Author Topic: Don't like Amtrak? Put it out for bid!  (Read 3285 times)


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Don't like Amtrak? Put it out for bid!
« on: March 29, 2014, 11:46:30 PM »
The State of Indiana, frustrated with the lack of commitment from Amtrak to support the Hoosier State service between Indianapolis & Chicago has finally done something about it....they put it up for bid to see if anyone can do it better.  The only drawback is that the original Amtrak route takes a hodge podge route over no less than 6 carriers. Not quite as straightforward as AAF has.

Per Trains NewsWire:

Indiana seeks operators for ‘Hoosier State’ route, Iowa Pacific possible bidder

INDIANAPOLIS – For years, some passenger rail advocates have pressed the idea of allowing a private operator to take over a route operated by Amtrak, and demonstrate how service could be improved beyond what Amtrak provides. Now they may finally get their chance. The Indiana Department of Transportation has issued a request for proposals to find bidders willing to take over operation of the Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State route, currently operated by Amtrak.

In early October 2013, INDOT reached agreement with Amtrak to provide a $2.7 million subsidy for the Hoosier State to keep it running for one more year. The deal includes an option to continue the service for four more months after that. The communities of Rensselaer, Indianapolis, Crawfordsville, Lafayette, West Lafayette, Tippecanoe County, and Beech Grove (Hoosier State Partners) are putting up about half the $2.7 million the state has pledged to subsidize the Hoosier State route.

The purpose of the request, the department says, is to obtain competitive bids to operate the Hoosier State in a way that optimizes the service. The state and its partners intend to make the selection so a contractor may begin its operations when the current agreement with Amtrak expires on Sept. 30, 2014. Should additional time be required, the state’s current agreement with Amtrak may be extended through Jan. 31, 2015, by mutual written agreement of the parties.

At least one company is considering making a bid. Iowa Pacific Holdings President Ed Ellis tells Trains News Wire that, “We are evaluating it. We haven’t decided, but it is of great interest, and Indiana is being innovative in their approach.”

The state and its partners want the selected contractor not only to reduce the cost of operating the train, but also work with INDOT and Hoosier State Partners to improve operations, attract higher ridership and bring in increased revenues, thereby further reducing costs.

Bidders have three bid options:
- Perform all functions presently performed by Amtrak on the Hoosier State service
- Bid on some portion of those functions
- Perform all functions presently performed by Amtrak, and add amenities such as Wi-Fi and food service

The request gives the following vision statement: “The future Hoosier State rail service will connect Indianapolis and other Indiana cities to Chicago with additional trains, increased speed between stations, improved on-time performance, increased ridership, and improved on-board amenities. The enhanced passenger service will generate more revenue, and reduce the amounts which Indiana Department of Transportation and Indiana Hoosier State Partners are obliged to pay to subsidize this service. The future Hoosier State intercity passenger rail service will reinforce Indiana Transportation goals and objectives by providing safer, more reliable, efficient movement of passengers, in a manner, which is more cost effective. The future Hoosier State service will further alleviate roadway congestion, contribute to economic development, improve energy efficiency and protect environmental quality.”

A number of stakeholder meetings plus an on-board survey of Hoosier State passengers indicates that passengers would respond positively to additional trains, faster service, increased on-time service, Wi-Fi, and food service, INDOT says.

Bidders must explain what improvements will be made to service quality and how such improvements will be implemented and maintained. INDOT and its partners will be especially interested in any ideas for improvement of on-time performance, the RFP said.

The state is interested in a three-year contract, extendable for additional three years, based upon mutual agreement. Amtrak has access rights by law to freight railroad corridors, and Amtrak pays only incremental maintenance costs for this access. Bidders must show the expected access cost to operate over CSX, CN, Union Pacific, Norfolk Southern, Belt Railroad of Chicago, and Metra. Bidders should recognize that the list of railroads could change, since rerouting in the Chicago region is being considered, the state says.

