Indiana, private carrier ink deal for Hoosier Line

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Passenger rail service between Chicago and Indianapolis will be available every day under a two-year contract the Indiana Department of Transportation has signed with Amtrak and a private carrier.

The Hoosier State service, operated by Iowa Pacific Holdings four days each week, will complement the thrice-weekly Cardinal line operated by Amtrak between Chicago and Washington, D.C., INDOT announced Saturday night. The Hoosier State line carries about 36,000 passengers a year.

Round-trip service began Sunday morning. The train departs Indianapolis at 6 a.m. and arrives in Chicago five hours later, INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield said. Trains depart Chicago at 5:45 p.m. and arrive in Indianapolis five hours later.

Under the new deal, Amtrak will provide train and engine crews and manage reservations and ticketing, while Iowa Pacific will provide the train equipment, maintenance, food service and marketing. If ticket revenue does not cover costs, INDOT will pay the difference, while Amtrak will forward any excess revenue to the state, the agency said.

INDOT said it initially expects to pay 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 deal also calls for INDOT to receive 25 percent of Iowa Pacific's operating profits for the Hoosier State.

The contracts continue through June 30, 2017, with the state having the option to extend the deal up to four additional years. They also allow flexibility for possible future improvements in scheduling, frequency or connecting bus service, INDOT said.

Wingfield told the Lafayette Journal & Courier on Friday that the contract was held up by the completion of a 1,200-foot rail segment between CSX tracks and Iowa Pacific Holdings' maintenance facility in Beech Grove, an Indianapolis enclave. He said the track problem surfaced Tuesday when a switch had to be redesigned on a CSX line that provided access to Iowa Pacific's maintenance facility.

Hoosier State adult coach fares range from $24 to $48 each way. Limited free Wi-Fi service in all passenger cars will use available bandwidth from cellular carriers along the tracks.

One of the three Iowa Pacific passenger cars will be a dome lounge that eventually will house business-class seating with hot meals and drinks included. For a limited time, Hoosier State coach passengers may sit in the lounge at no additional charge, INDOT said. Seats are available on a first come, first served basis.

Iowa Pacific also provides passenger and excursion train services in states including Colorado, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon and Texas.

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