Posts Tagged ‘IP’s Hoosier State’

Amtrak, INDOT Says Relations Have Improved

March 7, 2017

The train name hasn’t changed, but the faces behind the Hoosier State have and that has made for better relations with Amtrak.

Amtrak took over complete responsibility for the quad-weekly Chicago-Indianapolis train on March 1.

Back in 2015, the Indiana Department of Transportation awarded Iowa Pacific Holdings a contract to operate the Hoosier State although Amtrak wasn’t entirely out of the picture.

IP provided locomotives, rolling stock and on-board service and marketing support. Amtrak provided operating crews and handled relations with the host railroads.

But IP didn’t think it was receiving enough money from INDOT and said it would cease operating the train after the state turned down a request for more money.

Amtrak wanted to continue operating the Hoosier State, but state officials say the price was too high.

That sent INDOT seeking another operator. An agreement with a private contractor fell apart, which sent INDOT to IP.

Now INDOT and Amtrak seem to be getting along just fine. What changed?

“Some of the faces have changed in the last several years,” said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari says. “A different governor, a different transportation commissioner, different people at Amtrak, too, sat down with a fresh sheet of paper and said, ‘What can we do?’”

INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield said the relationship improved when former Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman retired and was replaced by Charles “Wick” Moorman, the former CEO of Norfolk Southern.

“They’ve been an eager partner to work with us,” Wingfield says. “We have good things to say about the new Amtrak CEO and his team.”

Before IP came along, the Hoosier State was a bare-bones train. IP brought food service, free Wi-Fi and business class service.

Amtrak has agreed to continue providing those services even if its food service car won’t be serving the same freshly-prepared meals that IP served.

Wingfield declined to say how much INDOT and its funding partners along the route are paying to continue those services.

He did say, though, that INDOT is using all of the $3 million earmarked for the Hoosier State.

Amtrak also agreed to give INDOT a discount because the Hoosier State is used to shuttle equipment between Amtrak’s Beech Grove shops in suburban Indianapolis and Chicago.

Amtrak’s Magliari said the passenger carrier is looking at growing the business.

“The way you build ridership is to have frequencies that are attractive on a schedule that people can support and see is better than driving, and fares people can afford,” Magliari said. “Those are the three elements of the elixir to grow ridership – frequency, fare and schedule.”

The current contract between INDOT and Amtrak will expire on June 30.

That means the Indiana legislature has to agree to extend the funding. Wingfield said INDOT is asking lawmakers to approve Hoosier State funding for next two years.

Some lawmakers have indicated, though, that they have misgivings about a new deal because of the collapse of the public-private partnership between IP and INDOT.

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.

Indiana Passenger Rail Group Pressuring Indianapolis to Fix Up Decrepit Union Station

February 9, 2017

The Indiana Passenger Rail Alliance is trying to pressure city officials into taking action to rehabilitate Indianapolis Union Station.

indianaThe facility, which is used by Amtrak and Greyhound, has been described by some rail advocates as a “civic embarrassment.”

The Rail Alliance has invited city leaders to meet with them to discuss how the station can be improved.

IPRA member Bill Malcolm said that the station is unwelcoming, unsightly and even scary.

“If it’s a turnoff to even go into that facility, people are not going to take advantage of it, [they won’t] take their families up to go shopping  . . . because it’s just kind of a frightening place,” Malcolm said.

The city’s department of Metropolitan Development operates the station, which is served by Amtrak’s Chicago-New York Cardinal and the Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State.

Amtrak to Take Back the Hoosier State

January 31, 2017

Iowa Pacific will cease operating the quad weekly Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State at the end of February with Amtrak taking it over on March 1.

Iowa PacificThe Indiana Department of Transportation, which had contracted with IP to operate the train, said the contract was to have run through June 30, but IP demanded more money than the contractual amount.

“They were looking for a minimum monthly subsidy that was outside the budget we had,” said INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield said. “Even under the existing contracts, their needs were beyond what we had budgeted.”

IP has operated the Hoosier State since July 2015, taking over it from Amtrak after INDOT advertised for bidders.

INDOT said it has paid Iowa Pacific Holdings $500,000 to date to provide on-board service, marketing and equipment for the Hoosier State and $3.9 million to Amtrak, which provides crews to operate the train.

IP will receive an additional $300,000 to operate the Hoosier State through the end of February.

“It should be said we signed contracts in good faith with Iowa Pacific that was through the end of June, and then they came to us and said they we’re unable to continue under those contracts,” Wingfield said.

IP President Ed Ellis wrote on Facebook that his company is moving to “a different service model.”

There have been discussions on railfan chat lists that IP might be experiencing financial difficulties after it failed earlier this month to issue paychecks to employees in Saratoga Springs, New York.

Some employees of the IP-operated Texas State Railroad were laid off, but IP said in a statement that those layoffs were seasonal.

Ellis said on his Facebook page that IP was “unable to continue providing passenger train equipment and on-board services under the terms of its existing contract for the Hoosier State.”

IP received high marks for instituting business class, upgrading the food service and offering a dome car on the Hoosier State.

Ellis wrote that these service enhancements improved customer satisfaction, revenue and ridership, but the train suffered from poor on-time performance when it reached its destination hours late, if at all, on some occasions.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the Hoosier State will operate with Amtrak equipment starting March 1.

INDOT said it’s seeking to continue on-board wi-fi and business-class seating for the train, which operates between Chicago and Indianapolis on days that the Chicago-New York Cardinal does not operate.

It is unclear, though what the long-term future will be for the Hoosier State, including whether INDOT will again put the operation out for bid.

The Hoosier State is funded by INDOT, Lafayette, West Lafayette, Tippecanoe County, Crawfordsville and Rensselaer.

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.

Rail Rangers to Ride Hoosier State

November 2, 2016

Members of the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation will begin riding the Hoosier State on Nov. 27 and providing commentary about the territory served by the Chicago-Indianapolis train.

Iowa PacificThe members are part of the group’s Rail Rangers program and will offer commentary similar that provided on select Amtrak long-distance trains that is provided by the National Park Service.

In a statement, APRH said it has worked with Amtrak and the NPS in providing interpretive services on Amtrak long-distance trains serving Illinois, Iowa and Missouri between 2012 and 2015.

APRHS has also provided commentary aboard private trains in six states.

“We are really excited to partner with both Iowa Pacific and the Indiana Department of Transportation to provide our services for passengers,” said APRHF Rail Rangers Executive Director Robert Tabern. “In addition to some light narration about the towns we pass through, our interpretive guides are going to have free route handout sheets for everyone and maps of Downtown Chicago.”

The Rail Rangers will board the Hoosier State in Lafayette, Indiana, and provide interpretive services until the train arrives in Chicago.

The Hilton Garden Inn and the Campus Inn in West Lafayette are providing lodging for the APRHF members.

Further information is available at www.railrangers.org or www.hoosierrails.org.

Iowa Pacific Holdings President Ed Ellis became interested in working APRHF after experiencing commentary by its members during a June 2016 private rail excursion in Illinois.

As part of an agreement with Iowa Pacific, the APRHF Rail Rangers are releasing a 110-page route guidebook for the Chicago-Indianapolis route titled Riding the Hoosier Rails: A Route Guide From Indianapolis to Chicago.

The book includes information about communities along the Hoosier State route, the Monon and the equipment used by IP. Much of the route uses former Monon rails now owned by CSX.

Tabern said the Rail Rangers program is expected to operate at least twice a month for a trial period through March 26.

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.