Posts Tagged ‘Saving the Hoosier State’

Last Ditch Rally Seeks Hoosier State Funding

April 25, 2019

Backers of the beleaguered Hoosier State met at Amtrak’s Beech Grove shops in suburban Indianapolis on Wednesday in what they termed a last-ditch attempt to secure state funding for the train.

They met with elected officials hoping to somehow secure funding of the quad-weekly Chicago-Indianapolis train.

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb recommended earlier this year ending the state’s $3 million funding for the service and neither chamber of the Indiana General Assembly has added funding to its version of the state’s biennium budget that will take effect July 1.

The budget is now being worked out by a House-Senate conference committee and is expected to be approved by April 29.

In the meantime, Amtrak has posted noticed that the Hoosier State will be suspended after that date.

Holcomb cited declining ridership, saying it fell 18 percent between 2014 and 2018.

But Steve Coxhead, president of the Indiana Passenger Rail Alliance, said the train faces a dilemma because the state has done little to improve the service.

Coxhead said the route needs to have at least two roundtrips a day and possibly three in order to generate enough ridership to cover its operating costs.

Also attending the meeting were officials with Amtrak Midwest, Indianapolis and the Beech Grove shops.

Coxhead called the $3 million cost for the Hoosier State a relatively small part of a $34 billion budget.

“The governor is planning to spend something like $80 million on hiking and bike trails in the state and while there’s certainly nothing wrong with that and they’re probably needed, it seems disproportionate when you talk about what’s potentially the most important passenger rail corridor in the state,” he said.

Supporters of the train have argued that it generates about $10 million annually for local communities.

Greater Lafayette Commerce Transportation Chair Arvid Olson said nearly one-third of the Hoosier State ridership is to Purdue University in West Lafayette.

“For many of them, this is a lifeline to communication, especially for international students, this is their lifeline back to O’Hare to go international, back to the Pacific countries they come from,” said Olson.

Senator Ron Alting of Lafayette unsuccessfully sought to offer an amendment to restore Hoosier State funding.

Although he has continued to support efforts to save the Hoosier State, he said Wednesday’s rally might be a little too late.

“We are going to do a full court press and try to get out of here tomorrow night, so that means the budget will probably be printed and out no later than possibly noon tomorrow,” he said. “That’s going have to be put in that budget by noon tomorrow [Wednesday] or it’s probably not going to be put in.”

It was the second rally for the Hoosier State following one held at the Statehouse on April 17 that was sponsored by the Indiana Passenger Rail Alliance.

All of the stations served by the Hoosier State will continue to have Amtrak service by the tri-weekly Chicago-New York Cardinal.

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 Also Snubs Hoosier State Funding

April 21, 2019

The Indiana Senate approved a budget last week that did not contain funding to continue operation of Amtrak’s Hoosier State between Chicago and Indianapolis.

Furthermore, the Senate refused to take up an amendment offered by a Lafayette senator to keep the state funding in place.

Senator Ron Alting said he wasn’t giving up on finding funding for the Hoosier State, including as part of the conference committee that will reconcile differences in the two-year budget between the House and Senate.

The legislature plans to wrap its session by April 29.

Indiana currently pays $3 million a year to operate the quad-weekly train, which operates on days that the Chicago-New York Cardinal does not operate.

The state’s funding expires on June 30 and Amtrak earlier ceased to take reservations or sell tickets for travel on the Hoosier State starting July 1.

Alting said the Senate sponsors of the authors of budget bill “expressed their reluctance to have me present my amendment.”

The House had defeated an amendment made by state Rep. Chris Campbell of West Lafayette to include Hoosier State funding in the house version of the budget.

“While it saddens me we could not resolve this problem, I have spoken with the authors of the Senate’s budget proposal, and they are keeping an open mind in terms of possibly adding the funding during a conference committee,” Alting said in a statement.

“We’ve faced some obstacles, but I’m not giving up,” Alting said. “This is about persistence, and I will continue to work to obtain funding for the Hoosier State rail line.”

