New operator has big plans for Chicago-Indianapolis rail service

SHARE New operator has big plans for Chicago-Indianapolis rail service
SHARE New operator has big plans for Chicago-Indianapolis rail service

Rail travel between Chicago and Indianapolis could be faster, more pleasant and more frequent, the new operator of the Hoosier State line says.

Daily rail service between the two cities is being maintained, thanks to a deal reached by Indiana officials with the Iowa Pacific railroad.

The company secured a 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.

Chicago-based Iowa Pacific aims to improve service for passengers after it takes over the line next month, its president said.

Iowa Pacific Holdings Inc. President Ed Ellis told the the Sun-Times Wednesday that improvements will include the addition of food and beverage service, WiFi and a new business class section — all within about 90 days.

Ellis also 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.

He hopes to cut the five-hour trip, which covers 200 miles, to just three hours. Ellis said this would be done by streamlining switching operations in order to increase the max speed on the line from 60 mph to 80 mph.

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. Coach fares start at about $24 for passengers who book well in advance. Last-minute coach passengers could pay up to $48. Fares for the new business class have not been announced yet.

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.

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A dining car like this is planned for the Hoosier State line. | Iowa Pacific Holdings photo

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