Posts Tagged ‘Iowa Pacific Holdings’

Hoosier State Revenue, Patronage Up in Sept.

October 27, 2016

The Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State carried 2,428 passengers in September, which was a 46 percent increase over patronage in September 2015.

Iowa PacificThe Indiana Department of Transportation, which helps fund the train, said that September 2016 marked the fifth consecutive month that ridership has grown on a year-over-year basis.

Ticket revenue totaled $82,324 last month, a 64 percent increase from ticket revenue a year ago.

INDOT said the route’s on-time arrivals performance averaged 82 percent in September, down from 86 percent in August.

The replacement of a manual switch with a remote control switch in Crawfordsville, Indiana, is expected to reduce one-way trips by eight to 15 minutes. The switch is located on track owned by CSX.

The quad-weekly Hoosier State is overseen by Iowa Pacific Holdings, which provides marketing, equipment, maintenance and on-board service. Amtrak provides under contract operating crews and works with the host railroads.

Excursion to Use ex-ICRR Tracks in Mississippi

September 22, 2016

An excursion will run in Mississippi on Oct. 23 over the original route of Amtrak’s Chicago-New Orleans Panama Limited and City of New Orleans.

The train will have Iowa Pacific equipment, which has the orange and chocolate brown livery of the former Illinois Central line to be traveled, now operated by the Grenada Railroad.

iowa-pacificThe 96-mile roundtrip excursion will depart at 10 a.m. from Horn Lake en route to Batesville for views of the peak fall foliage season in Mississippi. The trip will last five hours.

Passengers will have the opportunity to purchase an on-board lunch with a bit of Mississippi flavor to it for a separate charge.

The route to be traveled was  once used IC’s City of New Orleans and Panama Limited.

On board employees will be dressed in traditional conductor and waiter uniforms.

The equipment will include two E8A locomotives and five passenger cars, including the Calumet Club once used on the IC’s City of Miami and the Paducah once used on the Panama Limited and City of New Orleans.

The boarding site is at 6780 Center Street East in Horn Lake. For tickets call: 877-334-4783 or visit http://www.grenadarail.com/ride/batesville-express/

 

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.

IP Marks 1st Anniversary of Operating Hoosier State

August 3, 2016

Iowa Pacific Holdings operation of the Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State celebrated its first anniversary this week.

Iowa PacificIP took over the train from Amtrak on Aug. 2, 2015, although Amtrak continues to provide operating employees and handle certain other tasks on IP’s behalf.

During May and June ticket revenue rose 62 percent and 90 percent of the route’s riders indicated in a survey that they were very satisfied with the service.

Since October 2015, on-time performance has averaged 82 percent.

The Hoosier State operates four times a week on days that the Chicago-New York Cardinal does not operate.

The service is funded by the Indiana Department of Transportation and on-line communities.

Hoosier State Equipment Open House Set

June 8, 2016

An open house has been set for June 9 in Lafayette of the equipment used by Iowa Pacific on the Hoosier State.

The event begins at 1:45 p.m. at Riehle Plaza at 200 N. 2nd St., and will last until 3 p.m.

IndianaIowa Pacific Holdings took over operation of the Hoosier State in August 2015 and provides locomotives, passenger equipment and staff, with Amtrak providing operating personnel.

IP plans to show a full-length ex-Santa Fe dome car that it uses for business class passengers. The Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State operates on the four days a week that Amtrak’s Chicago-New York Cardinal does not operate.

Pullman No Longer Operating Cars on CONO

January 5, 2016

Private railcar service on Amtrak’s City of New Orleans as been suspended, but operator Pullman Rail Journeys is optimistic about reaching an agreement with Amtrak to reinstate the service.

Pullman recently notified passengers booked for trips that it would refund their fares because all scheduled trips had been canceled.

“At this point, we are not able to operate Pullman Rail Journeys’ regular service between Chicago and New Orleans, but we are hoping to come to an agreement with Amtrak to resume service,” said Iowa Pacific President Ed Ellis in an interview with Trains magazine.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari told the magazine that the railroad was open to negotiations with IP to operate as part of the City of New Orleans

The service had been operating southbound out of Chicago on Thursdays and northbound out of New Orleans on Sundays.

A scheduled trip on New Year’s Eve was rerouted via the Cardinal and Lake Shore Limited through Washington and Boston after flooding resulted in the City of New Orleans being canceled by flooding between Memphis and Carbondale, Illinois.

Pullman began operating its equipment on the back of the City of New Orleans in November 2012.

The cars, which are painted in a livery similar to that of the Illinois Central, featured fares ranging between $600 to $2,200, depending on the type of accommodation the passenger booked. The fares included meals.

When Pullman operated more than two cars, Amtrak assigned an extra locomotive, which drove up the costs of operating the train.

