Posts Tagged ‘Indiana Department of Transportation’

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.

States Balk at FRA Passenger Safety Plan Rule

December 27, 2017

Transportation officials in several states are resisting a Federal Railroad Administration rule that requires passenger carriers to develop a System Safety Plan.

The states are not opposed to safety plans per se, but object to who is responsible for the plans, particularly in cases in which a state owns the rails over which a carrier such as Amtrak operates.

The FRA rule applies to “states, state agencies and instrumentalities, and political subdivisions of states that own [but do not necessarily operate]” railroads, railroad equipment, or provide financial support for passenger trains.

An analysis published on the website of Trains magazine observed that states are arguing that safety is the purview of the railroad tenant, not the landlord, and forcing a state to create a safety plan imposes a financial burden.

Some states have contended that they lack the experience and expertise to create safety plans. The Vermont Agency of Transportation, which owns a portion of the route used by Amtrak’s Downeaster said that its officials aren’t even allowed on the right-of-way without the railroad’s permission.

Also protesting to the FRA have been the Capitol Corridor and San Joaquin joint power authorities in California, Indiana Department of Transportation, Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, and the North Carolina Department of Transportation.

The FRA issued the rule in August 2016, saying that an “intercity passenger railroad” must create a safety plan that “continually and systematically evaluates railroad safety hazards on its system and manages the resulting risks to reduce the number and rates of railroad accidents, incidents, injuries, and fatalities.”

The deadline for creation of these safety plans has been delayed five times in the past 16 months. It is now set to take effect in December 2018.

Some states have also said the rule raises a constitutional question of how far the federal government can go to regulate state behavior.

“In opening the door to application of its [safety plan] rule … the FRA plainly has overreached its grant of enabling authority from Congress,” the Vermont petition states. “Moreover, by exposing such state entities with the untoward consequences of ‘railroad carrier’ status, the FRA will have a chilling effect on activities encouraged by Congress …” including state acquisition of lines threatened by abandonment.

In the meantime, Amtrak said it continues to create its own safety plan. “We are taking action independent of the stay of the rule. We are building a Safety Management System which includes the development of a System Safety Program,” an Amtrak spokeswoman said.

Hoosier State OT Performance Improving

October 23, 2017

The on-time performance of two Amtrak trains in Indiana has shown some improvement of late.

From a 37.1 percent rating in August the Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State improved to 56 percent in September.

The Chicago-New York Cardinal, which uses the same route, had an on-time performance of 58 percent during the month

Brittany White, stakeholder and marketing manager for the Indiana Department of Transportation, said the on-time performance for the Hoosier State for the month of October thus far has been close to 80 percent.

Amtrak has said most of the delays to the trains have occurred on CSX tracks between Indianapolis and Dyer, Indiana.

These run the gamut between malfunctioning signals to freight train interference.

CSX spokesman Rob Doolittle said the delays have resulted from issues stemming from implementation of a new operating model known as precision scheduled railroading.

He said changes in how freight cars are sorted at the railroad’s Avon Yard west of Indianapolis resulted in unanticipated congestion that contributed to service issues for Amtrak.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the passenger carrier has seen a slow but steady increase in on-time performance.

INDOT has hired a consultant to identify areas for improvement in Amtrak, CSX and INDOT operations. That report is expected to be completed in early 2018.

Amtrak Takes Over Hoosier State Today

March 1, 2017

Amtrak has announced that it will provide Wi-Fi, business class and a Café Car on the Hoosier State when it takes over the train today (March 1)

It will also assign its great dome car Ocean View to the train for the month of March.

Amtrak logoThe equipment lineup for Nos. 850 and 851 will include 68-seat Horizon fleet coaches and a café car with an attendant that will provide table seating at one end and 14 business class seats at the other.

All cars will have power outlets, reading lights and tray tables  at each seat and free cellular-based AmtrakConnect® Wi-Fi that combines mobile data from multiple carriers along the route.

Business class will provide 2-1 seating with leather seating surfaces, foot-rests and leg-rests.

Passengers booking business class aboard the Hoosier State will receive a 25-percent points bonus for Amtrak Guest Rewards members, complimentary coffee or tea, and use of the Amtrak Metropolitan Lounge in Chicago, which offers priority boarding.

