Posts Tagged ‘Indiana’

One Morning in Crawfordsville, Indiana

March 11, 2017
Amtrak train No. 851 approaches the Crawfordsville station in August 2011.

Amtrak train No. 851 approaches the Crawfordsville station in August 2011.

When I lived in Indiana between 1983 and 1991, Amtrak’s Hoosier State was a part of my life for periodic day trips from Indianapolis to Chicago.

I preferred to ride the Cardinal because it had a full-service dining car and slumbercoaches, which offered a reasonable fare for a return trip to Indy.

But the Cardinal only ran three days a week and more often than not I wound up going to Chicago on the Hoosier State.

After leaving Indiana for Pennsylvania and, later, Ohio, I rarely saw the Hoosier State again.

I followed its story from afar, including how it was discontinued in 1995 only to be brought back because operating a hospital train to and from Beech Grove shops in suburban Indianapolis didn’t work out so well.

In August 2011 I was on my way to Illinois for a visit. I stayed overnight in Indianapolis and got up early the next morning to get to Crawfordsville before No. 851 did.

The sun wasn’t yet above the tree line when the Hoosier State arrived, but there was enough light to document the coming and going of the train.

Since making these images, the Hoosier State has continued to have a rough ride with the latest development being the takeover of the train by Iowa Pacific Holdings in July 2015.

IP won high marks for its on-board service, but the Indiana Department of Transportation declined IP’s request for more money.

So IP pulled out and Amtrak has resumed operation of the Hoosier State. Actually, Amtrak was never completely out of the picture with Nos. 850 and 851 because it provided the operating crews and handled relationships with the host railroads.

So now what was the usual state of affairs in Crawfordsville is back again. Here is a look back at a morning not too long ago when the Hoosier State came calling.

A typical Amshack that is so typical in smaller cities served by Amtrak.

A typical Amshack that is so typical in smaller cities served by Amtrak.

The old Monon station is no longer used by Amtrak.

The old Monon station is no longer used by Amtrak.

All aboard for Chicago and all intermediate stops.

All aboard for Chicago and all intermediate stops.

And away it goes to its next stop in Lafayette.

And away it goes to its next stop in Lafayette.

A ;l;ast look at the train, which has two cars being ferried from Beech Grove to Chicago.

A ;l;ast look at the train, which has two cars being ferried from Beech Grove to Chicago.

INDOT, Amtrak Say Relationship has 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.

Indiana Rail Line May Become Trail

March 1, 2017

Two Indiana communities want to convert part of a rail line once used by the Indiana Fairtrain into a hiking and biking trail.

The cities of Fishers and Noblesville have proposed pulling up 9.2 miles of rails of the former Nickel Plate Road branch line and creating a 14-foot wide trail.

IndianaThrough 2015, the tracks hosted the Fairtrain and other excursions of the Indiana Transportation Museum.

The Hoosier Heritage Port Authority, which owns the rail line, refused to allow ITM to use the tracks last year after an inspection found that it needed $5 million in repairs.

That came on the heels of allegations leveled by a group of former museum volunteers about financial improprieties at the museum and safety issues.

Although the Federal Railroad Administration and the office of the Indiana attorney general have conducted investigations, no charges have been filed.

The Port Authority recently said it is considering issuing a call for proposals to continue providing rail service on the line.

Representatives of Fishers, Noblesville and Hamilton County manage the Port Authority.

The rails would remain in place north of Noblesville and the portion of the trail south of there would be rail banked. The line extends from Indianapolis to Tipton, Indiana, but has no active connections to another railroad and no trains now operate on the route.

The next steps in converting the rail line to a trail will include soliciting public comment, including holding a hearing.

The cities would then go through the rail to trail administrative process, which could take between six to 12 months.

Local officials say the conversion would cost about $9.3 million.

Indiana Rail Line May Become Trail

February 15, 2017

The rail line used to host the Indiana State Fair train may be pulled up and converted into a trail.

IndianaHamilton County officials are considering abandoning the former Nickel Plate Road branch line and making the right of way a hike and bike path.

The Fair Train, operated by the Indiana Transportation Museum, last operated in 2015 when it carried more than 10,000 passengers.

However, the Hoosier Heritage Port Authority, which owns the rail line, would not allow ITM to operate the Fair Train or any other trains on the line in 2016.

The HHPA says that the line needs $5 million in safety investments before it can be used for rail service again.

The line extends from the fairgrounds along 38th Street in Indianapolis northward through Fishers and Noblesville.

The museum is based in Noblesville but in recent years the Fair Train has originated in Fishers.

If built, the trail would be similar to the Monon Trail, which uses a former Monon Railroad right of way that in the 1980s hosted the Fair Train.

Jeffersonville Port Handled 2.2M Tons in 2016

February 14, 2017

During 2016, the Port of Indiana-Jeffersonville handled 2.2 million tons of cargo, making it the third consecutive year the port has exceeded 2 million tons of cargo.

In a news release the port said that its annual shipping total was 17 percent higher than the previous five-year average.

Ports of IndianaMajor cargoes handed at the port include steel, grain and fertilizer.

Steel shipments last year in 2016 were the second highest in port history.

There are 14 companies at the port that process or handle steel, aluminum, lubricants or plastics that support the top six automakers in the United States, port officials said.

The port is served by CSX and the Louisville & Indiana Railroad.

Burns Harbor Handled 2.6M Tons in 2016

February 11, 2017

Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor said this week that it handled 2.6 million tons of cargo last year, making 2016 the port’s third highest tonnage year in the past decade.

