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The Hoosier State Rail Line’s Privatized Future

Corridor Capital, LLC, a Chicago-based passenger rail development company, has been selected by the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) to operate the Hoosier State rail line between Indianapolis and Chicago. Corridor Capital and INDOT will now negotiate the terms of the transfer away from Amtrak, which currently operates the Hoosier State. Service will be transferred to Corridor Capital on Oct. 1, 2014.

Lafayette mayor Tony Roswarski was one of the panelists evaluating proposals submitted by four companies. Corridor Capital narrowly beat out Iowa Pacific Holdings, a British American Railways subsidiary with a long history of commuter rail service. In fact, Roswarski rated the Iowa Pacific Holdings offer slightly higher than Corridor Capital’s. 

What does Corridor Capital have to offer? Mainly older (like 60 years old), refurbished train cars.  Everything else looks to be done on the fly with contractors, according to CC’s website at least:

Like most businesses today, Corridor Capital stays nimble by owning as few assets as possible and using contractors to provide specific services, facilities and products on an ‘as-needed’ basis. 

There are no photos of these refurbished train cars on their website, but this brochure gives an idea of their amenities. I’d be more enthusiastic if I could actually see the trains.

Corridor Capital's car amenities.
Corridor Capital’s fleet amenities. 

There are several challenges Corridor Capital will have to overcome to be successful with the Hoosier State, the biggest challenge being creating a viable alternative to driving I-65 to Chicago. In my view, the Hoosier State should target travelers who make frequent day trips to Chitown. What needs to happen to attract those riders?

Reliable Service 

Currently only 66% of Hoosier State trains arrive on time. That number needs to be much higher. Most of the delays are due to freight trains having priority on the tracks between Indy and Chicago. Corridor Capital was selected by INDOT partly because of its close relationship with rail operators in the Chicago area, but it’s a mystery as to whether it will have any success getting the Hoosier State to Chicago faster.

Ultimately, a new route might have to be rehabbed on abandoned lines, which would require federal money. Anecdotally, I know there is a seldom-used railroad that runs between Lafayette and Wanatah which could be upgraded.  The next connection between Wanatah and Gary was removed in the 1980s and would have to be rebuilt.

Faster Train Speeds

The average speed of a Hoosier State train running from Indy to Chicago is only 48 mph. Serious investment or a new route would be need to improve the track to allow faster speeds, and faster trains wouldn’t solve the congestion problem in the Chicago area. Right now, it takes about three hours to drive between downtowns Indianapolis and Chicago while the Hoosier State takes five. That gap needs to be closer to one hour and not two to increase daytripper ridership.

More Convenient Schedule and Better Amenities 

Among the documents released with the bid selection was an analysis of four scheduling options to increase ridership on the Hoosier State. These four options are listed below.

Possible schedule options for the Hoosier State
Possible schedule options for the Hoosier State

All of these options include reducing trip times by 30 minutes by increasing allowable speeds on the route, which may not be possible. WiFi and a snack car are must-haves as well.  People have to be able to be comfortable and get work done if they’re going to be repeat riders of the new Hoosier State.

What do you think needs to happen to make the Hoosier State viable? What amount would you pay to ride it? Will Greyhound and Megabus always be better alternatives? There are so many unknowns regarding the future of rail service in Lafayette, but change is coming for better or for worse.

 

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3 thoughts on “The Hoosier State Rail Line’s Privatized Future”

  1. Concerning track btwn Lafayette & Wanatah. If you’re talking about the CSX line, track ends at Medaryville. Freight trains do not have priority over Amtrak. RB Dispatcher in Chicago makes those trains go into sidings to get out of the way of Amtrak so they are not the only reason for delays. Track inspections, maintenance, bad signals also cause delays.

  2. If they want the Hoosier State, and that portion of the long-distance Cardinal service, to succeed, they need to get their own railroads. Period. My brother-in-law is a train fanatic, and he told me there’s a lot of dirty politics among train companies. This usually involves freight companies giving their trains priority over Amtrak/other passenger trains since they make more money moving freight.

    I’ve taken the Hoosier State a couple times, but ever since moving to Michigan, I’ve become familiar with the other Amtrak route up here, the Wolverine. What Amtrak has done was refurbished the tracks they own west of Kalamazoo and upgrade them to high-speed (110 mph). MDOT and Amtrak then purchased the tracks between Kalamazoo and Dearborn so the entire line can be high speed from outside Chicago all the way to Detroit.This should be done in a few years, and just like the plans for the Hoosier State, I believe they have plans to add their own cars and trains that will still be operated by Amtrak and MDOT.

    People don’t want to take a train that sometimes reaches 70 mph but then stops 5 times, delays by over an hour, and get to their destination 2 hours slower compared to those who drive. The Hoosier State can be beneficial to the people of Indiana if it could run faster and more often. But until it can get its own rail and make good use out of it, it will still be sitting on a siding waiting for the freight train to pass by.

    (P.S.: Currently on Amtrak in Michigan, I hope that when the entire service is upgraded here, Indiana can have something similar between Chicago and Indy.)

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