Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak’s Hoosier State’

Ghost of the Monon Meets Ghost of the Pennsy

September 21, 2019

For a fleeting moment in Linden, Indiana, the ghost of the Monon met the ghost of the Pennsylvania Railroad.

The occasion was the passage of the final trip of Amtrak’s Hoosier State from Indianapolis to Chicago.

Two former PRR passenger cars were chartered to operate on the final trip including the Frank Thomson, a blunt end observation car. Thomson was the sixth president of the Pennsy.

I didn’t plan to get a reflection of a retired Monon semaphore signal in the window of the Thomson as the Hoosier State passed this railroad museum located at the restored joint Monon-Nickel Plate road passenger station.

But sometimes you get lucky.

Hanging With the Hoosier State in its Final Week

August 11, 2019

Boarding has begun for the Chicago-bound Hoosier State on June 25 at Indianapolis Union Station.

By the time I arrived in Indianapolis Amtrak’s Hoosier State had just one week left to live.

I would experience No. 851 three times before it made its final trip on June 30, riding it once and photographing it trackside twice.

I had ridden the Hoosier State several times but not since August 1991.

Interestingly, my purpose for riding the Hoosier State nearly 28 years later would be the same as why I rode it in 1991.

I was moving and needed to go back to my former hometown to pick up a car and drive it to my new hometown.

In 1991 I had driven from Indianapolis to State College, Pennsylvania. In 2019 I drove from Cleveland to Indianapolis.

Boarding of No. 851 began shortly after I arrived at Indianapolis Union Station on the morning of June 25.

I was the second passenger to board the Horizon fleet coach to which most Indy passengers were assigned. The car was about two-thirds full.

The consist also included an Amfleet coach, an Amfleet food service car and two P42DC locomotives, Nos. 77 and 55.

We departed on time but a few minutes later received a penalty application near CP Holt that required a conversation with the CSX PTC desk.

We would later encounter a delay between Crawfordsville and Lafayette due to signal issues.

Yet there was no freight train interference en route that I observed. We stopped briefly in Chicago so a Metra train could go around us.

That was probably because we were early. We halted at Chicago Union Station 20 minutes ahead of schedule.

I had heard the former Monon can be rough riding, but I didn’t think it was any worse than other Amtrak routes I’ve ridden.

There wasn’t any of the abrupt sideways jerking that I’ve experienced on other Amtrak trains.

The journey did seem to be slow going at times, particularly through the CSX yard in Lafayette; on the former Grand Trunk Western west of Munster, Indiana; through the Union Pacific yard on the former Chicago & Eastern Illinois; and within Chicago proper.

Overall, the experience was much the same as riding any other Amtrak Midwest corridor train although it featured an entrance into Chicago that I had not experienced before in daylight.

The crew said nothing about it being the last week of operation for Nos. 850 and 851.

My next encounter with the Hoosier State came in Lafayette on June 28.

No. 851 arrived on time with a more typical consist that included cars being ferried from Beach Grove shops to Chicago.

These included a Superliner sleeping car, a Viewliner baggage car, a Horizon food service car, and a Heritage baggage car. There also was the standard Hoosier State consist of three cars. On the point was P42DC No. 99.

I was positioned next to the former Big Four station at Riehle Plaza so I could photograph above the train.

Although a sunny morning, the tracks were more in shadows than I would have liked. Nonetheless I was pleased, overall, with what I came away with.

After No 851 departed – it operated on CSX as P317, an original Hoosier State number – I went over to Fifth Street to photograph it sans railroad tracks.

One stretch of rails has been left in the street in front of the former Monon passenger station.

My last encounter with the Hoosier State would be my briefest.

I drove to Linden to photograph the last northbound run at the railroad museum at the former joint Monon-Nickel Plate depot.

No. 851 was 24 minutes late leaving Indianapolis Union Station and about that late at Crawfordsville.

It had a consist similar to what I had seen in Lafayette two days earlier. P42DC No. 160 had a battered nose with some of its silver paint peeling away.

I wasn’t aware until I saw them that two former Pennsylvania Railroad cars had been chartered to operate on the rear of the last Hoosier State.