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari told the Lafayette Journal & Courier that Amtrak hasn’t given up on the Hoosier State, but also said the carrier would not continue to operate the train without the $3 million in the state budget each of the next two years.

Other Hoosier State funding includes $500,000 from Lafayette, West Lafayette, Tippecanoe County, Crawfordsville and Rensselaer.

“We’re continuing to work with legislators and other interest groups regarding the continuation of daily service on this route, which is funded four days a week by our contract with (INDOT),” Magliari said.

Lafayette Mayor Tony Roswarski said he supports his city’s continued financial support of the Hoosier State provided that Amtrak and the state commit to improvements in speed and on-time performance.

“I’d like to see it saved, if we can,” Roswarski said. “I would say that’s a very difficult hill to climb. That’s a long shot, right now.”

Indiana began funding the Hoosier State in 2015 because by federal law state and/or local governments must pay for Amtrak routes of less than 750 miles.

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb had earlier this year submitted a budget request that omitted Hoosier State funding.

The Indiana Department of Transportation has said that 2018 ridership was down 17.8 percent from the 2014 level.

The day after the Senate passed its version of the budget without any Amtrak funding, a group of Indiana state senators and representatives urged Holcomb to continue funding for the Hoosier State.

Amtrak Said it Hasn’t Given Up on Hoosier State

April 11, 2019

Amtrak isn’t giving up on the Hoosier State and said its announcement that it will suspend the Chicago-Indianapolis train on July 1 should be viewed at this point as a 90-day notice.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari told the Lafyette (Indiana) Journal & Courier that the carrier continues to work to try to keep the quad-weekly train operating.

“It means we’re not certain there will be service after July 1,” Magliari said. “What would you do if you were us? Would you merrily take reservations? Or would you be transparent to customers? We’re being transparent to customers.”

He was referring to Amtrak’s announcement that it will no long accept reservations or sell tickets for travel on the Hoosier State after July 1.

The 500 passengers who’ve already made reservations or purchased tickets for travel after July 1 will be accommodated on Amtrak’s tri-weekly Cardinal, which uses the same route as the Hoosier State between Chicago and Indianapolis.

However, Amtrak is also warning that some of those passengers may need to find alternative transportation arrangements.

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb removed funding for the Hoosier State from his budget request sent to the Indiana General Assembly early this year.

Thus far the House has gone along with that although the Senate has not yet acted on the budget.

News reports have indicated the prospects for the Senate restoring the funding appear to be bleak.

In the current fiscal year, Indiana is paying $3 million to Amtrak to operate the Hoosier State with another $500,000 coming from communities served by the train.

Magliari said Amtrak is still reworking the schedule for the Hoosier State to cut 15 minutes from the five- running time.

It has said a new schedule is expected to be implemented in late April.

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.

Amtrak Lobbying to Save Hoosier State

April 4, 2019

Amtrak has been lobbying the Indiana General Assembly for continued support of its Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State but thus far to no avail.

It announced last month that it will in late April cut the running time by 15 minutes in the hopes of boosting ridership and cutting operating expenses.

But legislators who favor the train say that hasn’t been enough to change enough minds at the Statehouse to continue funding the train beyond June 30.

“Amtrak has been working the halls with their announcement of reducing travel time by 15 minutes and saving the state $72,000 annually,” said Rep. Sharon Negele. “Unfortunately, that’s not enough to swing the pendulum. I know there are some folks still investigating federal grant dollars that could possibly cover operating costs and capital improvements, but at this point it appears to be a Hail Mary.”

Negele is the financial officer for the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission, which advocates for passenger rail improvements.

She said fighting for continue Hoosier State funding is “an uphill battle” at the Statehouse.

Amtrak’s vice president for state-supported services, Joe McHugh, said the passengers carrier knows it has a tough fight to save state funding for the Hoosier State, which operates on the four days a week that the Chicago-New York Cardinal does not run in Indiana.

He called Chicago-Indianapolis a tough corridor because the driving time is faster than the rail travel time.

“We’re not particles trapped in amber here,” McHugh said. “We think about and worry about this [Hoosier State] train on a daily basis. And we want it to be successful.