In recent months, Pullman elected to serve meals in a lounge-observation car rather than in a dining car.

The original operating plan was to operate several times per week with up to five cars, including a full-length dome car.

Trains reported that most trips sold out or had limited availability.

Failed Inspection Sidelines Hoosier State

October 31, 2015

A failed inspection prompted the cancellation of the Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State this past week. Passengers were transported by bus.

The cancellations occurred on Wednesday morning after Amtrak inspectors cited the train for having wheel tolerances that failed to comply with federal regulations.

The inspectors ordered the defects on the two Iowa Pacific Holdings locomotives to be repaired.

The Hoosier State operates with Iowa Pacific equipment and an Amtrak operating crew.

Amtrak performed the repairs at its Chicago maintenance facility and the Hoosier State operated as scheduled Wednesday night to Indianapolis.

Trains magazine reported that Iowa Pacific asked for a separate inspection of its locomotives by a Federal Railroad Administration inspector before any work was done on the wheels.

However, Amtrak worker had already made the repairs before a joint FRA-Iowa Pacific-Amtrak inspection took place Wednesday morning.

The Indiana Department of Transportation pays Amtrak to perform needed repairs before the train leaves Chicago.

“At [Indiana’s] request, we have repeatedly made unscheduled repairs to multiple defects in its vendor’s equipment…and disrupted scheduled work on our own equipment in order to make every effort to dispatch these trains on time,” said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari.

Locomotive Issues Sideline Hoosier State

October 1, 2015

Locomotive issues forced the cancellation of five trips of the Hoosier State over the past week.

The cancellations resulted after an inspection found defects in one of two GP40FH-2 locomotives used by Iowa Pacific to operate the Chicago-Indianapolis passenger train. The canceled trips occurred between Sept. 23 and 29.

Trains magazine reported that an Amtrak inspector “bad ordered” an IP locomotive because springs on one of the locomotive’s trucks were not seated properly and needed adjustment.

Two other Iowa Pacific units are out of service, one of which has been waiting for a new air compressor for more than a week.

The inspection occurred just before IP No. 4144 was set to deadhead with other Iowa Pacific equipment on the rear of Amtrak’s Cardinal on Sept. 22.

No. 4144 could not be left behind because the head-end power generator wasn’t operable on the other Iowa Pacific engine in the consist.

Amtrak repaired the IP locomotive in Chicago. As the repairs were being made, chartered buses replaced the Hoosier State on the Sept. 23 southbound trip and the Sept. 25 northbound trek.

The Hoosier State made four trips between Sept. 25 and last Monday, but an inspector hired by the State of Indiana found other defects not discovered in previous Amtrak and Federal Railroad Administration inspections.

These included windshield glass that had been installed backwards.

As a result, passengers were back on the bus Monday evening, Tuesday morning and on both Wednesday trips.

The Hoosier State operates on days that Amtrak’s Chicago-New York Cardinal does not operate.

The Cardinal operates in both directions on Thursday so the Hoosier State is slated to next operate on Friday in both directions.

INDOT, Iowa Pacific, Amtrak Reach Agreement on 2-Year Contract for Operating the Hoosier State

August 3, 2015

Terms of the contract between the Indiana Department of Transportation and Iowa Pacific Holdings call for the state to receive 25 percent of any operating profits that the Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State earns.

It is one of many details contained in a contract signed last weekend pertaining to the quad-weekly train.

Amtrak, which had operated the Hoosier State through July 31, was also a party to the contract because Amtrak employees will continue to make up the operating crews for the train. Amtrak is also serving working with the host railroads and managing ticket reservations for the train.

Amtrak will be reimbursed by INDOT for its expenses not covered by ticket revenue with Amtrak providing the state with any excess revenue.

INDOT is expected to pay $254,527 per month for the Hoosier State while Crawfordsville, Lafayette, Rensselaer, Tippecanoe County and West Lafayette will pay a combined $21,194 per month for the service.

The contract expires on June 30, 2017, but INDOT has an option to extend it up to four additional years.
Iowa Pacific is furnishing the locomotives and passenger cars while also providing maintenance, food service and marketing.

The first trips on Aug. 2 under Iowa Pacific auspices suffered the same type of delays that often hindered the Amtrak-operated Hoosier State.

Both trips were delayed by freight train congestion at Union Pacific’s Yard Center in Dolton, Illinois.

The outbound trip from Chicago was 9 minutes late leaving Union Station because Amtrak delivered the equipment to the depot 25 minutes late.

CSX held the Indianapolis-bound train at Dyer, Indiana, for a half-hour due to an automobile accident south of town that did not involve the Hoosier State.

