Amtrak service, local maintenance facility in danger

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Indianapolis will lose regular passenger rail service to Chicago and possibly a major employment center if the state declines to take over a federal subsidy for Amtrak before Oct. 1.

The Indiana Department of Transportation will rely on an independent study of Amtrak's Hoosier State line—which runs between Indianapolis and Chicago—plus feedback from local officials before deciding whether to provide $3 million a year to keep the service going, INDOT Legislative Director Abby Weingardt said. The study is due out in September.

In the meantime, local rail enthusiasts are trying to drum up support for an issue that’s attracted more attention in Lafayette, the second-busiest stop on the line. The Greater Lafayette Commerce will hold an Amtrak summit Wednesday from 8 a.m. to noon.

“What I’ve found is that most people aren’t even aware Amtrak intends to end the Hoosier State line without state support,” said Indianapolis resident Bill Malcolm, who takes the train once a month. “The people in Lafayette are very organized because of the Purdue [University] factor.”

The future of the five-stop Hoosier State line came into question after Congress decided Amtrak could not apply its annual operating subsidy to routes 750 miles or shorter. The federal funding for those routes will end Oct. 1.

The Hoosier State is key to the Amtrak system because it also delivers cars to and from the Beech Grove maintenance yard. The maintenance yard, Amtrak’s largest,  employs about 550 people. Beech Grove gets daily Amtrak service through a combination of the Hoosier State, which runs four times a week, and the Cardinal line, which runs three times a week between Chicago and New York.

The Cardinal line is longer than 750 miles and will continue to receive federal funding.

But without daily service, Amtrak would probably shift maintenance work to other facilities, said Rick Burton, assistant superintendent of the Beech Grove Amtrak Maintenance Shop.
The facility uses more than 100 Indiana vendors, and the average pay is $28 per hour, Burton said.

“We spend a lot of money around Beech Grove and Indianapolis,” he said. “It would be a great loss to the city.”

Rail supporters have suggested that the Hoosier State would cost less to operate if service and hours were improved, and if ridership increased.

“Right now, it’s just a difficult service to support,” said Doug Yerkeson, an Indianapolis attorney who wants to see the service continue. The trip from Indianapolis to Chicago takes about five hours; there’s no food service, and the train leaves Union Station downtown at 6 a.m. and returns at midnight.  

INDOT consultant CDM Smith is looking at how more frequent, faster service would affect costs and ridership, Weingardt said. Running the train faster would require track improvements, so INDOT might also ask local communities to chip in, she said.

Indianapolis is due for an increase in state transportation funding, but Department of Public Works Director Lori Miser said she wants to see the results of the CDM Smith study before committing local money.

Asked whether continuing the service at all is a priority, Miser said, “The ridership isn’t that high.”

The Hoosier State averaged about 180 riders a day in the 2012 fiscal year, Weingardt said. Most of the riders originate in Indianapolis and Lafayette, based on the data Amtrak reports for all Indiana stations and lines combined.

Amtrak reported a 3-percent increase in ridership at all Indiana stations in the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, 2012. The growth was more significant at rural stops on the Hoosier State, which include Crawfordsville, Dyer and Rensselaer. In fact, Rensselaer saw a 15-percent increase, to 2,342 boardings and alightings.

Indianapolis had 34,863 boardings and alightings, or a daily average of 96 people who got on and off the train for both the Hoosier State and Cardinal lines.

Lafayette’s total was 27,363 boardings and alightings, or a daily average of 75.