“I completely understand the fact that taxpayers of Indiana are paying money for this train. And there’s a lot of demand for that money, so we need to prove that we are doing everything we can to make this a viable and relevant service for the people in Indianapolis and along the route to Chicago.”

From the perspective of the Indiana Department of Transportation, the sticking point for continued Hoosier State funding is declining ridership.

In fiscal year 2014, 33,930 passengers rode the Hoosier State, but during FY 2018 that had fallen to 27,876, a 17.8 percent decrease.

INDOT spokesman Scott Manning said his agency calculated that revenue per rider during FY 2019 is $32.85, with a state and local subsidy cost of $100.89 per rider.

“Where we’ve been, there has not been the increase in ridership needed,” Manning said.

Manning said INDOT officials do not believe that cutting 15 minutes from the running time on the 196-mile route will significantly boost the ridership to a level where the state’s per-ticket funding will come down.”

Indiana began funding the Hoosier State since 2015 when a federal law mandating states to pay for trains traveling less than 750 miles took effect.

Although some corridor service has been underwritten by states since Amtrak’s inception, some corridors, most notably Chicago-St. Louis and Chicago-Detroit, had long had service that was considered part of Amtrak’s basic route network and thus was underwritten by the passenger carrier’s budget.

The Hoosier State was the last Midwest corridor train to receive state and local government funding.

INDOT spends $3 million annually for the train while local governments along the line chip in a collective $500,000.

This past January Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb submitted a budget proposal to the legislature that ended the state’s funding for the Hoosier State.

The House went along with that and even voted to reject an amendment by Rep. Chris Campbell to restore the funding.

The Lafayette Journal & Courier recently reported that thus far there have been no signs that the Senate is willing to consider reinstating funding for the Hoosier State.

McHugh said changing the schedule of the Hoosier State was an effort to show the carrier’s willingness to work with INDOT to seek federal grant money for track improvements that could further reduce the running time and eventually increase the service frequency to two daily roundtrips between Indianapolis and Chicago.

“But the rabbit is no longer up our sleeve,” McHugh said. “The train had been performing poorly. I think we fixed that, and we can demonstrate it.”

McHugh said the Chicago-Indianapolis corridor needs rail passenger and that Amtrak is “very saddened by the turn of events. We very much want to do whatever we can to convince people that we will make this service better.”

McHugh acknowledged that lackluster on- time performance was the biggest complaint Amtrak received about the Hoosier State.

Yet he claimed that it has improved from 54.1 percent and 66.7 percent in FY2014 and 2015 to 80.5 percent through February 2019.

Tod Bassler of the Indiana Passenger Rail Alliance said that if the Hoosier State ends it will be tough to bring it back.

Although he said he doesn’t have details Bassler said he would not be surprised to see the Hoosier State still around even if the legislature ends the funding as many expect.

“Even though on the surface it doesn’t look very good, there continues to be work in order to come up with some sort of compromise,” Bassler said. “I continue to be surprised by last-minute surprises.”

McHugh, though, is not as optimistic even as he seek to pitch the virtues of continuing the service. Neither was INDOT’s Manning.

“We’re waiting to see what the final budget looks like,” Manning said. “If the funding line item is placed in the next biennium, we’ll work with Amtrak to continue service. If not, we’ll work with them to wind it down.”

Joe Krause is a volunteer who assists passengers at Amtrak’s Lafayette station.

“I never say it’s over until it’s over,” Krause told the Journal & Courier. “But we all know, it’s not looking good. The people who care don’t matter. And the people who matter don’t care. I’m not sure how they’re going to resolve this.”

Hoosier State Down to its Last Strike

March 6, 2019

To use a baseball analogy, Amtrak’s Hoosier State is down to its last strike.

The quad-weekly Chicago-Indianapolis train has swung and missed twice now, first when Indiana Gov. Eric Holmcomb declined to seek continued funding for the train in his budget proposal and, second, when the lower house of the Indiana General Assembly also rejected continued funding.

