Posts Tagged ‘Ed Ellis’

Sanders Article Appears in September Issue of Trains

July 25, 2017

An article written by Akron Railroad Club President Craig Sanders will appear in the September 2017 issue of Trains magazine.

The article tells the story of how the late Steve Goodman came to write the song City of New Orleans.

Although Goodman recorded the song in 1971, it didn’t become popular until it was recorded by Arlo Guthrie and released in spring 1972. The song reached the top 20 on the music charts in summer 1972 by which time it had begun receiving widespread play on AM and FM stations nationwide.

Goodman, who died of leukemia in September 1984, often said in interviews that the song describes a trip that he and his wife, Nancy, took aboard Illinois Central’s City of New Orleans in April 1970 from Chicago to Mattoon, Illinois.

However, Goodman began working on the song in 1967 following a trip from Chicago to New Orleans aboard No. 1. It was an experience that he had on the return trip aboard No. 2 that got him interested in writing a song about the train.

At the time, Goodman was a college student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He often rode the train between his home in Chicago and the UI campus.

That 1967 experience led to Goodman crafting with the help of a friend some initial lyrics, including the chorus.

The April 1970 trip, though, provided many of the observations that appears in the first two verses of the song.

Sanders told the story about how Goodman came to write the song and how Guthrie came to record it during a program that he presented at the September 2012 ARRC meeting.

He later took his research and created an article that he sent to Trains with the idea that it would be published in April 2015, the 45th anniversary of Goodman’s trip that inspired him to finish the song.

The magazine, though held the article for nearly two years. In the September 2017 issue it is paired with a piece written by Kevin P. Keefe that examines how America’s roots music grew up along railroads lines, particularly in Mississippi, and an article by Ed Ellis about how former City of New Orleans observation car Mardi Gras has been restored and is now operated by Iowa Pacific Holdings.

Those articles along with Sanders’ story about the writing of City of New Orleans appear under the theme “railroads and music.”

IP Looking Ahead as Hoosier State Celebrates First Year of Operation Under its Direction

August 31, 2016

Operation of the Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State by Iowa Pacific Holdings has reached the end of the first year of a two-year trial and the results are promising and concerning.

Iowa PacificUnder IP oversight, the average on-time performance has been 86 percent, which was better than the OT average of Amtrak trains of between 60 to 65 percent.

Ridership, though, has fallen by 11 percent since IP took over the quad-weekly train from Amtrak on Aug. 2, 2015.

The Hoosier State was racking up financial losses that were on track to reach $2 million a year.

On the other hand, ticket revenue has increased by 26 percent and during June the Hoosier State even turned a small profit on the strength of increases in patronage and revenue.

IP head Ed Ellis has attributed that turnaround to growth in business class passengers, who pay a premium to receive food and beverage service while riding in a dome car.

The Chicago-Indianapolis route is different from other intercity corridors in that IP and Amtrak both provide service over it.

Amtrak’s tri-weekly Chicago-New York Cardinal uses the route and the Hoosier State operates on days that the Cardinal does not.

Ellis told West Lafayette radio station WBAA that the improved timekeeping is a result of establishing personal relationships with Amtrak and every freight railroad that hosts the train.

“I think, if nothing else, just that level of daily attention has caused everybody else to pay daily attention to the train and has solved the problem,” Ellis said.

For its part, IP has focused on ensuring that the equipment is ready to go at departure time, thus eliminating late departures that can have a ripple effect.

“ . .  . it’s when trains get out of slot that you get more host-related delays because they need to run freight trains. So leaving on time is important,” Ellis said.

The Hoosier State is not solely an IP train. Amtrak provides under contract the operating employees and does servicing in Chicago and Indianapolis.

IP provides the equipment and handles marketing and promotion although the train is shown on the Amtrak website and Amtrak sells tickets for it.

Funding comes from the Indiana Department of Transportation and five communities along the train’s route.

The Hoosier State costs about $2.7 million annually to operate. Eventually, all of the parties concerned would like to see it become more self-supporting financially. They would also like to see more service.

