Deal finalized to keep Indy-Chicago Amtrak rail service

SHARE Deal finalized to keep Indy-Chicago Amtrak rail service
SHARE Deal finalized to keep Indy-Chicago Amtrak rail service

The Indiana Department of Transportation says four-days-per-week passenger rail service between Chicago and Indianapolis has begun under a two-year contract with Amtrak and Iowa Pacific Holdings.

INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield says round-trip service began Sunday morning on the Hoosier State train, which departs Indianapolis at 6 a.m. EDT and arrives in Chicago about 10 a.m. CDT.

He says INDOT initially anticipates paying Chicago-based Iowa Pacific about $255,000 per month and the communities of Crawfordsville, Lafayette, Rensselaer, Tippecanoe County and West Lafayette would pay a combined $21,000 per month. The contracts continue through June 30, 2017, with the state having the option to extend the deal up to four additional years.

The deal also calls for INDOT to receive 25 percent of Iowa Pacific’s operating profits for the Hoosier State.

Work on a 1,200-foot segment of rail between CSX tracks Iowa Pacific’s maintenance facility outside Indianapolis was completed late Saturday, clearing the way for the deal. Amtrak spokesman Craig Schulz said the Hoosier State train ran on schedule Sunday.

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 is still operated by Amtrak.

The Indiana Department of Transportation had asked Amtrak to continue operating the line between Indianapolis and Chicago until state transportation officials could negotiate contracts with Amtrak, Iowa Pacific Holdings and communities served by that route. Federal lawmakers have required Amtrak to stop funding routes shorter than 750 miles. 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 President Ed Ellis has said he wants to make improvements to the train, including adding food and beverage service, Wi-Fi and a new business class section.

Ellis has said 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 increase in daily runs, as well as a decrease in travel time, probably wouldn’t be a reality until at least 2017, Ellis has said.

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 Mitch Dudek, Reema Amin

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