It remains to be seen if another operator can conquer all the hurdles involved in taking over an Amtrak route, but if they are successful, it could be the beginning of a vast change in how passenger rail service is delivered along state corridors.


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Re: Don't like Amtrak? Put it out for bid!
« Reply #1 on: March 30, 2014, 11:11:39 AM »
Interesting and likely the wave of the future considering Amtrak has no real interest in doing anything outside of a couple of corridors. Funny accounting has those 'profitable' corridors heavily subsidized by the long-distance trains causing conservatives to paint a huge target on the long-distance services. Truth be told that target could easily cover the whole of Amtrak as the corridors are NOT profitable in spite of what you read and hear.

The request gives the following vision statement: “The future Hoosier State rail service will connect Indianapolis and other Indiana cities to Chicago with additional trains,

Doable by a contract operation.

increased speed between stations, improved on-time performance,

Both are at the mercy of the operating railroads and not Amtrak or any future contractor. A 'deal' may be cut on paper but how it works in operation would have to be tested, meanwhile CN and UP are quite hostile to passenger trains and CSX is indifferent at best.
increased ridership, and improved on-board amenities.

The former will happen if the later is carefully cultivated. Achievable.

The enhanced passenger service will generate more revenue, and reduce the amounts which Indiana Department of Transportation and Indiana Hoosier State Partners are obliged to pay to subsidize this service.

While more revenue is achievable, cutting costs and 'increasing amenities' may negate each other.

The future Hoosier State intercity passenger rail service will reinforce Indiana Transportation goals and objectives by providing safer,

Doubtful at best, without the addition of upgraded track, passing sidings and better signalization and if we're going into this to cut costs, none of that is happening. 


Again, totally at the mercy of the operating railroads and good luck with at least two of those.

efficient movement of passengers, in a manner, which is more cost effective.

Double talk, either you invest and improve the end product, or you cut and take your lumps, there is no free ride.

The future Hoosier State service will further alleviate roadway congestion

I want some of what these guys are drinking, this just isn't going to happen except perhaps when snow has the highways snarled to a crawl.

contribute to economic development,

Achievable easily.

improve energy efficiency and protect environmental quality.”

Easily achievable on paper... "insert numbers here___________"

Iowa Pacific certainly has the ability and the equipment to pull this off as well as anybody, but I question their financial condition long-term.


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Re: Don't like Amtrak? Put it out for bid!
« Reply #2 on: March 30, 2014, 05:43:18 PM »
Hey Ock,

I checked on this further and the only way Iowa Pacific might be able to get it to work is if they get a carriage contract for Amtrak to shuttle equipment to Chicago from the Beech Grove shops. Right now Amtrak uses the Hoosier State to help shuttle in and out repaired equipment into Chicago Union Station. If it goes away, they will either have to use the Cardinal or dead head them in. Checking on those rules, if Amtrak is dead heading equipment, that is considered maintenance and they lose their operating priorities on the host road and run at reduced speeds.

Many think this is why the route loses dough is because it carries a lot of dead weight (empty cars) or non-running engines.

INDOT thinks its a rip to subsidize a service that by Amtrak's own admission is used to relay repaired equipment.

Lessons for Florida is that for short distance train routes (750 miles or less), it is better to bid it out unless it extends an existing service.


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Re: Don't like Amtrak? Put it out for bid!
« Reply #3 on: March 30, 2014, 05:59:57 PM »
For what its worth, I found this article on the Indianapolis version of MetroJacksonville called NUVO.

Goes into more detail. I think these articles show just how challenging it is to get a federal rail passenger system to work at the state level. It also provides an interesting contrast to All Aboard Florida and our embracing of a private alternative.

Weighing the Fate of Amtrak's Hoosier State

Indiana stands to lose its Hoosier State Amtrak line from Indianapolis to Chicago if the state fails to identify $3 million in local funding to cover the train's operating costs by a federally imposed Oct. 1 deadline.

The deadline has been on the calendar for five years, since Congress passed the Passenger Rail Investment Improvement Act of 2008, which included a provision that required states with passenger rail service lines of less than 750 miles to take financial responsibility for the routes — or lose them.

