An Indiana newspaper reported last week that although Iowa Pacific was raving about improvements in on-time performance and increasing patronage of the Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State, the operation had become a money pit.
The Journal & Courier of Lafayette said IP wanted the Indiana Department of Transportation to pay it $900,000 to operate the quad-weekly train through July.
INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield told the paper that IP said if it didn’t get that money it wanted it would cease participating in its partnership with Amtrak to operate the train.
For his part, IP President Ed Ellis told the newspaper that he blames the partnership’s failure on the formula INDOT used to pay IP and Amtrak.
That clause, Ellis noted, meant that as the on-time performance of the train improved IP was getting less money.
INDOT rejected IP’s demand for an additional $900,000 for six months of service because it was beyond the means of the state and municipalities that pay for the train.
Funding for the Hoosier State is provided by INDOT, Lafayette, West Lafayette, Tippecanoe County, Crawfordsville and Rensselaer.
Since IP became involved with the Hoosier State in July 2015, it has provided locomotives and passenger cars and has been responsible for marketing and on-board service.
Among other steps, IP began offering business class service and had a chef prepare on-board meals. Business class passengers were able to sit in the upper level of a full-length dome car.
Amtrak’s role was to provide the operating crews and handle relationships with the host railroads. That included incentive payments to CSX to handle the train on time.
The Hoosier State, which uses the same route between Chicago and Indianapolis traversed by Amtrak’s tri-weekly Chicago-New York Cardinal, primarily uses tracks of CSX.
Amtrak has said it will take over complete responsibility for the Hoosier State on March 1, including providing rolling stock.
Marc Magliari, an Amtrak spokesman based in Chicago, said the services Amtrak will provide are still being worked out.
However, he said Amtrak hopes to offer Wi-Fi and business class service. One amenity that Amtrak is likely to offer that IP did not is on-board power outlets.
The type of food service, if any, that Amtrak will provide is another unknown at this point. In the years before IP took over the Hoosier State, Amtrak did not offer food service.
Magliari said the train’s schedule will remain the same.
“What we think is important is that we have those amenities,” Tippecanoe County Commissioner Tom Murtaugh said in reference to the services that IP provided. “We think this has led to the increase in ridership.”
As he has said in the past, Ellis told the Journal & Courier that if the Chicago-Indianapolis corridor is to thrive it needs a faster travel time and more trains.
“You have to be able to run multiple frequencies,” Ellis said. “It takes a lot of capital to do that. I was hopeful we would be able to, but here we are: We have the same number of trains going at the same speed.”
Wingfield said INDOT has recommended to Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb that the state continue for the next two years to fund the Hoosier State at $3 million a year.
Ellis said anything beyond the current level of service will require a higher level of funding from the state.
“I know the folks at INDOT want to solve this, but it’s beyond them,” he said. “It’s up to the legislature and a higher level of commitment to the Hoosier State.”