Posts Tagged ‘Eric Holcomb’

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.

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 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.

Indiana Gov. Wants to Ax Hoosier State Funding

January 12, 2019

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb wants to end the annual $3 million funding that the state pay to underwrite operations of Amtrak’s Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State.

If the Indiana General Assembly adopts that proposal, funding for the quad-weekly train would end on June 30.

Micah Vincent, director of the Indiana Office of Management and Budget, said the train’s ridership is not high enough or growing quickly enough to justify the funding.

Aside from funding from the Indiana Department of Transportation, the Hoosier State is also underwritten by $500,000 provided by the cities of Lafayette, West Lafayette, Crawfordsville, Rensselaer and Tippecanoe County.

The route has had a troubled past. Iowa Pacific Holdings took over the train in 2015 from Amtrak but gave it up in March 2017 when the state spurned its request for higher funding.

Ending Hoosier State funding was one line item in a $33.8 billion budget that Holcomb submitted to the legislature this week.

Elected officials along the train’s route said they were surprised to learn of Holcomb’s request to spike the state’s funding.

“We were like, ‘What the …’” said West Lafayette Mayor Dennis said. “I’d say we didn’t see this one coming.”

Dennis said he later received a note from Crawfordsville Mayor Todd Barton expressing similar surprise.

Barton, Dennis and Tippecanoe County Commissioner Tom Murtaugh agreed saving the Hoosier State is going to be a challenge. “We need to sit down and figure out what our next step is.”

The governor’s budget proposal was for the next two fiscal years.

Ending state funding would endanger the train, Dennis said, because West Lafayette, Lafayette, Tippecanoe County, Crawfordsville and Rensselaer would be unable to make up for the state’s share of the funding.

Amtrak statistics show the Hoosier State’s ridership in fiscal year 2018 was down 5.5 percent, from 29,504 in 2017 to 27,876 in 2018.

Dennis said mayors and county commissioners served by the Hoosier State are already formulating a strategy to save the state funding.

“Is this just a hiccup in the budget process?” Dennis said. “Who knows? We’re about to find out. But we’ve saved this train before.”

Another lawmaker who is ready to fight to save the Hoosier State funding is Senator Jim Merritt, an Indianapolis Republican who is running for mayor of Indianapolis

“Train service between Indianapolis and Chicago is vital, and I’ll work to restore the funding in the budget that was there before,” said Merritt, who is a former vice president of the Indiana Rail Road and works as a consultant for Anacostia Railroad Company

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the passenger carrier is working with the INDOT to discuss “how does the service work and what service would there be” if the Hoosier State was discontinued.

Cities between Indianapolis and Chicago are served on the days the Hoosier State does not run by the Chicago-New York Cardinal.

Magliari would not comment on whether the loss of the state’s $3 million annual funding would mean the end of the Hoosier State.

“But the dust is just starting to settle on what we heard yesterday,” Magliari said. “Governors propose budgets and legislators consider what governors propose.”

In his budget message, Holcomb had noted that the Cardinal would continue to provide intercity rail service to the cites served by the Hoosier State.

Two Indiana lawmakers who have championed state funding of the Hoosier State in the past are since left the legislature.

Senator Brandt Hershman retired from the Senate in early 2018, and former Rep. Randy Truitt did not seek re-election in 2016.

As Indiana’s lieutenant governor, Holcomb rode the Hoosier State in 2016 on the occasion of the train’s first year anniversary under Iowa Pacific operation.

During that trip he touted the train’s better dining options, WiFi, improved on-time departures and arrivals, and ticket revenues that were up 20 percent.

Holcomb said the train was important for tourism and economic development.

“We worked across city lines, party lines and bottom line, quite frankly, to make sure this thing happened,” Holcomb said back in 2016.

Now Holcomb is saying the route has failed to live up to its promise.

Amtrak’s Magliari disputed an assertion that Holcomb made in his budget message that Amtrak is moving away from corridor services.

“I will say that this kind of service – state-sponsored corridors of shorter than 750 miles – are where we see growth coming,” he said. “And it’s where we’ve had growth in recent years. Now it’s half of our ridership on services such as these. This route has a lot of potential.”

Crawsfordsville Mayor Barton said ridership in his community has been very good.

“We’ve become really a destination for people from other places to come and board the train here,” he said.