As part of the PRIIA's mandate of rail-related funding equity among the states, a multi-state working group partnered with Amtrak to devise a "single, nationwide standardized methodology for establishing and allocating the operating and capital costs among the States and Amtrak."

In Indiana's case, that methodology requires the state to cover 80 percent of the Hoosier State's operating costs for fiscal year 2014, or $3 million by Oct. 1.

As vocal groups of activists, from all points on the political spectrum, are rallying in support of the Hoosier State, others — most notably officials with the Gov. Mike Pence administration — are less than enthusiastic about the train's value.

Speaking to an auditorium packed with people at an Aug. 21 Amtrak Summit in Lafayette, Troy Woodruff, chief of staff at the Indiana Department of Transportation, kept his message simple.

"We've approached this with an open mind," Woodruff said. "When [the PRIIA] came through Congress, we opposed it as an unfunded mandate. That position for us hasn't changed. We don't believe this subsidy should be the responsibility of the taxpayers of Indiana."

Woodruff's rough analysis breaks down as follows: The Hoosier State line's operating and equipment expenses of about $3.87 million for the upcoming year are anticipated to be offset with revenue of about $907,000. With an estimated 37,000 riders paying $23 per ticket, that leaves Indiana subsidizing each passenger by about $80, he said.

INDOT spent an estimated $2.1 billion in fiscal year 2012.

In anticipation of the pending deadline, the biennial budget passed by 2013 Indiana General Assembly endowed INDOT with the authority to fund the Hoosier State, but legislators did not require state officials to do so. In line with the "open mind" approach, Woodruff said that INDOT commissioned a study to analyze a variety of options, so officials can consider the cost of doing nothing, funding the line at its current service level or expanding the frequency and speed of the line to accommodate two or four trips a day.

Of course, added service and performance means added cost, Woodruff noted, arguing that revenue increases other states have seen as ridership grows in response to service improvements would not be alter his assessment of the bottom line: "There will be subsidization no matter what ... unless we are willing to charge more (for tickets)."

Though the study has yet to be released, Woodruff offered the audience a basic assessment of his agency's thinking thus far.

"We view this as a bad model, not a good investment," he said. "Not that we won't participate ..."

If keeping the Hoosier State is important to local communities and stakeholders, Woodruff added, "We will come to the table; we can work collaboratively with you, we will have a hand in this. We will be a piece of the pie, a sliver of the pie — but not the whole pie."
Diverse dividends

Rep. Randy Truitt, R-Lafayette, doesn't look at the funding request as a subsidy.

"The word is investment," he said. "I look at this as a great opportunity to invest in something that may not fit a typical business model of revenue and investment."

Several summit speakers highlighted similar themes, arguing that investing in improved passenger rail service should be considered a critical component of the state's economic development strategy — that the dividends of such an investment would be evident far beyond the train's total ticket revenue.

"I don't personally see this as any different than TIF (tax-increment finance) investments or tax incentives," Lafayette Mayor Tony Roswarski said. "I see this as an investment in economic development — something we need to do."

In a global economy, he said, "competitiveness is paramount."

Speaker after speaker emphasized the importance of how Indiana relates to China and other economic leaders, in terms of attracting investment and recruiting top talent to study, work and raise families here.

"The Chinese operate the largest high-speed rail system in the world; by 2015, they will operate nearly 16,000 miles and achieve their goal of uniting an extremely diverse nation," said Arvid Olson, who helped organize the Amtrak summit and serves on the Greater Lafayette Commerce Quality of Life Council and as director of development at Faith Ministries.

He noted that a train connecting the 1,428 miles between Beijing to Guangzhou takes 7.5 hours — and the seats convert to full-length beds.

Part of Eric Angermeier's role as general manager at Lafayette's Nanshan American Advanced Aluminum plant involves welcoming Chinese companies looking to invest in the U.S. and, more specifically, Indiana. Chinese executives expect rail to be a part of the transportation mix, he said.

