In case it has escaped notice, earlier this week INDOT struck an agreement with Amtrak to preserve Amtrak’s Hoosier State service for a year with the possibility of extending it under the same terms for an additional 4 months. If the Hoosier State service had been cancelled, one of a number of short Amtrak routes across the country set to expire this month if states did not pick up the tab for their operation, the event could have spelled doom for long range passenger rail service for Indiana. The rhetoric goes that it is much easier to improve a service than it is to resurrect a dead one.
So now what? The service is still crumby at best with scheduled departure times from Indy (to Chicago) at 6am, 4 times a week and comparative arrival times in Indy (from Chicago) of 11:50pm. Furthermore, the duration of the trip is a scheduled 5 hours+. Most would agree that these time tables do not represent an optimum way of travelling to and from Chicago, especially when Megabus offers a comparatively quicker travel time, several departure options a day and is cheaper. Automobile travel is competitive as well although, when calculating gasoline and parking the economics, become murky. Even still, a car trip to an outer Metra station and $1.50 charge for parking for the day represent a great value and, if time proper, still quicker than Amtrak.
So now what? Is there a way to improve time tables to make the Hoosier State more desirable? Travel time aside, if the train left at say 8am, would the Hoosier State become more marketable? Amtrak still has a value proposition in that it IS a train (and who doesn’t like riding the train?) and it offers the opportunity to let loose the wheel and get work done while Amtrak does the travelling. Further, there are no parking costs associated with taking the train and a later departure time from Indy would insure that using IndyGo to get to Union Station is a possible option for arriving downtown. What about increased frequency? Perhaps a midday departure as well?
A number of suggestions are valid that include different departure times and more frequency that would make the Hoosier State far for marketable than it currently is today. The next couple of months could see a louder conversation regarding service here in Indiana as the threat of losing the service has shown through media and public commentary that there is clear support for passenger rail.