The Sorry State Of The AMTRAK Hoosier State


Working on the HYPERLOOP from Louisville, Kentucky to Gary, Indiana, we cannot help but notice Indianapolis. We go right thru it on Interstata 65. But we have “ignored” it because: (1) Indianapolis HAS AMTRAK and (2) Indianapolis to Gary is “too short” to be an efficient HYPERLOOP.

We forget how the “Hoosier State” was nothing more than a “hospital train” to Amtrak’s Beach Grove shops near Indy. It received a name and Horizon cars only so CSX would move it in some semblance of a designated schedule between Chicago-Indy. Hard to believe this once was a vibrant corridor into the early 1960s for NYC, PRR, and Monon. The NYC’s “James Whitcomb Riley” was featured in a 3 hour timecard on its way serving Cincinatti, including change of power between IC/NYC in Kankakee, operating over jointed rail with multiple grade crossings, and making several stops en route.

Given the starvation diet assessed to Amtrak by Congress, the lack of any economic incentives for CSX, and Indiana’s deferred approach to rail infrastructure investment, frankly we can expect nothing will change without federal involvement, as well a spirited encouragement of major P3. To compete with the bus and auto relying on the toll-free I-65 to achieve 3 hour runs, significant funds will be required for rail to achieve:

1) Re-building the antiquated signal system and right-of-way of the CSX between Dyer-Indy. Approximately a minimum of $1 Million per mile just for track infrastructure over that 150 route.

2) $500,000 for 2 power switches at Dyer, IN to divert the train off of the current slow 29 mile route thru 5 dispatchers into Chicago Union Station (CUS) and instead, onto the CN to the St. Charles Air Line access into CUS.

3) How long before the South Shore Line extends to Munster to allow running the “Hoosier State” on its ROW from the St. Charles Air Line to connect there to Dyer?

4) How long for the CREATE program to be funded to eliminate Chicago region rail gridlock by re-building Grand Crossing/75th Street to facilitate passenger rail?

Current Indianapolis Union Station is a decrepit, dark, dank hole in the wall, in an unsafe neighborhood, frequented by the homeless and panhandlers; shared as a bus depot. Rehabilitation drastically required.

By now, we should have learned that an acceptable schedule and timecard are paramount to a train’s potential to attract traffic; with the reality that convenience is key as interpreted by every market metric as provided by more than one frequency each way.

a) The “Hoosier State” must immediately change it current departure and arrival at Indy to be more convenient. Schedule should be changed to leave Indy between 0730-800 and leave Chicago between 1545-1615. HYPERLOOP WILL SOLVE!

b) The train is currently non-competitive on a 5.05 schedule vs. bus or auto at 3-3.30, despite the I-65 truck conga lines, Chicago parking rates, and weather. HYPERLOOP WILL SOLVE!

c) Ideally, there should be 3 daily frequencies (morning, noon, afternoon) HYPERLOOP WILL SOLVE!.

d) If Amtrak ever takes “The Cardinal” daily, it could potentially operate the “Hoosier State” daily on an alternative schedule.HYPERLOOP WILL SOLVE!

1) Indiana got used to the service enhancements provided by Iowa Pacific, but was willing to accept only when the bid was under the full cost to provide.

2) Iowa Pacific under-bid its services apparently with the intent to get one state corridor on the board, so it would have that story to offer to other potential current, or, new state corridor interests, seeking to have an option to Amtrak.

3) Passenger railroading is not cheap, with no flexibility for neophytes and wannabes; little room to negotiate costs, e.g., Class 1 track access and dispatching; cost of slot to achieve optimal timing and scheduling.

4) Without a 180 change in Congress, the “Hoosier State” will best exemplify our failed national transportation policy, bouncing along on freight trackage at almost twice the travel time required by interstate.

Thanks to Mark E. Singer for his AMTRAK comments.

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