"Expanding passenger rail would help attract investment and create jobs," Angermeier said, noting Nanshan considers passenger rail to be a growth industry.

"Selfishly, it is good for our business. We continue to believe passenger rail will continue to expand in the U.S.; it is growing quite rapidly. We hope Indiana can be part of that growth. We need to look for ways to keep it viable and expand."

A February 2013 study of the Midwest high-speed rail supply chain by the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center found that 99 Indiana business support the rail industry through manufacturing and related services — the second-largest number of rail-tied firms in the Midwest.

For Indianapolis, greater ridership could be a boost for Union Station and Downtown business, noted freelance journalist Bill Malcolm, who attended a rail support-building meeting in Indianapolis on Aug. 19.

"Indianapolis is unique among Midwest cities in having an Amtrak station steps from Downtown hotels," he wrote in an email exchange following the meeting. "Since 60 percent of convention visitors come from Chicago, this needs to be more heavily promoted."

Millennial milieu

Not only do international executives view passenger rail as part of a modernized transportation mix, international students do as well.

West Lafayette Mayor John Dennis noted that Purdue University supports the second-largest international population of any university in the country.

"Do they come with cars and drivers licenses?" he asked. "No, they come with the expectation of an efficient and reliable transportation system. Passenger rail is not something they are optimistically hoping for, it's something they expect."

This dynamic is evident in Indy as well. IUPUI and Butler reported stats on incoming classes this week.

More international students than ever — 1,837 or 6 percent of the student body — enrolled in IUPUI this fall. India surpassed China as the lead feeder country this year.

And at Butler, the university reports: "The Class of 2017 comes from 32 states and 22 countries. Forty-three percent are from Indiana, and 57 percent are from out of state. This is Butler's highest percentage of out-of-state students in history. Approximately 25 percent of the class comes from nearby Illinois."

More and more domestic students — and young graduates — are looking for rail options as part of the transportation mix as well.

As president of the Purdue University Student Senate, Micah Matlock was the summit's sole panelist under the age of 30.

He confessed that when he first received the invitation to speak, he thought the panel was about expanding rail options and was "surprised" to find out that the topic involved possible cuts to service.

As state officials conduct their cost-benefit analysis to determine whether an investment in Amtrak is warranted, Matlock encouraged them to consider the impact of bringing new students into the state and retaining that talent.

"Without rail, (students) will not be impressed with Indiana or want to stay here, period," he said.

Matlock added that, as far as making a business case for Amtrak, when Indiana succeeds in scoring students from out of country and out of state, "that is money coming from out of Indiana."

Among some other issues he considered to be relevant, Matlock said: "Amtrak is cool, the technology is cool. It's good for the environment ... and reduces wear and tear on highways. Airfare is not affordable and gas prices are rising. Also, tuition is frozen, but still ... one of my friends just paid $450 for one book for one class.

"All of these costs are not very easy on the pocket books of students."

Matlock said he would submit a recommendation on behalf of the Purdue University Student Senate that Amtrak be supported in Indiana.

In analyzing the economic issues as stake when considering the Hoosier State's fate, Lafayette Commerce's Olson split his time between explaining the investments others are making in rail — in other states and around the globe — and in emphasizing that the millennial generation's approach to life is quite different from that of generations before.

"This is the slowest generation to buy a car in 60 years," he said. "In 1982, 80 percent of 18 year olds had a driver's license. In 2012, it was 60 percent.

"Their dreams do not require 2.3 kids, a house in the suburbs and a fleet of cars. According to study after study ... they have a new way of doing community."

Coming of age today means owning a smart phone, not a car, Olson said.

"Why don't they want to drive?" he asked, holding a smart phone is front of his face. "They can't do this while they're driving.

"We need to preserve and enhance passive transportation."

Olson pointed to the competition Indiana faces in neighboring states. Normal, Ill., is about the same distance to Chicago as is Lafayette and, he said, that town has 10 passenger trains into the city, carrying 300,000 passengers a year.

