The Hoosier State: Another View.
The following comment came in this morning from a regular reader and it offers a very interesting, but entirely different perspective on the problems of the Hoosier State.
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I took the Hoosier State last summer on a trip to Indianapolis. On the same trip I took the Illinois Zephyr, a train I’ve taken numerous times and one that I like a lot. There were several differences that to my mind make the traditional Amtrak Illinois trains superior. First, as you note, the schedule for the Hoosier State is awkward.
The Illinois trains all make at least two trips a day, a minimum of morning and evening both directions. Both the arrivals and departure times are more convenient than on the Hoosier State. It also doesn’t help that Amtrak’s Indianapolis station is mostly a Greyhound facility and has the ambiance of a run-down bus station—not a place that was pleasant to arrive at midnight.
I traveled one direction in business class and one direction in coach on the Hoosier State. I was honestly unimpressed with the Hoosier’s business class car. The only option was to sit at a table with three other passengers who basically chatted loudly with each other and ignored me. I had to sit backwards, and I felt like an uninvited guest at a party. I’m fine with meeting new people at a meal on a train, but sitting with people I didn’t know for six straight hours was not very enjoyable. Honestly, it was probably the least pleasant train trip I’ve ever had. On the other hand, on the Illinois trains business class features spacious seating in a 2 – 1 configuration, which was quiet and allowed me to get productive work done during the trip.
The Hoosier State tried to market the views from the dome car. That car would be very nice if the train passed through the rest of the Cardinal’s route. Unfortunately, what the Hoosier State did was to pass through northwest Indiana—bleak industry, run-on suburbs, and corn fields. There’s really not a lot of reason for a dome car in that area.
The coach seats on the Hoosier State were advertised as being “vintage”, but that didn’t really come across as a good thing. While the car was only about half full, the seats were much more cramped than most Amtrak coaches, more like an airplane than a train.
The food on the Hoosier State was quite good, and it surprised me on my coach trip to find it quite a lot cheaper than what is generally offered on Amtrak—less than what restaurants in Chicago and Indy would charge for the same items. While that was good for my pocketbook, it certainly wouldn’t bring in much profit.
Your main point that trains need subsidies is spot on. It’s not really a surprise that Indiana would want to try out a private enterprise experiment, but it’s also not at all surprising that it failed.
The best possible solution for Indiana would be to make the Cardinal a daily train and then to supplement it with a more conveniently timed regional train in the opposite direction (leaving Indianapolis in the afternoon and Chicago in the morning). Unfortunately, it wouldn’t surprise me if Indiana’s legislators see this as an excuse to completely remove their subsidy, citing the experiment as “proof” that not even private enterprise could make trains work.