But Ellis said that will require additional sidings and signal work on the mostly-CSX route that would need to be paid for by the Indiana Department of Transportation.

“I think it’s obvious we need more trains, and the only way to do that is for the state to go to the freight railroads and say, ‘What does it take,’ and for the railroads to give us all a number and for us to decide if we can afford to do that,” Ellis said.

If Ellis had his way, he would create a new route into Chicago and use a different terminal.

What he has in mind is building a connection in Blue Island between the Metra line from Joliet to La Salle Street Station and the former Grand Trunk Western mainline that CSX now operates.

Writing on Train, Ellis said that and other improvements could cost $500 million and cut the Chicago-Indianapolis running time to 3 hours, 20 minutes.

Ellis also would like to operate three daily roundtrips between the two cities.

He wants to trade Chicago terminals because Union Station is crowded but La Salle Street is not.

A new Chicago routing would eliminate running on tracks owned by Amtrak, Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific and the Belt Railway of Chicago. In the process, IP would gain a faster route into Chicago and eliminate a congestion- prone junction with the Indiana Harbor Belt in Dolton.

If the money was available today, Ellis figures it would take a year to 18 months to complete the track improvement work. Given the realities of the situation he said it would more likely take until 2020 to get the improvements made and train frequencies increased.

“There is a lot of spade work that has to be done between INDOT, the [Indiana] legislature and CSX on infrastructure improvement,” Ellis wrote on TO.

But he sees progress, noting that revenue in July 2016 was 70 percent more than that of the same month in 2015.

“  . . . so the effects of improved service are beginning to take hold. But there is a long way to go,” he said.

Continued political support for Hoosier State funding appears to be building.

Indiana lawmaker Tim Brown, a Crawfordsville Republican, is chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which writes the state’s biennial budget.

He admits to having been skeptical at first about funding intercity rail passenger service, but after riding the Hoosier State he came away with a favorable impression.

“This experience showed me there is a desire, there is interest in continuing it and growing it, and so I’m more convinced now more than two years ago that it’s more appropriate to continue funding,” Brown told WBAA.

Brown said that although it is too early to say how much will be allotted for the Hoosier State when the next budget is hammered out in 2017, he expects legislators to approve a line item for passenger rail in the INDOT budget.

Hoosier State OT Performance Reaches 86%

June 14, 2016

Since October 2015, the Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State has posted an average on-time performance rating of 86 percent and an increase in ticket revenue of 20 percent.

InDOTThe figures were announced by the Indiana Department of Transportation. The Hoosier State is operated by Iowa Pacific Holdings, which contracts with Amtrak for operating crew members.

InDOT said the Hoosier State is among the highest-rated Amtrak routes, with 90 percent of riders reporting in a recent survey that they are “very satisfied” with the service.

The Hoosier State operates four days a week on days when the Chicago-New York Cardinal does not operate.

“Instead of being discontinued, the Hoosier State train was improved,” said Iowa Pacific President Ed Ellis. “On-time performance and customer service leading to more riders will be key to future success and improvements.”

Aside from providing operating crews, Amtrak works with host railroads and manages ticketing and reservations.

Iowa Pacific provides the train equipment, train maintenance, marketing and onboard amenities.

Short Line Railroads Get Financial Boost From Fees For Storing Idled Tanks Cars, Coal Hoppers

May 4, 2016

Some short line railroads are finding there is money to be made as a result of falling traffic on North America’s Class 1 railroads.

Companies need places to store idled freight cars and short lines have track space available.

Class 1 railroads would rather not store those cars on their own sidings because it might mean reducing their network velocity and fluidity of operations.

train image2That is particularly the case with cars that are owned by shippers.

“We are in business to make money and right now the money is in car storage,” Iowa Pacific CEO Ed Ellis told Railway Age.

Ellis estimated that 50,000 coal hoppers and an equal number of tank cars have become temporarily, or permanently, surplus.