"They are starting to build high-rise apartments near the station because young people can live in an affordable, safe community and be in downtown Chicago in 1 hour and 45 minutes," Olson said. "That is faster and cheaper than commuting everyday from Schaumburg or Elgin by car."

If the Hoosier State could generate the same amount of ridership, ticket sales, at their current $23 price point, would generate $6.9 million in revenue — more than two times next year's projected annual operating costs.

Hoosier State supporters also point to the environmental and safety benefits of rail.

A letter the Hoosier Environmental Council is circulating in support of the Hoosier State notes: "Cars and light trucks use over one and a half times more energy per passenger mile than Amtrak trains. Improved rail travel means less dependence on oil, and lower motor vehicle emissions as travelers choose rail over auto travel."The communities that rely on the Hoosier State are also the communities that clean up the accidents along I-65.

Indiana's highway deaths dropped 23 percent from 1994 to 2011, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Fatality Analysis Reporting System. Still, in 2011, 750 people died in Indiana auto accidents — 85 of those deaths occurred in Marion County.

In 2012, 12 people died on I-65 in Indiana counties between Indy and Chicago.
Meet the Hoosier State

The Hoosier State leaves from Downtown's Union Station four days a week:Sunday,Tuesday,Wednesday and Friday.

The trip takes five hours, leaving at 6 a.m.Eastern Standard Time and arriving in Chicago at 10:05 a.m.Central Standard Time. Return trips leave Chicago's Union Station at 5:45 p.m. CST, arriving in Indy at 11:50 p.m. EST. The route includes stops in the Indiana Towns from Dyer at the Northernmost, south through Rensselaer, Lafayette and Crawfordsville.

The Hoosier State's ridership hit almost 37,000 last year — an increase of 77 percent from 2002. During the first half of fiscal year 2013, ridership increased by 5.8 percent and revenue rose by 15.1 percent, making July 2013 the best revenue and ridership month in the line's history, according to Ray Lang, Amtrak's chief of state relations.

When considering the potential to build ridership, increase revenue and improve performance, Lang noted that 42 percent of Indiana's population lives within 25 miles of an Amtrak station. In addition, the line serves eight of Indiana's college campuses.

The Hoosier State also hauls equipment in need of repair to Amtrak's maintenance facility in Beech Grove, a giant installation where an estimated 550 Hoosiers work on trains from all across the nation. The Beech Grove shop is the only Amtrak facility in the U.S. where services such as diesel engine repair and dining car overhauls are performed.

"It's an important piece of the Amtrak network — we couldn't survive without the Beech Grove facility," Lang said. "It's the only place we can maintain bi-level super equipment; that equipment will not fit under the wires on the East Coast."

Beech Grove

As Amtrak's principal heavy maintenance facility, the Beech Grove shop — which covers 300 acres and houses 1 million acres of under-roof shop space. The company estimates annual wages paid at $49 million. In addition, Amtrak estimated its annual 2012 Indiana-based procurement expenses at $21.5 million.

"In short, folks, Central Indiana cannot afford to lose this vital asset," Beech Grove Mayor Dennis Buckley said.

With regards to Woodruff's contention that the $3 million expense of the line cannot be justified, Buckley said, "I respectfully disagree — and I'll give you 61 million reasons why I disagree: That's what Amtrak contributes to local economy."

The Hoosier State allows Amtrak to haul equipment on a passenger line, which gives it priority over freight trains. In fact, Lang said, the Hoosier State line grew out of Amtrak's need to haul equipment to the Beech Grove facility without delay. Without passengers, the shop trains did not have priority over freight trains, sometimes delaying transport by more than 24 hours.

Regardless of the Hoosier State's fate, Amtrak's Cardinal Line would continue to run between Indy and Chicago on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays as a part of long-distance route between Chicago and New York. But it would not offer the "shop train" flexibility that the Hoosier State enables.

Other states

Fifteen states provided Amtrak with $191 million in operating support for 21 different routes during fiscal year 2011, the company said.

