Although expansion of Iowa Pacific’s Chicago-Indianapolis service has been discussed, Indiana officials say it is unlikely anytime soon.
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.