“The Class I’s are unhappy they are losing the coal business, and we are unhappy for them; but not so unhappy that we are not going to make a few bucks in our unhappiness,” he said.

A short line can earn $3 to $12 a day, depending on car type, in storage fees. Currently, there are 6,000 cars parked on Iowa Pacific tracks.

Some companies even have “logistics centers” that they use to store out-of-service freight cars.

TNW Corporation in Texas has such facilities with room to store 14,000 cars on its three short-line railroads, including loop tracks for a 110-car unit train.

“For us, it’s not a surge business,” TNW CEO Paul Treangen told Railway Age. “We are a long-term provider of premier rail car storage. We can provide security, we can store loaded or unloaded cars, manage transshipment, and clean and maintain cars.”

Treangen said that some cars are being stored because their owners still think the energy market will rebound.

In other instances, the cars have a few years to go on their lease and must be returned in good condition.

Some older cars are likely to be scrapped, particularly tank cars built to DOT-III standards.

Ellis said there are 65,000 such tank cars and most of them will not be rebuilt because the demand for them is not there. They won’t be scrapped because they are still subject to bank leasing.

He said banks don’t want cars back that are not yet paid off. So, with no cargo to carry, those cars are going into storage.

“I believe well over half of the 65,000 DOT-111s will go into storage,” Ellis said, adding that his company would lay temporary tracks to accommodate them if need be.

Hoosier State to Stay as Amtrak Train For Now

July 1, 2015

The Indiana Department of Transportation announced on Monday that contracts enabling Iowa Pacific Holdings to begin operating the Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State on July 1, have yet to be reached.

Amtrak will continue to operate the quad-weekly train, which runs on days that the Chicago-New York Cardinal does not operate.

The announcement came after Iowa Pacific completed a test run last weekend on the route with its own equipment.

Iowa Pacific will furnish the locomotives and passengers cars along with providing on-board service. Amtrak engineers and conductors will continue to make up the operating crews.

Once Iowa Pacific takes over, the trains are expected to have Wi-Fi and food and beverage service.

INDOT officials remain optimistic that Iowa Pacific will be taking over the service and note that a number of snags have occurred to prevent that from happening thus far.

It took four safety inspections of the equipment to be used on the trains before inspectors from Amtrak and the Federal Railroad Administration cleared them to carry passengers.

During a June 5 inspection at Iowa Pacific’s shop in Bensenville, Illinois, FRA and Amtrak inspectors cited equipment problems that had been identified during the first inspection but still hadn’t been fixed.

“We had expected the things that were found wrong in the previous two inspections would be corrected by now . . . which is troubling,” said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said at the time.

Iowa Pacific President Ed Ellis said his company took steps to comply with the safety regulations.

“There was a pin in the air brake chain that was the wrong size that has to be changed,” he said. “That has to be the right size.”

Ellis also said that some federal regulations had changed since Iowa Pacific acquired the cars from Amtrak.

“For example, we now have cars that have separate bins for trash and recycling and we had to build those specifically for these cars,” he said. “Two or three steps were involved because we built them the way we thought they met the standards, but (inspectors) requested changes.

“As the regulations have changed, we’ve worked to comply.”

The rail cars did pass an inspection conducted during the second week of June.

INDOT and Amtrak initially signed an agreement for funding the Hoosier State in October 2013 after Congress stopped funding Amtrak routes that are shorter than 750 miles.

The state and communities served by the 196-mile route agreed to pay Amtrak about $3 million annually.

Ellis said he’s ready to go, but Amtrak is not as enthusiastic.

“Our crew was able to operate the equipment for a test run to and from the location in suburban Indianapolis where we’re told Iowa Pacific will service it,” Amtrak’s Magliari said.

“There are many unresolved issues, and we’ve supplied INDOT with a list of the open issues.”

Neither Amtrak nor INDOT officials would be specific about those issues.

“In addition to the contracts, some documentation needs to be done in terms of the inspections that have taken place,” said INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield.

