Amtrak has been asked to continue operating the Hoosier State rail line between Indianapolis and Chicago while details are worked out to transfer operations to a Chicago-based excursion railroad.
The Indiana Department of Transportation has asked Amtrak to continue operating the line between Indianapolis and Chicago until state transportation officials can negotiate contracts with Amtrak, Iowa Pacific Holdings and communities served by that route. The (Lafayette) Journal and Courier reports that this is the fourth time the agency has requested an extension on an October 2013 contract with Amtrak after federal lawmakers stopped funding routes shorter than 750 miles.
Iowa Pacific’s brown rail cars had been expected to replace Amtrak’s silver coaches on Wednesday.
An INDOT spokesman says plans have been delayed so the state can work on the contracts, as well as documentation of four inspections on Iowa Pacific rail cars. Iowa Pacific had secured the bid in a partnership with Amtrak for the Hoosier State Line after the Indiana Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration had been at odds for months about a contract expiring at the end of April.
Iowa Pacific Holdings Inc. President Ed Ellis has said he wants to make improvements to the train, including adding food and beverage service, WiFi and a new business class section.
Ellis also said previously that he wants to increase round trips from four a week to 12 per day. He says the company also plans to decrease travel times; the trip now takes about five hours. A one-hour time difference means travelers leave Chicago at 5:45 p.m. and arrive in Indianapolis at 11:50 p.m. local time. Trains from Indianapolis leave at 6 a.m. and arrive at Chicago’s Union Station about 10:05 a.m. local time.
Any addition to the number of daily runs, as well as a decrease in travel time, probably wouldn’t be a reality until at least 2017, said Ellis, noting that funding and negotiating track updates with all interested parties are a ways off.
The Hoosier State operates between Chicago and Indianapolis, with four other Indiana stops en route. It leaves Chicago on Sundays, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Northbound trains from Indianapolis arrive on Sundays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
On the days the Hoosier State does not run, a long-distance train, the Cardinal, runs the same route, continuing on to Washington, D.C., and New York. That train will still be operated by Amtrak.
Iowa Pacific operates several excursion trains around the country, including a service from Chicago to New Orleans using restored vintage Pullman cars. It also operates a passenger route in England.
Contributing: Associated Press; Mitch Dudek
A dining car like this is planned for the Hoosier State line. | Iowa Pacific Holdings photo