The House actually voted against Hoosier State funding twice. A House committee declined to reinstate the funding to Holcomb’s proposed budget and then the full House voted against an amendment to add the funding back.

Now the hopes to continue the train go to the Senate which, in theory, could restore the funding. But it would then have to get through a conference committee.

Much of the political support for continued Hoosier State funding has come from Lafayette and West Lafayette.

Those two cities along with Tippecanoe County and the cities of Crawfordsville and Rensselaer collectively contribute $500,000 a year. The state’s share for the Hoosier State is $3 million annually.

The train’s supporters in Lafayette knew that keeping state funding going was a long shot once the governor deleted it from his budget.

“We’ve been working and we knew were going to have to keep working,” Arvid Olson head of Greater Lafayette Commerce’s transportation committee, told the Lafayette Journal & Courier shortly after a House committee declined to reinstate funding for the train.

Olson acknowledged that the train’s ridership isn’t where its supporters would like it to be and, so-so ridership was one reason that Holcomb gave for ending the funding.

“We’re not flailing,” Olson said. “We’re just making the case that the Hoosier State is an important economic development piece for our community. And if it goes away, it’s going to be very expensive, if not impossible, to get back.”

Indeed it will be. But it won’t be impossible.

The Hoosier State has a long, colorful and at times troubling history.

It began on Oct. 1, 1980, as demonstration project mandated by Congress at the behest of former  Indiana Senator Birch Bayh.

Bayh had slipped an amendment into the 1979 Amtrak Reorganization Act directing Amtrak to launch a Chicago-Indianapolis route.

No small part of the rational for the amendment was to give Amtrak a dedicated train to ferry equipment to and from the Beech Grove shops.

The same law that gave birth to the Hoosier State had also made possible the discontinuance of Amtrak’s last train to serve Indianapolis, the New York-Kansas City National Limited.

From Day One the Hoosier State has been hindered by a slow and circuitous route.

None of the traditional passenger routes between Chicago and Indianapolis were intact when the Hoosier State was launched. Things have not improved since then.

The Hoosier State might have folded in the 1980s because, then-Amtrak President W. Graham Claytor, told Congress in March 1984, it failed to meet the Congressionally-mandated loss per mile and passenger-mile-to-train mile criteria.

But operating the Hoosier State was cheaper for Amtrak than paying Conrail to ferry equipment to and from Beech Grove.

The Hoosier State became a quad-weekly train on April 27, 1986, when the Chicago-New York Cardinal was rerouted between Chicago and Cincinnati via Indianapolis.

Then as now, the Hoosier State, which had been renamed Cardinal at the time that it became quad weekly, ran on the days the tri-weekly Cardinal did not run between Chicago and Indianapolis.

Restoration of the Hoosier State name and daily operation began on Oct. 25, 1987.

An Amtrak budget crunch in 1995 led to the Hoosier State reverting on June 11, 1995, to tri-weekly operation.

That resulted in no rail service from Indianapolis to Chicago on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and no rail service from Chicago to Indy on Mondays and Wednesdays.

Amtrak said it only kept the Hoosier State in order to ferry equipment to and from Beech Grove.

After Amtrak decided not to discontinue the Cardinal between Chicago and Cincinnati as part of its September 1995 route restructuring, it discontinued the Hoosier State instead.

The state of Indiana declined to provide funding to keep the Hoosier State going, a decision made by then-Indiana Gov. Evan Bayh, the son of the man whose efforts had been key in creating the Hoosier State.

Amtrak created a Chicago-Beech Grove “hospital train” to ferry equipment, but it often received unfavorable dispatching from the host railroads and crews often outlawed.

Using the Cardinal to ferry equipment between Chicago and Indianapolis also proved to be unsatisfactory because of delays incurred in switching cars at Indianapolis Union Station.

Amtrak reinstated the Hoosier State as a tri-weekly train on July 19, 1998, operating on days that the Cardinal did not run between Chicago and Indianapolis.

On Dec. 17, 1999, the Hoosier State was extended to Jeffersonville, Indiana, across the Ohio River from Louisville, Kentucky, in a bid to build mail and express business. It was renamed Kentucky Cardinal.