“And then there’s information that we’re working to obtain from the parties.”

That includes INDOT developing contract language that ensures accountability and consequences for compliance with Amtrak and federal safety standards, an issue that raised by the Federal Railroad Administration in March.

No one will estimate how long it will take to resolve these issues, but some local Indiana leaders still expect Iowa Pacific to take over the train.

“Everybody is still trying to reach that end goal,” Lafayette Mayor Tony Roswarski said. “Whether it’s July first or sometime later, I feel we’re still moving forward.”

In Crawfordsville, Mayor Todd Barton has posted a public celebration he’d planned for Wednesday evening at the Amtrak station.

“We checked with INDOT to make sure everything still looked good and July 1 was still a firm date,” he said. “We will reschedule when they have a firm transition date.”

Wingfield mentioned the transition more than once during an interview with a reporter from the Lafayette Journal & Courier.

“A short term agreement with Amtrak may impact the transition schedule,” he said. “There are many threads that run through this.”

However, Wingfield told Trains magazine that “contract discussions with Amtrak and Iowa Pacific are advanced. As with any such negotiations, it is hard to predict a time duration. We are working with the parties to gather the remaining information and complete some steps in sequence before finalizing and signing the long-term service agreements.”

Marketing Seen as Key to Hoosier State Succcess

May 13, 2015

Ed Ellis has a simple idea how to boost ridership on the Hoosier State. It begins with a marketing effort that is rooted in giving people a reason to ride the train.

He expects to offer highly-marketed travel packages that will take passengers to sporting events and cultural attractions.

Ellis, who heads Iowa Pacific Holdings, told the Journal & Courier of Lafayette, Indiana, that travelers can be sorted into three groups: Those who need to get somewhere in a hurry, those who just need to get somewhere and those who are looking for a reason to go. The latter are much on Ellis’ mind these days.

“The way they ran trains back in the day, they spent a lot of time thinking about events and reasons people need to ride the train,” he said. “Substantial costs of running trains were paid for by people who didn’t have to go but wanted to go.”

Iowa Pacific is in the process of hiring employees to support the Hoosier State, including a marketing manager who will plan trips.

It won’t be just Hoosiers traveling to Chicago for the day. “You can be sure we’ll be selling Purdue football packages,” Ellis said.

Iowa Pacific will provide and maintain the passenger cars for the quad-weekly Chicago-Indianapolis train that will continue to be operated by Amtrak and funded by the Indiana Department of Transportation and the online communities that it serves.

The same route and communities are also served by Amtrak’s Chicago-New York Cardinal, which operates on the three days a week that the Hoosier State does not run.

Iowa Pacific also will provide food and beverage service, something that has had scant availability in recent years. Amtrak will provide engineers and conductors, and sell tickets.

Ellis said that he saw an opportunity throughout months of sometimes contentious negotiations among INDOT, Amtrak and the Federal Railroad Administration over operating the Hoosier State.

He is optimistic that the Chicago-Indianapolis route can become a self-supporting enterprise.

That vision is rooted in a railroad career that included a five-year tenure as a vice president at Amtrak between 996 to 2000.

As an example of what he meant by creating demand, Ellis said his company, which is also in the business of hauling freight, built an outdoor concert venue on top of a mountain near Alamosa, Colorado. The only way to get there was to ride an excursion train that Iowa Pacific operates.

“We created that (concert venue) to give people a reason to ride the train,” he said.

Ellis understand what he is up against marketing a train that doesn’t get anywhere in a hurry.

“What has to happen when you have a train that doesn’t provide fast frequent on-time service is you have to figure out how to get more people on the train,” he said.

Increasing service on the route is going to take about $500 million to be used for rebuilding the tracks. Finding that money will be tough going.

Yet such work is necessary if Ellis is going to reach his goal of 12 passenger trains a day.

Brian Farkas is a locomotive engineer and chairman of the Indiana legislative board of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen.

“Some of his ideas are good, but I’m curious to see how he’s going to get $500 million when our legislators are reluctant to fund $3 million for the train,” Farkas said.

