Posts Tagged ‘Indianapolis’

End of 2 Journeys

May 5, 2019

Passengers disembark at Indianapolis Union Station from Amtrak’s westbound National Limited on Oct. 1, 1979.

For the passengers it is the end of a journey that started somewhere out East or perhaps in Ohio or Pittsburgh.

For the train, it is the last time that No. 31 will call in Indianapolis.

The National Limited began its final trips the day before with the last eastbound No. 30 having already come and gone from Indy last night.

As for myself, I was starting a journey aboard No. 31 that would take me to Effingham, Illinois.

Beech Grove Job Cuts May be Coming

April 26, 2019

In the wake of the Indiana legislature’s decision to cease funding the Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State, Amtrak is hinting that it may lay off workers at its Beech Grove shops in suburban Indianapolis.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said 500 jobs at Beech Grove could be a risk if Amtrak is only able to shuttle equipment to and from the shops on the three days a week that the Cardinal operates through Indianapolis.

The Indiana General Assembly on the recommendation of Gov. Eric Holcomb declined to renew the $3 million annual funding the state has been providing to Amtrak to operate the Hoosier State four days a week.

The legislature finalized the budget for the next two years earlier this week.

The Cardinal operates three days a week between Chicago and New York and serves all stations at which the Hoosier State stops.

However, an Indiana Department of Transportation spokesman defended ending Hoosier State funding.

“The Hoosier State has the lowest ridership and highest taxpayer subsidy per ticket sold of all Amtrak state sponsored routes,” said Scott Manning. “Today, ridership is stagnant. As a result of the low number of users, INDOT and local governments subsidize about 75 percent of the cost of each ticket sold on the Hoosier State. This does not represent a good value to Hoosier taxpayers.”

State funding of the Hoosier State will end on June 30. The train also receives $500,000 annually contributed by communities that it serves.

Amtrak earlier announced the Hoosier State will be suspended on July 1.

WISH-TV in Indianapolis quoted Beech Grove employee Danny Groves as saying that once the Hoosier State ends much of the shop’s work load will go away.

“Beech Grove was built around this [rail] yard. We know each other’s wives. We know each other’s families,” Groves said. “If this happens we’ll only be able to get equipment in three days a week.”

More than 400 people signed a petition asking the legislature to reconsider its decision to end funding of the Hoosier State.

Amtrak has faced before the situation that it is poised to have if the Hoosier State is discontinued.

In September 1995, the Hoosier State was eliminated in a route restructuring, leaving the tri-weekly Cardinal as Amtrak’s only service to Indianapolis.

It ferried equipment to and from Beech Grove via the Cardinal, which has operated as a tri-weekly train since January 1982.

Amtrak has also used a weekly “hospital” trains to move equipment between Chicago and Beech Grove.

But that train was subject to delay on host railroad CSX and crews sometimes had to halt due to having reached their limits under the federal hours of service law.

Amtrak cited delays to the Cardinal from switching equipment in and out in Indianapolis for resurrecting the Hoosier State in July 1998.

One difference between then and now is that a federal law adopted since then now makes state and local governments responsible for paying most of the costs of trains operating less than 750 miles.

That law precludes Amtrak assuming full funding of the Hoosier State.

But Beech Grove’s future at Amtrak was already tenuous before the Indiana legislature declined to continue funding it.

During a Congressional hearing in February Amtrak President Richard Anderson said that although Amtrak had no plans to close Beech Grove or reduce its workforce, its role at Amtrak was subject to change.

“Over time, we have to re-fleet the Amtrak rolling stock,” Anderson said, “. . . and over the longer term we have to figure out where we are going to do our maintenance work. I think the footprint is going to change over time because we’re moving to more modern equipment.”

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.

Last Day For Amtrak In Indianapolis

October 11, 2018

It’s Oct. 1, 1979, and Amtrak’s National Limited is halting for the final time in Indianapolis.

With the on-time departure of No. 31 in late morning, the capital of Indiana will be without intercity rail passenger service.

But it won’t last for long. About a year later Amtrak launched the Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State and Indy returned to the Amtrak route map.

The Ohio cities of Dayton and Columbus would not be so fortunate. When the National Limited stopped there for the final time, those cities would lose intercity rail passenger service for good.

Indianapolis Union Station in April 1979

January 17, 2017

national-limited-april-9-1977-arriving-indianapolis

All major U.S. cities had a union station that was used by multiple railroads. By the time that Amtrak arrived, these monuments to the glory years of passenger trains had become expensive institutions whose high costs was one factor in dooming intercity rail passenger service in the 1960s.

Indianapolis is among a number of cities that have kept its union station during the Amtrak era.

When Amtrak began on May 1, 1971, the venerable depot was served by six trains, including the New York/Washington-Kansas City National Limited.

No. 31 is shown arriving at the train shed at Indianapolis Union Station on April 9, 1977. The cars parked on a station track to the right are bound for the Beech Grove shops.

At the time that this image was made, Indianapolis had just the National Limited. The Chicago-Miami/St. Petersburg Floridian and the Chicago-Washington James Whitcomb Riley had been routed away from the city due to poor Penn Central track conditions between Indy and Chicago.