The move was part of Amtrak’s ill-fated Network Growth Strategy that sought to make the passenger railroad financially self-sufficient through head-end business.

That didn’t pan out as hoped and in January 2003 Amtrak said it would end the Kentucky Cardinal in July because of low ridership, high financial costs and the failure of head-end traffic to develop.

However, Amtrak returned the Hoosier State name and operated the train between Chicago and Indianapolis on the Cardinal’s off days.

And that was where things stood until 2015 when a proviso of the 2008 Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement took effect that required states to fund Amtrak trains operating less than 750 miles.

It was not a sure thing that Indiana would approve funding to keep the Hoosier State but a deal was worked out with the Indiana Department of Transportation and online communities chipping in funding.

The train was turned over to a private company, Iowa Pacific Holdings, although Amtrak operating personnel actually operated the trains under contract.

Under IP stewardship, the Hoosier State had full-service dining in a full-wide dome car. IP actively sought to market the service.

In late January 2017 Iowa Pacific said it would cease operating the Hoosier State after the state rebuffed its request for more money. Amtrak took over the Hoosier State on March 1.

Funding of the Hoosier State is assured through June 30, 2019, and INDOT has said that it will discuss with Amtrak when the train is to be discontinued.

It’s possible that some last-ditch plan to save the train might materialize.
Amtrak will have to ferry equipment from Beech Grove on the Cardinal or in hospital trains. As the carrier discovered several years ago, those can be less than ideal from an operations standpoint.

Then again Amtrak President Richard Anderson recently hinted that Beech Grove may not remain an Amtrak repair shop forever.

In announcing that he was cutting Hoosier State funding, Gov. Holcomb said the train “hasn’t performed as originally billed.”

Primarily he meant that ridership has been disappointing. Patronage in fiscal year 2018 fell 5.5 percent, from 29,504 in 2017 to 27,876 in 2018.

In fiscal year 2014 the Hoosier State carried 33,930 passengers, which means that ridership has fallen 21.7 percent over five fiscal years.

Rail passenger advocates have pointed out – correctly – that ridership would improve if the Hoosier State has a faster travel time. Amtrak has said the same thing.

But getting there won’t be inexpensive and it’s unlikely that Indiana will agree to contribute capital funding toward that end.

Legislators may not understand the ins and outs of why the Hoosier State is so slow. Nor do they care about such things. They only see the falling patronage and wonder why spend limited public funds on a service that is losing ridership.

Olson of the Lafayette chamber of commerce understands that. State lawmakers are under pressure to increase funding for such priorities as the Department of Child Services and education.

“People, we’re finding, are sympathetic,” Olson said. “At the same time, everyone’s approaching this realistically.

“This falls below those things, even though it has value. The governor set the bar high on this. “We haven’t cleared the bar, yet. Can we clear the bar? I think we can. This [is] maybe one of those things we appreciate only after it’s gone.”

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.

IP Hoosier State Makes Last Trip Today

February 28, 2017

The Hoosier State was to make its last trip today with Iowa Pacific equipment and on-board service.

The train will operate from Indianapolis to Chicago. The last run from Chicago to Indianapolis was to occur on Monday night.

indianaEffective with Wednesday morning’s departure from Indianapolis, Nos. 850/851 will become solely an Amtrak operation as it was before IP took over the train in July 2015.

IP pulled out of the Hoosier State operation after the Indiana Department of Transportation spurned its request for more funding.

Amtrak and IP had shared the state funding of the quad-weekly run with Amtrak being paid for providing operating personnel and acting as the go-between with the host railroads. IP provided equipment and marketing support.

Operation of the tri-weekly Chicago-New York Cardinal, which shares the Hoosier State route between Indianapolis and Chicago, will remain unchanged.

No. 50 operates eastbound through Indiana on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday while westbound No. 51 operates on Monday, Thursday and Saturday.

The Hoosier State operates on days and schedule slots that the Cardinal does not. The two trains serve the same stations in Indiana.