

Two former Pennsylvania Railroad passenger cars brought up the rear of the last northbound Hoosier State.

All Aboard in Indianapolis

July 11, 2019

Passengers begin boarding the northbound Hoosier State at Indianapolis Union Station on June 25.

It was the last week of operation of Train No. 851, which operated on the days that the Cardinal did not run to Chicago.

Most of those boarding were assigned to the Horizon fleet coach shown above. The exception was those holding business class tickets who boarded the Amfleet food service car ahead of the Horizon coach.

The Hoosier State left Indianapolis for the final time on June 30.

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.

Hoosier State to Make Final Trips on Sunday

June 29, 2019

Amtrak’s Hoosier State boards passengers at Indianapolis Union Station on June 25 during its last week of operation.

The Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State will make it last trips on Sunday.

Amtrak is “suspending” the train effective July 1 because the State of Indiana declined to renew its funding.

Nos. 850 and 851 operate on the days that the Chicago-New York Cardinal does not operate.

From Indianapolis to Chicago, No. 50 runs on Monday, Thursday and Saturday. In the other direction No. 51 operates on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

The Cardinal will continue to operate after the Hoosier State is discontinued.

The Hoosier State appeared to be doomed once Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb sent a budget request to the state legislature last February that omitted funding for the train, which was also funded in part by various online cities and counties.

Holcomb cited falling ridership for ending the funding.

The Hoosier State began in October 1980 as a demonstration route. It was discontinued in September 1995 as part of a major Amtrak service restructuring and retrenchment but reinstated in July 1998 in part to give Amtrak a more reliable means of ferrying equipment between Chicago and the Beech Grove shops in suburban Indianapolis.

The Hoosier State has skated on thin ice since 2013 when Indiana became the last state to agree to a funding plan mandated by the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 that required state and local governments to pay for Amtrak routes of less than 750 miles.

Initially, the Indiana Department of Transportation chose Corridor Capitol, a Chicago-based rail passenger services development company, to manage and operate the Hoosier State.

However, INDOT severed ties with Corridor Capitol in November 2014 and Amtrak continued to operate Nos. 850 and 851 on a short-term contract.

INDOT said the following spring that the Hoosier State would end on April 1, 2015, due to regulations of the Federal Railroad Administration that would have required the state to act as a rail carrier, despite the state owning no tracks or trains.

INDOT appealed to the FRA and the Hoosier State continued to operate under a short-term agreement.

In August 2015, INDOT reached a four-year agreement with Iowa Pacific and Amtrak to operate the train.

IP was to provide providing and maintain the rolling stock as well as provide food service and marketing.

Amtrak would provide ticketing services and train operating crews.

Iowa Pacific said in January 2017 it was withdrawing from the contract after INDOT refused to increase its financial compensation.

Starting March 1, 2017, the Hoosier State became an all Amtrak operation.

Efforts to emend the budget in the legislature to put back funding for the Hoosier State failed and Amtrak said in April that the train would be “suspended” on July 1.

At one point Amtrak said it has reached an agreement with CSX to reduce the running time and that the Hoosier State would be rescheduled in late April to provide better times at Indianapolis.

But those changes were never made and it is unclear if they will eventually be applied to the Cardinal.

The Hoosier State is thus poised to become the Amtrak train to be discontinued in several years and the first to end due to PRIAA requirements.

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.

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.

Indiana Senate Committee Omits Hoosier State Funding

April 13, 2019

An Indiana Senate committee has concurred with a decision by the House and Gov. Eric Holcomb to end funding for Amtrak’s Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State.

The committee on Thursday approved its version of the state budget for the next two years and left out funding for Amtrak’s quad-weekly train.

The budget approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee will be voted on next week by the full Senate and is expected to be go to a conference committee to reconcile differences between the House and Senate.

The legislature hopes to adjourn by April 29.

Holcomb had recommended earlier this year paring the state’s annual $3 million for the Hoosier State and the Senate committee declined to reinstate that funding.

The Hoosier State also receives $500,000 annually from various communities served by the train.

State funding will end on June 30 and Amtrak has announced it will suspend operations of the Hoosier State starting July 1.

Passengers already ticketed to ride after that date will be rebooked on Amtrak’s tri-weekly Cardinal or be forced to find alternative transportation.

The Senate committee largely agreed with Holcomb’s list of transportation priorities including completion of Interstate 69 from Martinsville to Evansville, finish rebuilding U.S. 31 into an interstate-quality highway to South Bend, creating trails throughout the state, and paying for new airline service from Indianapolis International Airport.

Amtrak Said it Hasn’t Given Up on Hoosier State

April 11, 2019

Amtrak isn’t giving up on the Hoosier State and said its announcement that it will suspend the Chicago-Indianapolis train on July 1 should be viewed at this point as a 90-day notice.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari told the Lafyette (Indiana) Journal & Courier that the carrier continues to work to try to keep the quad-weekly train operating.

“It means we’re not certain there will be service after July 1,” Magliari said. “What would you do if you were us? Would you merrily take reservations? Or would you be transparent to customers? We’re being transparent to customers.”

He was referring to Amtrak’s announcement that it will no long accept reservations or sell tickets for travel on the Hoosier State after July 1.

The 500 passengers who’ve already made reservations or purchased tickets for travel after July 1 will be accommodated on Amtrak’s tri-weekly Cardinal, which uses the same route as the Hoosier State between Chicago and Indianapolis.

However, Amtrak is also warning that some of those passengers may need to find alternative transportation arrangements.

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb removed funding for the Hoosier State from his budget request sent to the Indiana General Assembly early this year.

Thus far the House has gone along with that although the Senate has not yet acted on the budget.

News reports have indicated the prospects for the Senate restoring the funding appear to be bleak.

In the current fiscal year, Indiana is paying $3 million to Amtrak to operate the Hoosier State with another $500,000 coming from communities served by the train.

Magliari said Amtrak is still reworking the schedule for the Hoosier State to cut 15 minutes from the five- running time.

It has said a new schedule is expected to be implemented in late April.