Further glitches occurred when Amtrak send patrons on the first runs what Trains magazine described as “ominous email and telephone message warnings to passengers.”

One passenger told the magazine’s passenger travel correspondent that when she called Amtrak back to ask what the email meant she was initially transferred to a closed customer service office. Another Amtrak agent checked with a supervisor and told Hill that she would be riding “a less luxurious train.”

That assertion was laughable on its face. Under Amtrak operation, the Hoosier State offered coaches and nothing else. The train did not offer food service or onboard Wi-Fi service.

However, one of the three Iowa Pacific cars assigned to the Hoosier State is a former Santa Fe full-width dome lounge offering food service.

Eventually, the dome section will be reserved for business-class passengers who will served hot meals and drinks.

For now, though, anyone can sit in dome lounge Summit View. Trains correspondent Bob Johnston reported that the car features white tablecloths and serves breakfast and dinner.

The top prices range between $6 and $8, respectively. The “Blue Plate Special” on the trip to Indianapolis was sautéed chicken breast. Other choices included Chicken Caprese Panini, an entrée salad, a turkey club sandwich, and cheese or pepperoni pizza.

“For the first month, everybody gets to come in here and say, ‘wow, is this cool?’” Iowa Pacific Holdings president Ed Ellis said. “So then when the fare goes up, we hope they’ll say, ‘yeah, I want to be sitting up there.’ ”

He was referring to the launch of business class service at a yet unannounced date.

Iowa Pacific has directed that two tickets on each Hoosier State trip are to be sold for $1 apiece. Normal an adult “saver” ticket between Chicago and Indianapolis is $24 on either the Hoosier State or Amtrak’s Chicago-New York Cardinal.

Ellis described the $1 fares as a conversation starter with college students who might have used competing Megabus service, which similarly offers a handful of fares at the same price.

Iowa Pacific has hired a full-time marketing manager who will be supported by IP’s own Chicago-based tourist train and Pullman Rail Journeys marketing operation.

The Hoosier State marketing efforts are heavily focused on stimulating business from intermediate communities along the route, in particular Purdue University in West Lafayette.

Ellis said Iowa Pacific sees Purdue as a largely untapped market. IP also wants to launch a connecting bus service between Crawfordsville and Bloomington to reach the Indiana University market.

“We’re treating this as one of the world’s nicest excursion trains between two great Midwest destinations,” Ellis said.

Iowa Pacific Makes First Runs of Hoosier State

August 3, 2015

Iowa Pacific began operating the Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State on Sunday, Aug. 2, taking over the train from Amtrak.

Trains magazine reported that the only potential snag might be completion of a switch relocation project on CSX in Indianapolis. The switch leads to a Iowa Pacific operated service facility.

Amtrak’s contract to operate the Hoosier State was to expire on July 31. Because the Hoosier State operations on the four days a week that the Chicago-New York Cardinal does not operate, it was not scheduled to run on Saturday, Aug. 1.

The Cardinal operated to and from Chicago from Indianapolis on Saturdays.

Iowa Pacific will furnish motive power and rolling stock for the train as well as marketing and on-board service support.

The operating crews will continue to be Amtrak employees.

Since March, there have been a series of inspections of the GP40FH-2 locomotives and passengers cars that Iowa Pacific plans to use. A test train traveled the route on June 28.

Iowa Pacific plans to offer onboard Wi-Fi service, a dome with café service downstairs, and leg-rest seating in heritage coaches.

Amtrak had coach-only service aside from a three-month period between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31, 2014, when it offered Wi-Fi and business class seating, but no café service.

Trains noted that the Cardinal operates with a “Diner-lite” Amfleet II café car that also serves breakfast and dinner as well as snack bar food.

Full meal table seating preference goes to sleeping car passengers and accommodating those patrons can be a challenge when Nos. 50 and 51 operates with two sleeping cars as it does through the spring, summer and fall months.

The Cardinal does not offer Wi-Fi to coach passengers.

Fares for the Chicago-Indianapolis market have varied widely. On the Cardinal, Amtrak seeks to maximize long-distance revenue over the Chicago-Indianapolis market.

The top-priced “flexible” Indianapolis-Chicago adult coach fare is $48. Most seats aboard for Amtrak’s Hoosier State have sold at the “Saver” price of $24.

For the first month of its operation of the Hoosier State, Iowa Pacific plans to allow passengers to sit in the dome and to pay for meals and beverages served there instead of having food included in the ticket price.

“We want to give people a chance to sample our version of business class,” which will be similar to breakfasts and dinners served on Pullman Rail Journeys excursions from Chicago to New Orleans and other destinations,” said Iowa Pacific President Ed Ellis. “It will be quite different than other Midwest business class service, which only includes a newspaper and a soft drink or coffee.”