Ocean View will provide upper level seats for coach passengers on a first come, first served basis at no extra cost. The car was built in 1955 by the Budd Company for the Great Northern Railway.

One-way adult ticket prices for coach service to and from Chicago range from $25 to $48 from Indianapolis, $25 to $47 from Crawfordsville, $23 to $45 from Lafayette, $17 to $30 from Rensselaer and $12 to $22 from Dyer.

Children ages 2-12 are half-fare and discounts are also available for students, seniors, military and others.
The additional charge each way for business class is $21 from Indianapolis and Crawfordsville, $20 from Lafayette and $14 from Rensselaer and Dyer.

Amtrak and Indiana Department of Transportation, which provides some funding for the service, are offering a “buy-one, get-one” fare during March, so two adult passengers can travel for the price of one.

See the Deals tab on Amtrak.com for applicable requirements for fare code V216.

The Hoosier State operates from Indianapolis to Chicago on Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and  Friday mornings. It operates from Chicago to Indianapolis on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.

The Chicago-New Cardinal operates on days and time slots that the Hoosier State does not operate.

Since July 2015 Iowa Pacific Holdings had provided equipment, on-board service and marketing for the Hoosier State with Amtrak providing operating personnel and maintaining relationships with the host railroads.

IP pulled out of the Hoosier State after INDOT refused its request for additional money to provide the service.

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.

IP Gave Up Hoosier State for Financial Reasons

February 2, 2017

As the Indiana Department of Transportation frames it, the withdrawal of Iowa Pacific from operating the Hoosier State was due to IP making an unreasonable demand.

But as Iowa Pacific CEO Ed Ellis sees it, it was the result of a quirk in the contract that his company had with INDOT to operate the train.

Iowa PacificThat quirk, Ellis said, was that the compensation IP received declined each time the on-time performance of the Chicago-Indianapolis train improved.

Ellis said he sought to renegotiate the contract to guarantee that IP would receive a guaranteed $150,000 a month. But INDOT turned that down.

The situation is complex because Amtrak was also involved in operating the Hoosier State by providing operating crews and handling relationships with the host railroads.

Iowa Pacific provided the rolling stock (including locomotives) and food service employees, and did the marketing and promotion work.

Ellis told WBAA radio station in West Lafayette, Indiana, that INDOT paid Amtrak before it paid Iowa Pacific whenever there was any profit.

INDOT held separate contracts with Amtrak and Iowa Pacific. Amtrak billed the state for fixed operating costs plus “estimated third party costs,” that included maintenance of way charges and “performance incentives” paid to CSX for running the Hoosier State on time.

Iowa Pacific received the difference between what INDOT paid Amtrak and a fixed monthly sum of $254,000, INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield said.

Consequently, Amtrak received $4 million in 2016 while IP got $500,000.

Amtrak received monthly payments of between $288,000 in April to $172,000 in August. IP lost $34,000 in April but earned $82,000 in August.

The costs charged by Amtrak and Iowa Pacific are separate from what those companies earned in coach revenue, food service and business-class fares.

The guarantee that IP sought was more than what the contract specified said Wingfield, who added that it was more than what was reasonable for Iowa Pacific to seek.

Ellis said going into the arrangement to operate the Hoosier State that he didn’t realize how much the payments would favor Amtrak.

“The one thing that I would want to change going forward is to make sure that we put some kind of a floor under what our monthly revenue would be from the contract so that we don’t get into a situation where, at the end, we’re several hundred thousand dollars less than where we thought we would be,” Ellis said.

The Hoosier State began on Oct. 1, 1980, as an Amtrak train. IP took it over in July 2015.

It operated quad-weekly on days that Amtrak’s Chicago-New York Cardinal did not operate between Chicago and Indianapolis.

Amtrak will begin operating the Hoosier State with its own equipment on March 1. Wingfield said Amtrak has verbally committed to trying to add some of the amenities that Iowa Pacific offered, including Wi-Fi service.

INDOT agreed to let Iowa Pacific out of its contract, which was to expire on June 30.

