Indiana Pulls the Trigger on the Hoosier State.
It’s got to be frustrating. After months of haggling, the Indiana Department of Transportation was finally on the verge of an agreement with Iowa Pacific Holdings and Amtrak to continue operating the Hoosier State, the train that connects Indianapolis with Chicago. Under the proposed agreement, the Indiana DOT would contract with Iowa Pacific to manage the operation and Amtrak would run the trains.
“Hold on there,” said the Federal Railroad Administration, “if the state hires a third party—not Amtrak—to run things, who’s going to be held responsible for such things as safety and insurance and a bunch of other details?”
After a few beats, the FRA answered its own question: that would mean the State of Indiana is, in effect, a railroad and would, therefore, be responsible for all those extra liabilities.
Bear in mind that the State of Indiana was never very enthusiastic about having to fork over several million dollars a year to keep the Hoosier State operating and so the FRA ruling was a perfect and probably welcome excuse for them to say, “Fuggedaboudit!”. That’s exactly what they did and, wasting no time whatsoever, the DOT announced that the Hoosier State would stop operating as of April 1st.
The fact is, in several respects this train has always been a half-assed operation. First, it only runs four days a week, once a day in each direction. (Amtrak’s Cardinal—Chicago to New York via Washington—operates through Indianapolis on the other three days.) And, second, it’s a lousy schedule: the Chicago-bound train leaves Indianapolis at 6:00 in the morning and the return train doesn’t get to Indianapolis until midnight. With frequencies and a schedule like that, it’s hardly a wonder that ridership has not been great.
Still, despite those negatives, a hundred people a day ride the Hoosier State and it would be a travesty for Indianapolis, Indiana’s capital city with a population of close to 900,000 people, to have its rail service reduced to three days a week at inconvenient hours.
By the time you read this, the National Association of Railroad Passengers will have issued an appeal to Mike Pence, the governor of Indiana, to continue funding the Hoosier State for at least 90 days in order for cooler heads to prevail and give the parties involved time to work out some kind of a sensible deal.
Personally? I think Amtrak should step up and—with financial help from the State of Indiana—offer to operate the Cardinal seven days a week. That would continue daily train service for Indianapolis and, as a bonus, the Cardinal’s ridership would dramatically increase because of the greater convenience of a daily schedule. Of course, I have selfish motives: the Cardinal is my favorite eastern train and it’s often hard to fit into my travel plans because of it’s three-day-a-week schedule.
Still, a daily Cardinal strikes me as sensible and a win-win solution to the current stalemate … which, of course, means it has absolutely no chance of happening.