They were Colonial Crafts and Frank Thomson. The latter carried a Pennsy keystone tail sign on its observation end emblazoned with the Hoosier State name.

It was a nice touch and after those cars charged past the Hoosier State was gone in more ways than one.

 

That’s my Horizon coach reflected in the lower level of the Lafayette station.

 

Watching the countryside slide by west of Monon, Indiana.

The Hoosier State has come to a halt on Track 16 at Chicago Union Station. That’s the inbound City of New Orleans to the left.

A crowd lines the platform in Lafayette as the Hoosier State arrives en route to Chicago.

The former Big Four station in Lafayette was moved to its current location to serve Amtrak. At one time it also served intercity buses.

Pulling out of Lafayette on the penultimate northbound trip to Chicago.

P42DC No. 160, which pulled the last northbound Amtrak Train No. 851 had a well-worn nose.

Two former Pennsylvania Railroad passenger cars brought up the rear of the last northbound Hoosier State.

Hoosier State Makes Final Trips in Style

July 1, 2019

Operating on CSX as P317, Amtrak’s northbound Hoosier State passes through Linden, Indiana, between Crawfordsville and Lafayette on Sunday.

Amtrak’s Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State made its last trips on Sunday with two private cars riding on the rear of the train to mark the occasion.

The cars, both of which are painted in a Pennsylvania Railroad livery, were the ex-PRR lounge car Colonial Crafts and blunt-end observation car Frank Thomson.

The latter carried a tailsign in the shape of a Pennsy keystone with the Hoosier State name on it.

The cars were chartered by Keiwoon Krause and Gideon Comanse, who sold tickets to 40 passengers.

Otherwise, the last trips of Nos. 850 and 851 were just another day on the railroad even if it was the last day.

Seven passengers boarded the last northbound Hoosier State in Crawfordsville while the trip was sold out between Chicago and Lafayette.

The consist of the train was its usual two coaches and a business class/café car along with a deadheading Superliner sleeper, a heritage baggage car and a Horizon fleet coach.

In Crawfordsville, there was a banner thanking the Amtrak crews who worked the train.

No. 851 was 24 minutes late departing Indianapolis and 31 minutes late arriving in Chicago.

The Chicago-Indianapolis route will continue to be served by Amtrak’s Chicago-New York Cardinal and Greyhound has added a few additional Thruway bus trips between the two cities that will stop in Lafayette.

Amtrak’s Hoosier State to Make Final Trips on Sunday

June 29, 2019

Amtrak’s Hoosier State boards passengers at Indianapolis Union Station on June 25 during its last week of operation.

The Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State will make it last trips on Sunday.

Amtrak is “suspending” the train effective July 1 because the State of Indiana declined to renew its funding.

Nos. 850 and 851 operate on the days that the Chicago-New York Cardinal does not operate.

From Indianapolis to Chicago, No. 50 runs on Monday, Thursday and Saturday. In the other direction No. 51 operates on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

The Cardinal will continue to operate after the Hoosier State is discontinued.

The Hoosier State appeared to be doomed once Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb sent a budget request to the state legislature last February that omitted funding for the train, which was also funded by various online cities and counties.

Holcomb cited falling ridership for ending the funding.

The Hoosier State began in October 1980 as a demonstration route. It was discontinued in September 1995 as part of a major Amtrak service restructuring and retrenchment but reinstated in July 1998 in part to give Amtrak a more reliable means of ferrying equipment between Chicago and the Beech Grove shops in suburban Indianapolis.

The Hoosier State has skated on thin ice since 2013 when Indiana became the last state to agree to a funding plan mandated by the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 that required state and local governments to pay for Amtrak routes of less than 750 miles.

Initially the Indiana Department of Transportation chose Corridor Capitol, a Chicago-based rail passenger services development company, to manage and operate the Hoosier State.

However, INDOT severed ties with Corridor Capitol in November 2014 and Amtrak continued to operate Nos. 850 and 851 on a short-term contract.

INDOT said the following spring that the Hoosier State would end on April 1, 2015, due to regulations of the Federal Railroad Administration that would have required the state to act as a rail carrier, despite the state owning no tracks or trains.

INDOT appealed to the FRA and the Hoosier State continued to operate under

a short-term agreement.