Chicago-Columbus Route Planning to Start

December 20, 2016

All Aboard Ohio said Monday that enough funding has been raised to begin what it described as an alternatives analysis and public input process for a proposed Chicago-Columbus passenger rail route.

Amtrak 4The Indiana Department of Transportation submitted an application to the Federal Railroad Administration in support of the planning process for the route.

In a news release, AAO, a rail passenger advocacy group based in Cleveland, said INDOT offered the locally-raised funds, totaling $350,000, to start the planning process as part of an arrangement with the FRA.

The initial planning work is to be completed by late 2017.  AAO also said the support of the Northeast Indiana Passenger Rail Association was also critical.

The Chicago-Columbus route would operate via Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Lima, Ohio, using large portions of the former Pennsylvania Railroad’s Fort Wayne Line, which hosted Amtrak trains until November 1990 when the trains were rerouted due to Conrail downgrading the route.

“There are only two rail corridors to the east of Chicago that lack heavy freight rail traffic and could offer the potential for frequent, reliable, 110-mph passenger trains,” said Ken Prendergast, executive director of AAO.

The Fort Wayne Line is one of those with Amtrak’s Chicago-Detroit being the other.

Prendergast noted that work is already underway to upgrade the Michigan corridor for 110-mph passenger service.

Hoosier State Expansion Not Expected Soon

December 13, 2016

Although expansion of Iowa Pacific’s Chicago-Indianapolis service has been discussed, Indiana officials say it is unlikely anytime soon.

Iowa PacificNor does the Indiana Department of Transportation expect the travel time of the state-funded Hoosier State to materially increase in the near or medium term.

INDOT said ridership of the Hoosier State has been growing. It was up by 22.3 percent compared with the same month in 2015.

In October 2016, the train handled 2,805 passengers. IP President Ed Ellis said last summer his company would work toward expanded service.

INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield said the agency discussed expansion with consultants last month, but one of them described expansion as a “chicken and egg problem.”

Pasi Lautala, a professor of civil engineering at Railway Transportation Program at Michigan Technological University, said, “You can’t have strong ridership if you don’t have frequency of your trains, and if you start adding trains now you’re adding costs. That’s the constant struggle with public transportation.”

Lautala said that faster travel times would require track upgrades costing millions of dollars and the freight railroads whose tracks Amtrak uses in the Midwest are unlikely to pay for that because they don’t need faster speeds.

Incremental improvements to the existing track might cut the running time by a few minutes here and there.

One example of that on the Chicago-Indianapolis route, which is also used by Amtrak’s tri-weekly Chicago-New York Cardinal, was the replacement of a manual switch in Crawfordsville, Indiana, with a remote-controlled one.

That is expected to shave eight to 15 minutes off the travel time of the Cardinal and Hoosier State because the crew will no longer have to stop to line the switch at Ames, which is the junction of a former Peoria & Eastern line with a former Monon line.

Amtrak uses the ex-P&E to and from the Indianapolis region and the ex-Monon north of Crawfordsville. Those tracks are now owned by CSX.

INDOT is helping to pay for Purdue University graduate students to conduct a survey of passengers riding the Hoosier State.

They are riding the train to ask passengers how they get to the station, how far they travel and how frequently.

Ohio Communities OK Rail Route Study Funding

November 9, 2016

All Aboard Ohio repots that communities and counties in Ohio have been approving funding for a tier I environmental assessment for a proposed Chicago-Columbus high-performance passenger rail corridor.

OhioFunding pledges have already been approved in Indiana.

The assessment is the first step toward developing a major transportation project.

Backing the project has been the Northern Indiana/Ohio Passenger Rail Initiative, comprised of the nine largest cities on the preferred corridor.

Also taking part are the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission and Indiana Department of Transportation.

The project promoters are expected to seek a $2.56 million federal grant for the Tier I assessment.

A high-performance rail corridor can involve building a new right of way or rehabilitating an existing rail line by adding safety features that would allow higher train speeds.

A tier I assessments identifies the most cost-effective, environmentally benign route(s), potential station sites and may include a service development plan.

IP Looking to the Future as it Celebrates First Year of Operating Chicago-Indy Hoosier State

August 29, 2016

Operation of the Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State by Iowa Pacific Holdings has reached the end of the first year of a two-year trial and the results are promising and concerning.