  • No money!
    No money for infrastructure when it's being wasted in Iraq and afhghanistan.
  • Talking Out of Both Sides
    I simply don't get folks who say "Amtrak should only runs on routes it can support." Here's some facts for you: the airlines are subsidized by the govt. (air traffic control systems, airport maintenance/security, etc.); highways are heavily subsidized by the govt. (meaning MegaBus is technically subsidized - we're paying for the road we use); even river-going ferries and barge lines are subsidized through govt. dollars. Why is Amtrak expected to make money? It's not without it's warts, for sure, but so is every form of transportation in this country. There is not a rail system *in the world* - even the uber-safe, uber-fast bullet trains of Japan, France and Germay - that makes a profit. As for the "Hoosier Late," as some semi-affectionally call it, this train suffers from a less-than-direct route because the best/most direct rail routes to Chicago (esp. the former Monon Indianapolis line, now the Monon Trail) were pulled up in railroadings "dark days" of the 70s/80s. But if the state/feds/CSX were to develop a collaborative approach to rail like other states have, we could have a good 80 mph option for service. I don't give the states of Illinois and California credit for much of anything, but those entities, along with North Carolina have figured it out: offer good, reliable rail service with greater frequency, and people will come. Interstate 65 is crowded with trucks and cars; people would much rather NOT drive into downtown Chicago, saving parking fees and traffic headaches. With all due respect to INDOT, it has been highway-centric for decades, and I would love to see them turn the corner on passenger rail here and now, and give Indy passenger rail a chance. (And three days per week with the Cardinal doesn't count!)
  • Not rocket science
    I take the train regularly from Effingham IL to Chicago. There are 3 or 4 trains per day, spanning the day. The trip (while probably longer than Indy > Chicago) takes on average a little less than 4 hrs. And the cost of a one way ticket is $19-$28 (way less than the cost of gas and car wear). The train also has a decent bar/food car. If Indy has any hope of developing its train service, it must: 1/ have more frequent trips, 2/ offer very good value, and 3/ be comfortable (food, bar, wifi, etc).
  • train travel
    WE travel the Amtrak train at least 1 or 2 times a year to go to see our children in Wyoming. We like traveling Amtrak and I hope the service will not be stopped. There are always at least 50-75 people getting on each morning when we get on to get to Chicago.
  • Gadget is Correct
    And it's not just the folks at the Beech Grove facility. Almost everyone's wages need to fall until they are in equilibrium, accounting for transport costs, with those in the countries with which we trade. Free trade in goods and free capital flows demand it, and we must all order our lives around those ideas.
  • locomotive efficiency
    in reply to QQ, Actually diesel locomotives are very efficient. A diesel loco is a hybrid. the diesel powers a generator that runs electric motors that power the train. A freight train can move a ton of freight aprox 450 miles on only 1 gallon of diesel fuel. Some passenger locomotives are electric like the South Shore Line. Just wanted to clear that up for you :)
  • locomotive efficiency
    Actually diesel locomotives are very efficient. A diesel loco is a hybrid. the diesel powers a generator that runs electric motors that power the train. A freight train can move a ton of freight aprox 450 miles on only 1 gallon of diesel fuel. Just wanted to clear that up for you :)
  • Just say No
    mitch didn't read the article correctly...the subsidy does actually end from the Fed. Indiana would have to use general transportation funds of its own to take it over. Now let's look at the threat...550 workers avg. $28 / hr. or $30.8M total annual cost of labor. If they want to keep their union jobs with inflated benefits and pay, how about they take the 10% pay cut (keeping all other benefits) and be glad to still be employed. If that's too harsh, take a 5% pay cut and hike ticket prices to make up the rest. It's a private enterprise - let them figure out how to succeed or fail on their own. The facility won't close and not everyone would lose their jobs, just a reduction in work being done there. Perhaps some workers would take relocation to the "other facilities" where a portion of the Beech Grove maint. work would be shifted...shift the workers too. Local vendors will still be used by the facility, perhaps to a lesser degree. To be clear there will still be rail service between Indy & Chicago so the facility will still be operating.
  • 1more thing
    1 thing that is being left out of this article this isn't a tax that will be imposed on indiana the $3m is still being given to indiana from fed. And giving indiana a option to fund the rail with it or not. Unlike in the past when they gave indiana the money it was automatically for the rail. I travel a lot across the country and travel by rail a lot it is by far the best way to go. Almost all other states signed on without even questioning it. Indiana should not be debating this they should be debating ways to expand and get more riders
  • please help
    I'm from beech grove and the loss of this would be detramental to this city the workers at the beech grove facility support a lot of our local buisnesses. Also we need to expand the rail service if there were more locations/stops and more departure times ridership would grow quickly. As for the time it takes to get to chicago that couldbe cut down to under 3hrs with track improvements the only reason it takes that long is they slow the speed for a comfortable ride.
  • Pork Train
    Here is the math for a train that leaves at 6AM and returns at midnite: 176 Passengers/Day (all stops from story) $3M subsidy = $46.46 per passenger per day. Why should taxpayers subsidize this? Yes, taxpayers do pay for I65...but the rate per passenger is FAR less Amtrak is a Pork Train that needs to be trimmed to ONLY those routes that can support whatever service Amtrak can provide.
    • Save jobs
      My family is supported by this transportation. 550 ppl work at the BeechGrove Stop. That's a lot of ppl without jobs if they lose funding.
    • Interstates are subsidized