In August 2015, INDOT reached a four-year agreement with Iowa Pacific and Amtrak to operate the train.

IP was to provide providing and maintain the rolling stock as well as provide food service and marketing.

Amtrak would provide ticketing services and train operating crews.

Iowa Pacific said in January 2017 it was withdrawing from the contract after INDOT refused to increase its financial compensation.

Starting March 1, 2017, the Hoosier State became an all Amtrak operation.

Efforts to emend the budget in the legislature to put back funding for the Hoosier State failed and Amtrak said in April that the train would be “suspended” on July 1.

At one point Amtrak said it has reached an agreement with CSX to reduce the running time and that the Hoosier State would be rescheduled in late April to provide better times at Indianapolis.

But those changes were never made and it is unclear if they will eventually be applied to the Cardinal.

The Hoosier State is thus poised to become the Amtrak train to be discontinued in several years and the first to end due to PRIAA requirements.

Dawn of a New Day in Indianapolis

June 28, 2019

The sun is just starting to rise over downtown Indianapolis as Amtrak’s Hoosier State emerges from the train shed of Union Station en route to Chicago.

It may be the last week of operation for Nos. 850 and 851 but it is the first week of my new life living in the Circle City.

Those who read this website and who know me are aware that I’ve been planning for some time to move from Northeast Ohio to Indy.

After many delays, complications and unforeseen circumstances, we finalized our move this week.

I made this photograph from a coach seat aboard No. 851 as I began a journey to complete our move by traveling on Amtrak back to Cleveland to pick up my car and drive it to Indy.

Yes, it made for a very long two days that included the Lake Shore arriving in Cleveland well over three hours late.

I will continue to operate this website and its focus will not change all that much aside from the fact that you might see more Indiana centric content.

As I said when I brought back this site from hibernation, it will continue to be devoted to news, features and nostalgia about the railroads of Akron and Northeast Ohio.

However, I’ll also be continuing to report news of railroad operations in the states surrounding Ohio, something I did for many years when this site supported the Akron Railroad Club.

Those of you still in Northeast Ohio are welcome to send along any photographs you’ve made of the rail operations in your home region, which was my home, too, for nearly 26 years.

During that time I served as president of the Akron Railroad Club for 14 years and was a member for 15 and a half years.

I’ve got a lot of memories of club activities and other railfanning experiences that I’ll continue to share.

As I’ve told many folks, it is not that I’ll never get back to Northeast Ohio. It’s just that those trips won’t be all that frequent. But when I do get back you might see me trackside.

I hope to see you again some day.

Divorcing Amtrak is Hard to Do

February 6, 2017

The great Hoosier State privatization experiment is about to end. It started in July 2015 when Iowa Pacific Holdings began “operating” the quad-weekly Chicago-Indianapolis train.

On TransportationI put the word “operating” in quotation marks because, technically, IP did not “operate” the Hoosier State.

In practice, it was a partnership with Amtrak. IP provided the equipment and marketing support, and was in charge of on-board service.

But the operating crews were Amtrak employees and the nation’s passenger carrier handled the relationships with the host railroads, primarily CSX.

As it turned out, Amtrak has received most of the money paid by INDOT and its partner communities that fund the service.

For a while, Iowa Pacific received many kudos because of what it wasn’t, which is Amtrak.

Under Amtrak auspices, the Hoosier State was a bare-bone operation used to shuttle equipment between Chicago and the Beech Grove Shops in suburban Indianapolis.

By comparison, the IP operation of the Hoosier State was a luxury train, with business class, meals freshly prepared on board, and a full-length dome car for those willing to pay extra fare.

IP head Ed Ellis – who once worked at Amtrak – talked about expanding service and the need to cut the travel time.

He said IP would aggressively market the service, seeking to build markets that Amtrak had ignored.

One marketing gambit IP talked about was running a bus between the Crawfordsville station and Bloomington, the home of Indiana University.

IP correctly recognized the college market is a good source of passengers, but apparently the Bloomington shuttle never got on the road.

Iowa Pacific had a lot of people rooting for it to succeed with the Hoosier State, many of whom believe that a private operator can provide better service than Amtrak.