In Love With the Concept of Trains

March 13, 2009

Intercity passenger trains are being talked about a lot in the public square these days thanks to the $8 billion allocated by the economic stimulus bill toward the development of high-speed rail. Newspaper editorials and pundits of every kind have been hailing high-speed rail.

Sure, there have been a few dissenting points of view. There always are and always will be. Not everyone loves trains or is convinced of their value as a means of transportation. But mainly the critics are focusing on the price tag of developing a high-speed rail system. It’s a legitimate concern and should be talked about. What are we getting for all of that money and do we need it?

Supporters cite rising congestion of the nation’s highways and airways. Long-time passenger train advocates like to talk about the need for a balanced transportation system. Inevitably they make comparisons between the United States, which has very little high-
speed rail, and Western Europe and Japan, which not only have plenty of it, but have systems that are reliable and operate with a high level of service.

Yet if you read the editorials carefully, listen to the speeches, and think about what people are saying about high-speed rail, it become apparent that they are in love with the concept with rail passenger service without having much knowledge of what it will take to make those dreams a reality. This is true with President Barack Obama, who sees development of high-speed rail as a legacy to leave behind after he leaves office. Like so many others, Obama sees the type of high-speed rail systems that exist elsewhere and wonders why the United States can’t have that.

The short answer is that this country could have that type of rail service. Yet it is doubtful that Obama or the pundits, or the editorial writers or even many rail passenger advocates comprehend what it will take to translate love of the concept of passenger rail into a
concrete system complete with trains, stations and high-speed tracks. Yes, they say they know it will be expensive. But do they understand how expensive?

Everyone says that a high-speed route ought to link Chicago and Indianapolis. But it is one thing to say this route is a natural and another to make it happen. Amtrak trains between the two cities now follow a slow, zig-zag route that involves five railroads. The scheduled travel time between Indy and Chicago is five hours.

 It may not be practical to upgrade this route for 100-mph operation or even 90-mph speeds. Another route likely would need to be created. Imagine the NIMBY opposition that is sure to come when plans are announced to put down tracks where there are none now. Imagine the outrage from some when they see the millions, even billions, it will take to cut a couple of hours off the travel time between the two cities.

Most policymakers understand that European-style high-speed rail systems will require dedicated tracks that will be very expensive to build. It remains to be seen whether policymakers have the political will to support the appropriations bills needed to pay for those tracks and the legal battles that NIMBYs are sure to launch to stop them. Those numbers are sure to make Obama and other lawmakers recoil in horror.

At some point, policymakers in France, England, Spain, Germany and Japan, among other countries, must have had similar moments. Development of the European and Japanese systems began decades ago when construction costs were lower, but the costs still must have been relatively high. What convinced them to press ahead? Is the political culture of Europe and Japan that much different from the United States when it comes to transportation development? Yes, it is.

Thus, step one is going to be transforming the political culture in this country. That means having to engage in a long fight. Rail passenger advocates have been urging such a cultural transformation for years, but sympathetic lawmakers have been unwilling to engage in much more than a battle of words. In that battle, everyone says they love
passenger trains. But few are willing to pay for them.

In the movie Gettysburg, General Robert E. Lee is portrayed as discussing with General James Longstreet the cost of war. It was on the second day of battle and Lee understood that his army was going to suffer heavy casualties.

“The soldier has one great trap,” Lee told Longstreet. “To be a good solider you must love the Army. To be a good commander you must be willing to order the death of the thing you love. We do not fear our own deaths, you and I, but there comes a time when we are not prepared for so many to die … We are prepared to lose some of us but we are never prepared to lose all of us – and there is the great trap. When you attack, you must hold nothing back. You must commit yourself totally.”

The Confederates lost the battle of Gettysburg and subsequently the war, but Lee’s point was still valid. If he wanted to win a battle and ultimately win a war, he needed to look past the inevitable human suffering and misery. It wasn’t that Lee was callous. He just understood the cost of winning did not come easily.

No one is going to lose their life or suffer a debilitating injury in the struggle to bring about better intercity rail passenger service. But make no mistake that it is going to be a struggle, a long struggle.

No one likes to talk about it, but the cost of building a high-speed rail system in this country is going to be lost opportunities to do something else with that money. Many rail advocates might say, “it’s about time” and cite how many billions federal and state governments have spent building highways and airport runways. Fair enough, but the lawmakers who vote on spending bills don’t look at it that way. Nor will the pundits and editorial writers now calling for high-speed rail systems in this country. Those same folks at some point are going to rail against the cost of rail.

The stimulus package was at best a down payment. Much higher bills lie down the road, which is one reason why lawmakers have dodged the cost of rail development for so long. Lawmakers say they favor better rail systems, but will they still be in love with rail when they learn its cost? It is easy to be in love with the concept of better intercity railroad passenger systems. But if this country is going to have better intercity railroad passenger systems, it is going to take money, yes, but first it will take commitment. How many love affairs have fallen apart when commitment time came?