      Your calculations are a bit off. You are forgetting the HUGE subsidies we provide for the Interstates. Add that in and then we'll talk about whose luxury gets subsidized.
    • I have used it and love it!
      I have enjoyed riding the train to Chicago. I arrive right downtown, where I need to be. To the fellow who is comparing the cost of flying, driving ones own car, riding the train: you forgot to add in all of the other costs of driving a car (wear and tear on the car, insurance, tolls, etc.) When you do that, you'll find that it is a great bargain. Also I always get a AAA discount when I buy my tickets. Who knew?
    • $
      Do the math. A round trip by train to Chicago is $48. $3Msubsidy/180ppl/day/365days = $46. True cost is about $94. By bus: $75. By car: $54 (25mpg, $3.75 per gallon) So, basically, the subsidy born by taxpayers is so that someone can use a train for about the same price as driving a car which, granted, they may not have. The bottom line, in my opinion (as if anything I say isn't), is ... the bottom line. If it doesn't work economically, do away with tax-subsidized transportation. If you can't afford to go to Chicago, then don't. I'd like to go to the moon or even outer-space but I'm not going to pay $1M for the pleasure. You can say, "We want to go by train and it saves the planet." Fine. Pay the true cost to take a diesel-burning train or rent an electric vehicle that runs on electricity generated by wind or nat gas or coal ... like you'll know which. How many failing programs do we have to subsidize? Let the market determine value. If gas starts costing $40 per gallon because of carbon tax or unavailability, you can be sure people will start paying $94 to go by train to Chicago. And why do you really need to go to Chicago? Isn't that, in some respects, not using resources wisely? If you really want Chicago, move. Oh, you want the experience for a day, like a vacation, like a luxury. Again, why are we subsidzing luxury?
      • Keep the service
        I have used this several times for trips to Chicago for seminars. It gets me to the downtown area without the hassle of trying to remember what exit I need to use to keep from winding up in Wisconsin using the highway system nor circling O'Hare for countless times. This is one subsidy that is worth it, although I would support a ticket hike-still cheaper than air fare into Chicago.
      • Trying to catch Megabus in Chicago is a joke. Meet with hundreds of other people on the sidewalk and wait for about a half dozen or more busses to show up and then it is a free for all. And in the end, you are still at the mercy of the weather and traffic. Speed up the service, and it will succeed on its own.
      • No subsidies please
        This train service seems to serve too few people to justify more subsidies from all taxpayers in the state. How about increasing the rider fees to cover the lost federal subsidy? Doing so might reveal how important it is or is not to the current riders. Why should the rest of the state have to support something that benefits so few people? We could surely find much better ways to spend $3 million and help more people with more important needs.
      • Concur
        I will simply state agreement with all of the other posters, especially the schedule. The article itself shows the economic impact of losing Beech Grove so, again, let's take care of what we already have instead of offering untold millions of dollars to out of town speculators!
      • Megabus
        The Megabus runs service to Chicago that gets there almost 2 hours faster and usually costs less.
      • Ticket Cost?
        Break even point seems to indicate that daily ticket price would be $ 86.05? What's the cost?
      • Yesterday & Today
        Yesterday trains were romantic and competitive. Today we live in a world where we don't feel we have the time to give up 2 hours each way to a bus or car. The busses have improved too, even with WiFi. The cost of becoming competitive may be out of reach, but if its not done, the service is doomed because the alternatives are too attractive.
      • Ridership
        We took this train several years ago and found that it was amazingly easy. It makes for a great getaway weekend, museums, shows, and/or shopping. However, the departure time is absurd. I can deal with the 5 hours it takes to get there (as opposed to 3 hours for driving), but I will not depart at 6 a.m. (which necessitates leaving my home around 5 and paying for transportation downtown so that I don't potentially have to leave my car for more than a day). I don't understand why we cannot have more frequent (and, better timed) departures.
      • No Mass Transit
        If you go to other cities in the world, train service is a key part of transportation systems. It would show some leadership for elected officials and planners to acknowledge that the Amtrak line is a part of the system and needs more support, not less. At the end of the day, it's not about shiny new hybrid busses and expensive trains that run from Castleton; it's about systems of road, rail and bus lines that allow PEOPLE to connect. I think it's time for leaders to step up if there are any at the State level. Leadership is not just saying "I'll cut your taxes." It includes collective actions that only government can do.
      • Need better service
        A classic chicken and egg story. More people would use the service if it was more reliable, but the funds aren't there to improve the service because it needs more riders. I'm among the people who would ride the train to Chicago if the service was better. Parts of I-65 are horrible with traffic, and I would rather see train service improved than money spent widening the interstates.
      • In praise of the train
        I hate to see Indy slide backwards on this. This is a great service and affordable and once in Chicago -- no driving and expensive parking! Many more would use it if the times were less inconvenient. (The time difference is one factor.) I get it that the leaving has to be early AM, but on the coming back, you have to sit at Union Station in Chicago and wait for the 8:00PM train. If it left at 6:30 or even 7 PM it would be easier. Also, I think the decision-makers are people who do not take the train (ask them) or see the need for the train and are prejudiced against it as a mode of transportation. Seems to me that 34,000 plus boardings (with more if the schedule times were improved) is a considerable number and not to be pooh-poohed.

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