Some also want to believe that a private operator can make money on passenger service by providing better and more economical service than Amtrak. Ellis and IP apparently believed that, too, but the Hoosier State didn’t yield the expected financial returns for IP.

Ellis always knew the daily service and faster trains he desired hinged upon the willingness of government entities within Indiana to provide the capital funding needed to upgrade the slow meandering route used by the Hoosier State and Amtrak’s tri-weekly Chicago-New York Cardinal.

If IP could demonstrate that the Hoosier State was a success despite its route limitations, then perhaps Indiana officials would be amendable to funding track work in the same manner that the departments of transportation in neighboring Michigan and Illinois have.

But that has always been a long shot. Indiana has never been as supportive of intercity passenger rail as its neighbors.

Amtrak will take back the Hoosier State in Toto on March 1. Although INDOT said it has a verbal agreement that some of IP’s services will be retained, that is not a sure thing.

It remains to be seen if INDOT will seek an operator other than Amtrak and, for that, matter, how much longer the state and on-line communities are willing to pony up money to underwrite the operating losses.

One key take away from the IP Hoosier State experiment is that divorcing Amtrak is more difficult than it might seem.

Lower Gas Prices, Mild Winter Depress December Amtrak Ridership on Michigan, Indiana Routes

January 21, 2016

Lower gasoline prices and mild winter weather took a toll on Amtrak ridership in the Midwest in December.

News reports this week indicated that ridership on the Chicago-Grand Rapids, Michigan, Pere Marquette fell by 24 percent in December.

Patronage had fallen 18 percent in the fourth quarter of 2015, for a loss of 4,800 riders between October and December.

Nearly half of that decline (2,559) occurred in December when revenue fell by $68,000 in December. For the quarter, Pere Marquette revenue fell by $132,675.

Ridership declined by 7.8 percent in St. Joseph, Michigan; about 9 percent in Chicago; 11 percent in Bangor, Michigan; 25.6 percent in Holland, Michigan; and 28 percent in Grand Rapids.

The Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State saw its December ridership fall from what it had been in December 2014.

An online report said the Hoosier State carried 3,043 last month versus 3,259 in 2014.

Earlier in 2015, Iowa Pacific Holdings took over management of the Hoosier State, assigning its own equipment and on-board service crews. The IP service includes business class service that provide hot meals in a dome car.

Ticket revenue for the Hoosier State was $76,413 in December 2015 versus $83,878 in December 2014 when it was an Amtrak train.

Amtrak engineers and conductors continue to operate the quad-weekly Hoosier State under contract with IP.

Amtrak patronage at New Buffalo, Michigan, which is served by Chicago-Detroit (Pontiac) Wolverine Service trains, rose 3.8 percent in December. On the same route, Niles saw a decline of 22.4 percent while Dowagiac was down 4.1 percent.

Hoosier State Resume Operations

October 8, 2015

After a week of cancellations, the Hoosier State resumed operating between Chicago and Indianapolis last Monday.

The train was sidelined on Sept. 28 due to mechanical problems with one of its locomotives. The Monday trip also marked the launch of business class service as well as a third coach.

That coach, named the Durant, had defects that had been missed in an inspection conducted two weeks earlier.

Trains magazine reports that the Indiana Department of Transportation canceled the Oct. 2 trips of the Hoosier State after inspectors found the defects on the Durant during a follow-up inspection.

A delay in receiving replacement parts led to the train being replaced by buses until Monday night’s trip from Chicago to Indianapolis.

Business Class Set to Launch on Hoosier State

September 29, 2015

Business class service will begin on the Hoosier State on Oct. 2. Iowa Pacific, which oversees the service on the Chicago-Indianapolis train, will also add a third coach to the run.

Business class passengers will receive breakfast to Chicago and dinner to Indianapolis.

The service will be provided in the upper level of the great dome car. Coach passengers will continue to be able to purchase food and beverages in the lower level of the dome car.

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

INDOT, Iowa Pacific, Amtrak Reach an Agreement on 2-year Contract to Operate Hoosier State

August 4, 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 working with the host railroads and managing ticket reservations for the train.

INDOT will reimburse Amtrak for 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 sent 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 be 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 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. Normally, 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.