Some have pointed toward federal grants, including the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program.

“There is a renewed willingness on the part of Amtrak, CSX and INDOT to pursue economic development funding, including TIGER grants, to improve the rail infrastructure,” said Greater Lafayette Commerce member Arvid Olson.

“We do have a history of cooperation with railroads in this community,” added Liz Solberg, who oversaw Lafayette’s relocation of Norfolk Southern and CSX tracks to create a rail corridor adjacent to the Wabash River.

Douglas Yerkeson, a rail supporter and partner at Faegre Baker Daniels law firm in Indianapolis, is impressed with Ellis’ approach.

“Having a balanced transportation system is critical to economic development for the state,” he said. “And given the government of Indiana’s interest in partnering with a private company, this may be the impetus for culture change.”

Dana Smith, retired head of Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce, agreed. “If Iowa Pacific can pull this off, it’s going to be an absolute positive for this community,” he said.

Last year, Vicki Burch, a West Lafayette city councilwoman, criticized the prospect of state-subsidized rail transit.

But now she wants to give Ellis and his ideas a chance. “We won’t know until we try,” she said.

INDOT May Sue FRA Over ‘New Railroad’ Ruling

March 7, 2015

Despite announcing that Amtrak’s Hoosier State would make its final trips on April 1, the Indiana Department of Transportation is saying that it hasn’t given up on the train.

INDOT may take the Federal Railroad Administration to court to prevent it from enforcing demands that the state act as a “new start” railroad because it funds the quad-weekly Chicago-Indianapolis train.

INDOT has been negotiating with Amtrak and Iowa Pacific Holdings to operate the service. Those entities plus CSX, over whose tracks the Hoosier State operates for much of its route, are railroads certified by the FRA and perform the functions that the FRA is seeking to force INDOT to perform.

“We’re not going to close off any options (for continuing the service), INDOT Commissioner Karl Browning told Trains magazine. But “the notion of the state having to become a railroad (to operate the Hoosier State) is insane.” The state’s correspondence is available online at

In a statement, the FRA said that is merely seeking to ensure the safety of passengers.

“As states assume a more active role in the management of these services, including in some instances contracting with multiple service providers, they must more closely ensure their services are safe for the passengers, train crews, and communities in which they serve,” the FRA said in the statement. “States ultimately have oversight responsibility for their contractors and service providers. We are fully supportive of states finding the best, most cost-effective way to safely deliver their intercity passenger rail services and will continue to work with INDOT to keep the Hoosier[State] service running safely.”

The FRA statement noted that state-supported trains carry nearly half of Amtrak’s 31 million passengers.

Ed Ellis, president of Iowa Pacific Holdings, told Trains that if the Chicago-Indianapolis service does continue it will use former Santa Fe dome car Summit View, providing sit-down meals in Indiana’s version of business class, along with two lightweight coaches.

The locomotives tentatively chosen for the service are three GP40FH-2s, which formerly ran on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor for New Jersey Transit.

INDOT said that the FRA has “partially inspected” the equipment and another inspection is scheduled.

“Our goal is to handle more people, selling the fact that you can increase ridership with better service. Because business class passengers will pay more for the service, we can increase the Hoosier State’s financial performance,” Ellis said. “We hope the FRA issue can be resolved to INDOT’s satisfaction.”

In a related development, the Indiana Passenger Rail Alliance reported that legislation in the Indiana legislature designed to ensure funding for the Hoosier State has been attracting support.

“All those interested in seeing a modern passenger rail system in our state are smiling a bit more, after learning that the Indiana House of Representatives has included an annual appropriation, which can be used for the Hoosier State, in House Bill 1001, the budget bill,” the Alliance wrote in its newsletter.

House Bill 1001 will now be considered by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“If this committee holds to form, it will invite budget presentations from various state agencies, including the Indiana Department of Transportation, before it adopts its own version of the budget,” said Tim Maloney, a board member of the Alliance.