Ports of IndianaIn a news release the port said that major cargoes handled included steel, limestone, carbon products, grain and iron ore. Grain shipments soared 57 percent, while coal shipments climbed 11 percent.

The port also reported an increase in heavy-lift cargoes, saying that large-dimensional cargoes rose 25 percent last year.

These included multiple large cranes and containers of crane components from Europe, storage tanks and wind tower components and blades.

During the past year, Ratner Steel Supply Company said it would add 100,000 square feet to load and unload steel shipments at the port. That $8 million investment is expected to be finished in March.

The port said that during 2016 it invested nearly $2.5 million in infrastructure, including dredging and adding stabilization stones to two berths to increase the number of docks capable of handling full Seaway draft vessels.

Other capital improvements included replacing 2,000 feet of rail and rebuilding three switches. The port is served by Norfolk Southern.

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.

Continued Hoosier State Funding Still in Question

February 4, 2017

Indiana lawmakers aren’t saying just yet if they will continue to support paying for the Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State.

Iowa PacificAn Indiana radio station reported that legislators were prepared to continue the funding in the next state budget, but that has been called into question with the pending exit of Iowa Pacific Holdings as a partner in operating the train.

The Indiana General Assembly provided $6 million in one-time funding in the current state to pay for the quad-weekly Hoosier State.

Senator Brandt Hershman (R-Buck Creek) said he thought the service provided by Iowa Pacific was good.

“It’s comfortable, you don’t have to worry about traffic, you can get work done, you get something to eat, you have Wi-Fi – all those things help the value proposition of the train,” Hershman says.

Another lawmakers, House Ways and Means Chair Tim Brown (R-Crawfordsville) is skeptical that Amtrak can provide match the level of service IP provided.

“We know that performance under Amtrak wasn’t what we wanted,” Brown said. “We got better performance out of Iowa Pacific and I don’t know if there’s another vendor out there but we’ll just have to have more talk about this.”

The budget for the next fiscal year has yet to be released.

Iowa Pacific and Amtrak have a partnership to operate the Hoosier State with IP providing equipment, marketing and on-board service and Amtrak providing operating crews and handling relationships with the host railroads.

Amtrak will take full control of the Hoosier State on March 1.

Amtrak Taking Back Hoosier State

January 31, 2017

Iowa Pacific will cease operating the quad weekly Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State at the end of February with Amtrak taking it over on March 1.

Iowa PacificThe Indiana Department of Transportation, which had contracted with IP to operate the train, said the contract was to have run through June 30, but IP demanded more money than the contractual amount.

“They were looking for a minimum monthly subsidy that was outside the budget we had,” said INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield said. “Even under the existing contracts, their needs were beyond what we had budgeted.”

IP has operated the Hoosier State since July 2015, taking over it from Amtrak after INDOT advertised for bidders.

INDOT said it has paid Iowa Pacific Holdings $500,000 to date to provide on-board service, marketing and equipment for the Hoosier State and $3.9 million to Amtrak, which provides crews to operate the train.

IP will receive an additional $300,000 to operate the Hoosier State through the end of February.

“It should be said we signed contracts in good faith with Iowa Pacific that was through the end of June, and then they came to us and said they we’re unable to continue under those contracts,” Wingfield said.

IP President Ed Ellis wrote on Facebook that his company is moving to “a different service model.”

There have been discussions on railfan chat lists that IP might be experiencing financial difficulties after it failed earlier this month to issue paychecks to employees in Saratoga Springs, New York.

Some employees of the IP-operated Texas State Railroad were laid off, but IP said in a statement that those layoffs were seasonal.

Ellis said on his Facebook page that IP was “unable to continue providing passenger train equipment and on-board services under the terms of its existing contract for the Hoosier State.”

IP received high marks for instituting business class, upgrading the food service and offering a dome car on the Hoosier State.

Ellis wrote that these service enhancements improved customer satisfaction, revenue and ridership, but the train suffered from poor on-time performance when it reached its destination hours late, if at all, on some occasions.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the Hoosier State will operate with Amtrak equipment starting March 1.

INDOT said it’s seeking to continue on-board wi-fi and business-class seating for the train, which operates between Chicago and Indianapolis on days that the Chicago-New York Cardinal does not operate.

It is unclear, though what the long-term future will be for the Hoosier State, including whether INDOT will again put the operation out for bid.

The Hoosier State is funded by INDOT, Lafayette, West Lafayette, Tippecanoe County, Crawfordsville and Rensselaer.

New Operator Sought for Indiana Rail Line

January 25, 2017

A new operator is being sought to provide rail service on an Indiana line that once hosted the popular state fair trains.

IndianaThe Hoosier Heritage Port Authority, which owns the 37-mile former Nickel Plate route between Indianapolis and Tipton, said it was seeking a new operator after the previous operator, the Indiana Transportation Museum, failed to meet track maintenance agreements.

ITM has been embroiled in an internal dispute involving its management and some volunteers who have alleged that there have been financial improprieties and lack of adequate safety procedures

The museum previously operated the fair train and “polar bear” express excursions. Neither operated in 2016 and officials say the fair train might not operate in 2017 either.

Michael Obergfell, president of the port authority, said ITM could seek to operate the line again, but the authority was unlikely to allow that until several organizational issues are resolved.

Although probes by the Indiana attorney general’s office and Federal Railroad Administration have not made any findings of misconduct or wrong-doing, a consultant hired by the Port Authority concluded that ITM failed to comply with a track maintenance agreement between the museum and the authority.

Obergfell said several groups are interested in running trains on the line.