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Hoosier State Line Offers New Amenities To Riders

train arriving

Indiana's Hoosier State Line is entering its second month under a new operating agreement that promises to provide better service and more amenities to riders.

The Indiana Department of Transportation reached a deal with Amtrak and Iowa Pacific last month to continue service on the line for at least the next two years.

The state and communities along the route are shouldering the financial burden after Congress cut funding for the regional line in 2013.

The hope is they'll have to pour less money into keeping the line running if the improved service attracts more riders.

 A Trip Aboard The Hoosier State Line



Tired faces fill the lobby of Indianapolis' Amtrak station, where riders are waiting to catch the 6 a.m. Hoosier State Line heading toward Chicago.

But today, they'll have to wait a little longer than expected.

The train arrives more than an hour late, because of an issue with a switch along a track owned by CSX Corporation.

Delays aren't uncommon along this route. According to Amtrak, the Hoosier State Line ran on time 66 percent of the time over the past 12 months.

"Right now the service runs over five different rail lines operated by five different companies and there's a lot of dispatching and handing off that occurs to get a train from one location to another," says INDOT Spokesperson Will Wingfield. "We're trying to find a way to simplify that. And by simplifying that, that will make it easier to deliver on-time performance."

Officials say they're  hopeful that will be one of many improvements under a new agreement that started last month. Under the agreement, Amtrak operates the line while Iowa Pacific provides the equipment and maintenance.

[pullquote source="Rita George

Hoosier State Line passenger"]I was really dreading it because I knew how it was last year. So, it just makes it nicer.

And new amenities for riders are part of the deal. Among them is the super dome, which features a glass, domed ceiling and booths where people can take in the view. The super dome is free for all passengers for now, but the plan is to eventually offer business class along the route, which would include food and beverage service.

The train also has a dining car, which offers hot breakfast and dinner, depending on the time of day. The food is prepared fresh by the train's chef.

In addition, wi-fi is provided, but only in areas where there is cell phone reception.

Rita George and her husband rode the train last year and say they're pleasantly surprised by the recent improvements.

"I was really dreading it because I knew how it was last year," George says. "So, it just makes it nicer."

The hope is those improvements will attract more riders.

Long-term Success Depends On Ridership



Hoosier State Line ridership from October 2014 to June of this year was down 8 percent compared to the previous year.

For now, INDOT and communities along the route are crossing their fingers while they pay  to keep the line running.

"At this point, we anticipate the state would pay about $255,000 per month and then the local communities it's about $21,000 per month, combined," Wingfield says.

The city of Lafayette is one of the communities chipping in. It pays between $6,000 and $7,000 a month.

That's no small chunk of change for cities that are struggling with dwindling budgets, but Lafayette officials see it as a worthwhile investment.

" We look at it as economic development – not just taking a leisure ride on the train," says Mayor Tony Roswarski. "We look at it as how do you retain talent, how do you get people to move here? Say, 'Hey I can jump on a train, get to Indy or Chicago and not have to get in my car.'"

[pullquote source="Tony Roswarski

Lafayette Mayor"]It has to get to Chicago in a reasonable amount of time and be reliable.

But in order to get more people to take the  train, it has to be reliable.

"It doesn't have to be a huge, high speed," Roswarski says. "But it has to get to Chicago in a reasonable amount of time and be reliable. If we think it continues to do that, there will be people that would really use it."

Even with delays, passengers aboard the train do plan on riding again.

Because many of them say the improvements show how train travel should be.

"This is the greatest," says Larry Abrams, who's taking the train to Chicago. "And to go from Indianapolis to Chicago and back for $52, that's dirt cheap."

At the end of the 23-month agreement, the state will have the option to renew its agreement with Amtrak and Iowa Pacific for up to four additional years.

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