Amtrak President Joe Boardman took to the editorial pages of the Lafayette, Ind., Journal & Courier this week to fire the latest salvos in the battle to operate the Hoosier State.
Ostensibly, Boardman was seeking to correct what he termed “inaccuracies and misinformation regarding Amtrak’s operation of the Hoosier State train service under a contract with the Indiana Department of Transportation.”
Boardman said Amtrak can offer several different service models for the Hoosier State, but he called on the state of Indiana to decide what it wants and what it is able to pay for.
Whatever that might be, Boardman made a pitch that Amtrak continue to operate the Hoosier State.
“Amtrak believes it remains Indiana’s best long-term choice for safe, reliable intercity passenger rail service,” he wrote. “Amtrak brings proven expertise in delivering passenger rail service, railroad operations, safety and security, equipment maintenance and repair. We want safe and effective passenger rail service to succeed for the benefit of Indiana’s people, businesses and communities. Let’s get this done.”
Currently, Amtrak operates the quad-weekly Chicago-Indianapolis train under a contract with INDOT that will expire in late January 2015. The train is funded by INDOT and local governments along its route.
Earlier this year, INDOT said it has chosen Chicago-based Corridor Capital to operate the train. Although Corridor Capital was supposed to take over operations this month, that didn’t happen.
Instead, Amtrak agreed to operate the Hoosier State for four more months.
Trains magazine reported on Friday that Corridor Capital and INDOT have still not reached an agreement to operate the Hoosier State.
“The primary reason is that state officials failed to actively engage Amtrak in negotiations for track-access rights with the freight railroads until weeks before the new operator was to take over this fall,” the magazine reported. “With the clock ticking on a four-month Amtrak contract extension that expires Jan. 31, 2015, those discussions are finally underway.”
Boardman last week rode a special train to whistle stop along the route to make a pitch for Amtrak to continue operating the Hoosier State.
His op-ed piece in the Journal & Courier may have been the latest ploy in those efforts or it might have been part of a larger public relations campaign to deflect blame away from Amtrak if the Hoosier State is discontinued in February.
During last week’s journey, Boardman visited with various Indiana officials and also announced the rollout of food service and WiFi service aboard the Hoosier State.
The service amenity upgrades, which have since been implemented included adding a food-service car with business class seating.
However, the car does not have an attendant and business class travelers are limited to consuming complimentary beverages and pre-packaged pastries that are left on the counter for them.
“I learned a lot during the tour about community desires for this service, and I believe the community representatives gained some valuable insights into the challenges and complexities of operating a safe and efficient passenger rail service,” Boardman wrote in his op-ed piece.
Without naming it, Boardman took another shot at Corridor Capital. “The leasing company designated as Indiana’s vendor claims to have ‘indestructible’ railcars that are ‘available now,’ but it was unable to meet the Oct. 1 deadline to assume the service.”
A Corridor Capital spokesman told Trains that he could not reveal what passenger cars and motive power will be used. “Three parties, each with much at stake, are at the table discussing their respective roles and public disclosure of (those details) would be premature,” the spokesman said.
In its bid proposal to INDOT earlier this year, Corridor Capital said it expected to use Amtrak conductors and engineers.
But Amtrak has since insisted that it will deal only with INDOT as a primary contractor and not a subcontractor of another party.
Amtrak has also raised the issue of whether the equipment to be used by Corridor Capital would comply with Amtrak and Federal Railroad Administration standards, and, because the Hoosier State crosses state lines, Environmental Protection Agency and Food and Drug Administration rules.
“Operating passenger rail service is no small task, especially for the inexperienced,” Boardman wrote. “Recently, a private operator providing trains in New Mexico lasted only four months before failing — on a route much shorter and less complicated than the Hoosier State. The complexity of the challenge along the Indianapolis-Chicago route is much greater. Amtrak stands ready to work with INDOT and the communities to prevent a similar outcome with the Hoosier State.”
Trains also reported that Herzog Transit Services, which also bid to operate the Hoosier State, told INDOT in a June 6 letter that “the right of access … must belong to the state of Indiana, not a third party operator” as required by the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008.
However, INDOT officials have been expecting that Corridor Capital would be responsible for obtaining access to railroads over which the Hoosier State operates as well ensuring that it was in compliance with FRA operating and safety regulations.
The Hoosier State uses six railroads to travel between Indianapolis Union Station and Chicago Union Station.