Indiana Amtrak Service Saved. Now, How Can It Be Improved?

Rail riders and advocates in Indiana won a big one this week, securing the additional state funding needed to keep Amtrak’s Hoosier State line operating four days a week between Indianapolis and Chicago. It was the last, and most hotly contested, of the 19 agreements Amtrak was required to negotiate with 15 states in order to maintain service on its “state-supported” routes.

Union Station in downtown Indianapolis. Image: ##http://www.urbanindy.com/2013/10/18/amtrak-hoosier-state-saved-now-what/##Urban Indy##

So the good news is, no vital service to small towns or big cities was eliminated, even where it seemed most vulnerable: Indiana lawmakers had originally balked at the $3.1 million annual expense.

But Curt Ailes at Urban Indy says Indiana still has a long way to go before rail is competitive with other forms of intercity travel:

The rhetoric goes that it is much easier to improve a service than it is to resurrect a dead one. Crisis averted.

So now what? The service is still crummy at best with scheduled departure times from Indy (to Chicago) at 6 a.m., four times a week and comparative arrival times in Indy (from Chicago) of 11:50 p.m. Furthermore, the duration of the trip is a scheduled 5 hours+. Most would agree that these timetables do not represent an optimum way of traveling 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 timed properly, still quicker than Amtrak.

Is there a way to improve time tables to make the Hoosier State more desirable? Travel time aside, if the train left at say 8 a.m., 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 traveling. 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?

Elsewhere on the Network today: The Dallas Morning News’ Transportation Blog gets into detail on the widening chasm between TxDOT’s big spending and its revenues. Better Institutions questions the claim that cul-de-sacs are the best way to accomplish “social cohesion.” And Biking Toronto reports that Canadian authorities have shot down the Ontario Coroner’s recommendation that sideguards on trucks should be mandatory to prevent pedestrian and cyclist fatalities.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

As Deadline Approaches, Amtrak’s Indy-Chicago Line Faces Cuts

|
Notices may soon start appearing at train stations around the United States warning of possible service disruptions as states struggle to finalize funding agreements with Amtrak. All “state-supported” Amtrak routes — those shorter than 750 miles — are up against an October 16 deadline to come up with state funds to support passenger rail operations […]

Amtrak’s Marketing Overture to Millennials

|
Chalk up a win for the Amtrak marketing team, which has drummed up a ton of media coverage with its new residency program for writers. The above video, produced by Amtrak, goes into the thinking behind this effort. Randy Simes at Urban Cincy expounds on the strategy today: On the heels of kicking off their […]

A Hard-Fought Legislative Victory for Indianapolis Transit

|
Indianapolis might not be known as a transit city — yet — but a legislative breakthrough at the statehouse this week opens the door for dramatic improvements to its transit system. After three years of advocacy, state officials approved a bill that will allow the six-county Indianapolis region to vote on whether to tax themselves […]

After Punting on Transit, Indiana Senate Mulls New Highway to Nowhere

|
Does metro Indianapolis need a $1.5 billion second outerbelt? Not if you think highways-to-nowhere are a bad way to spend money. But that didn’t stop a group of state lawmakers from trotting out the idea recently. The long-dormant “Indiana Commerce Connector” is a proposed $1.5 billion semi-circle around undeveloped farmland that was rejected by state […]