Iowa PacificUnder IP oversight, the average on-time performance has been 86 percent, which was better than the OT average of Amtrak trains of between 60 to 65 percent.

Ridership, though, has fallen by 11 percent since IP took over the quad-weekly train from Amtrak on Aug. 2, 2015.

The Hoosier State was racking up financial losses that were on track to reach $2 million for the year.

On the other hand, ticket revenue has increased by 26 percent and during June the Hoosier State even turned a small profit on the strength of increases in patronage and revenue.

IP head Ed Ellis has attributed that turnaround to growth in business class passengers, who pay a premium to receive food and beverage service while riding in a dome car.

The Chicago-Indianapolis route is different in that IP and Amtrak both provide service.

Amtrak’s tri-weekly Chicago-New York Cardinal uses the route and the Hoosier State operates on days that the Cardinal does not.

Ellis told West Lafayette radio station WBAA that the improved timekeeping is a result of establishing personal relationships with Amtrak and every freight rail that hosts the train.

“I think, if nothing else, just that level of daily attention has caused everybody else to pay daily attention to the train and has solved the problem,” Ellis said.

For its part, IP has focused on ensuring that the equipment is ready to go at departure time, thus eliminating late departures that can have a ripple effect.

“ . .  . it’s when trains get out of slot that you get more host-related delays because they need to run freight trains. So leaving on time is important,” Ellis said.

The Hoosier State is not solely an IP train. Amtrak provides under contract the operating employees and does servicing in Chicago and Indianapolis.

IP provides the equipment and handles marketing and promotion although the train is shown on the Amtrak website and Amtrak sells tickets for it.

Funding comes from the Indiana Department of Transportation and five communities along the route of the train.

The Hoosier State costs about $2.7 million annually to operate. Eventually, all of the parties concerned would like to see it become more self-supporting financially. They would also like to see more service on the route.

But Ellis said that will require additional sidings and signal work on the mostly-CSX route that would need to be paid for by the Indiana Department of Transportation.

“I think it’s obvious we need more trains, and the only way to do that is for the state to go to the freight railroads and say, ‘What does it take,’ and for the railroads to give us all a number and for us to decide if we can afford to do that,’ ” Ellis said.

If Ellis had his way, he would create a new route into Chicago and even use a different terminal.

What he has in mind is building a connection in Blue Island between the Metra line from Joliet to the La Salle Street Station and the former Grand Trunk Western mainline that CSX now operates.

Writing on Train Orders.com, Ellis said that and other improvements could cost $500 million and cut the Chicago-Indianapolis running time to 3 hours, 20 minutes.

Ellis would also like to operate three daily roundtrips between the two cities.

He said he wants to trade Chicago terminals because Union Station is crowded but La Salle Street is not.

A new Chicago routing would eliminate running on tracks owned by Amtrak, Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific and the Belt Railway of Chicago. In the process, IP would gain a faster route into Chicago and eliminate a congestion- prone junction with the Indiana Harbor Belt in Dolton.

If the money was available today Ellis figures it would take a year to 18 months to complete the track improvement work. Given the realities of the situation he said it would more likely take until 2020 to get the improvements made and train frequencies increased.

“There is a lot of spade work that has to be done between INDOT, the [Indiana] legislature and CSX on infrastructure improvement,” Ellis wrote on TO.

But he sees progress, noting that revenue in July 2016 was 70 percent over that of the same month in 2015.

“  . . . so the effects of improved service are beginning to take hold.  But there is a long way to go,” he said.

Continued political support for Hoosier State funding appears to be building.

Indiana lawmaker Tim Brown, a Crawfordsville Republican, is chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which writes the state’s biennial budget.

He admits to having been skeptical at first about funding intercity rail passenger service, but after riding the Hoosier State he came away with a favorable impression.

“This experience showed me there is a desire, there is interest in continuing it and growing it, and so I’m more convinced now than two years ago that it’s more appropriate to continue funding,” Brown told WBAA.

Brown said that although it is too early to say how much will be allotted for the Hoosier State when the next budget is hammered out in 2017, he expects legislators to approve a line item for passenger rail in the INDOT budget.