Study considers costs, benefits of improving Amtrak’s Hoosier Line
By Matt Mikus email@example.com September 27, 2013 9:16PM
Updated: October 29, 2013 6:12AM
A state-funded study showing the benefits of increasing passenger service on the Hoosier State, and possible capital costs associated with enhancing that service, gives negotiators information to chew on as they consider the fate of the rail line between Indianapolis and Chicago.
The study, commissioned by the Indiana Department of Transportation and compiled by consulting firm CDM Smith of Chicago, outlines the costs and benefits of the Amtrak line. The study includes research by Amtrak Marketing on how much ridership and revenues could increase if Hoosier State service was increased to seven days, as well as if Amtrak offered two trips each day. Each option also considered the effects of decreasing travel times by 30 minutes.
The Hoosier State line will continue through mid-October, but the 196-mile line will grind to a halt after that unless Indiana, Amtrak and the communities where it makes stops reach an agreement to replace $3.1 million in annual federal funding that ends Tuesday under legislation Congress passed in 2008.
That legislation eliminated funding for lines in 19 states that are shorter than 750 miles.
Gov. Mike Pence on Tuesday authorized the Indiana Department of Transportation to begin negotiating with Amtrak on the line’s future after some communities served by the line expressed a willingness to chip in local funding to keep it moving, INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield said.
Wingfield said a short-term agreement might be needed to provide additional time to hammer out a comprehensive arrangement.
“We’re moving forward productively with Amtrak and the local communities, but it’s still fluid at this point,” he said Friday.
Communities serviced by the train include Dyer, Rensselaer, Lafayette and Crawfordsville.
The Hoosier State currently runs four days of round-trip service, leaving Indianapolis at 6 a.m. and departing Chicago at 5:45 p.m. The remaining three days are serviced by the Cardinal, running between Chicago and New York, following the same timetable.
“It’s the same schedule because they’re easier for customers if the departure times are the same each day,” Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said. “But if the state wants to adjust it, we’re willing to work with them.”
The service had 36,670 total riders in 2012 and generated $883,000 in total revenue.
Two options include adjusting departure times. By changing departures to leaving Indianapolis at 8 a.m. and departing Chicago at 5:30 p.m. to help match riders to connecting long-distance trains, Amtrak market researchers estimate ridership would increase to 89,000 and revenue to $2.26 million.
The second option would focus on local schedules. By departing Indianapolis at 8 a.m. and departing Chicago at 3:30 p.m., the train is expected to carry 86,000 passengers and increase revenue to $2.201 million.
The study also looks at two daily trip options, one with departures from Chicago at 11:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. and from Indianapolis at 8 a.m. and 12:15 p.m. expected to increase ridership to 164,000 and revenue to $4.09 million.
The second option has departures from Chicago at 6:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., and departures from Indianapolis from 8 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Amtrak estimates ridership would increase to 153,000 and revenue to $3.82 million.
But capital costs could influence the final results, since INDOT and state officials are wary of the estimated $80 per rider subsidy it would cost to keep the line running, if service remains as it is.
“One of our goals is to identify ways to improve ridership and revenue, and reduce the amount of subsidy for the route,” INDOT’s Wingfield said.
Some capital costs include paying to build passing tracks so shorter passenger trains can safely pass freight trains. Two sections of the corridor would need expanded or new passing tracks. Also, to provide two round trips a day, additional engines and passenger cars would have to be purchased.
Operating costs would also increase. Current estimates to keep the service as-is would costs more than $3 million a year for the state. To increase the Hoosier State to seven days would cost around $5 million, and two round trips a day would be $10 million to $11 million.
But general improvements to the track would not be required unless the state wanted faster travel times.
Wingfield said he’s not sure which, if any option, INDOT would move forward with, or if they will come up with their own timetable. He said negotiations are ongoing.
“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done before a decision is made,” Wingfield said, “and we’re having positive discussions with all parties, but it requires everyone to make this happen.”