Company has bigger plans for Indianapolis to Chicago train

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The Chicago-based company that now runs the Amtrak line between Indianapolis and Chicago has big plans for the route.

Iowa Pacific Holdings has already has added free Wi-Fi, improved dining options and more than doubled the number of passengers it can accommodate, it said.

It hopes to add more trains, and company president Edwin Ellis told The Indianapolis Star that he envisions trains going between Chicago and Indianapolis 14 times a day.

The train currently runs just once a day from Indianapolis to Chicago and back. Ellis said he's convinced adding trains would attract more passengers.

"You need to be able to go to the station to catch a train and, if you miss it, you can get another," Ellis said. "The trains need to leave on a regular basis and be convenient."

Iowa Pacific is in the first year of a contract with the Indiana Department of Transportation and Amtrak. The trains are still run by Amtrak engineers, and Iowa Pacific furnishes and maintains train cars, among other duties.

Before the contract was reached over the summer, the Hoosier State train route was in danger of going out of business because of funding problems. Also a federal ruling would have required the Indiana Department of Transportation to operate the line, but members of Congress from Indiana convinced federal officials to waive the rule.

The contract calls for the Indiana transportation department to pay $254,527 a month to subsidize the train through June 2017. A combined $21,194 would be paid by Tippecanoe County and the cities of Crawfordsville, Lafayette, Rensselaer and West Lafayette.

Iowa Pacific has doubled the number of cars on the line from two to four, increasing capacity from 88 to 184 for the five-hour trip. 

Adding trains would require help from taxpayers. Ellis said new tracks would be needed so that trains can pass each other, with a "large capital investment" required.

Recent studies that looked at expanding the track's capacity found improvements would cost more than $150 million.

Iowa Pacific and transportation department officials would also have to talk to the tracks' owner, CSX, before new trains are added. Transportation department spokesman Will Wingfield said the agency and CSX have had informal talks about improving speed and frequency.

CSX spokeswoman Gail Lobin said in statement that the company "would be pleased to participate in the process to review and evaluate the opportunity" of adding passenger service.

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