Several states are pursuing aggressive upgrades with more frequent and faster service. In cases where Wi-Fi service is added, ridership jumps can be seen the next day, Lang said, noting that efforts to enable people to be more productive as they travel are meeting with "great success."

He highlighted the train-to-air market share rates between several cities where upgrades have been implemented. For the route between New York and Washington D.C., Amtrak controlled 77 percent as of the first quarter in fiscal year 2012. Its Acela Express makes the 226-mile trip in just under three hours. On the 187-mile Seattle-Portland route, rail controls 69 percent of the market and for the 86-mile trip between Chicago and Milwaukee, 89 percent of travelers chose rail over air.

"What that proves is with fast, frequent service, you can be a relevant transportation provider," Lang said.

Arvid Olson sees Indiana's lack of rail investment in comparison to surrounding states as an even greater challenge than the immediate issue of whether state officials will save the Hoosier State.

Between 2000 and 2009, of the $1.9 billion Midwestern states spent on rail investment, Indiana spent $150,000 — or about $15,000 a year. And rather than facilitate higher line speeds, Olson said, the state granted CSX's request to reduce top speed on the line between Lafayette and Dyer from 79 to 60 miles per hour.

Indiana's lack of enthusiasm for rail investments left the state sidelined in a recent round of federal grant distribution. Between 2009 and 2012, the federal government sent Midwestern states $2.6 billion to support rail improvements.

Indiana received about 3 percent of that money.

"Only one grant was submitted by Indiana," Olson said. "It was the Indiana Gateway grant to provide better access in Northwest Indiana for the three passenger trains operated by the state of Michigan on their increasingly busy trips to and from Chicago."

As one of two Indiana appointees to the 11-state Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission, Rep. Truitt said he was disheartened to find that local rail service could not deliver him in a timely manner to the committee's meeting in Kalamazoo, Mich.

"Here I am, a commissioner from Indiana, and I couldn't take the train," Truitt said.

He was, however, able to take a high-speed line from Chicago across northern Indiana to Kalamazoo that hit a top speed of 110 on its 2 hour-and-16 minute journey. That experience marked the highpoint of his journey. The meeting itself just served to highlight how far Indiana lagged in terms of rail assets.

"All the states were bragging about their rail involvement and I didn't have much to say," Truitt said.

What's Next

With the deadline for cutting service just over three weeks away, Amtrak said four states at risk of losing routes have signed boiler-plate contracts to maintain existing service.

INDOT officials have yet to determine a course of action as they await the results of the feasibility study, which they anticipate having by mid-September. No public meetings are planned to review the findings, though INDOT plans to publish the study to the department's website site upon its release.

State Sen. Brandt Hershman, R-Buck Creek, encouraged the audience at the Amtrak summit to approach rail advocacy in pragmatic terms. He asked people to think about and communicate what would inspire them to use rail service more often — or at all.

"The challenge," he said, "is to not pound the lectern and say, 'We want rail service!' But to go to lectern and say, 'We want rail service and here is how we can make it work.'"


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Re: Don't like Amtrak? Put it out for bid!
« Reply #4 on: March 30, 2014, 08:23:48 PM »

One of my friends, 'Steve T.' posing for this Iowa Pacific/Pullman Company promo. (Steve also does streetcars) BTW, These cars, these colors are from the original 'City of New Orleans' and more interesting to us, 'The City of Miami' a onetime regular Jacksonville visitor.

Anyone want to follow along, this is the combined schedule.

The Hoosier State runs as 'The Cardinal' 3 days a week each way. From December 17, 1999, to July 4, 2003, the Hoosier State was extended south from Indianapolis to Louisville, Kentucky, and renamed the Kentucky Cardinal. Amtrak's complete disregard for it's long-distance service resulted in the train becoming the Hoosier State once again. The elimination of express services killed many other long-distance opportunities, bulk mail contracts alone would have kept another 6-7 trains running on various routes.

I believe at the Federal level Amtrak has retrenched and decided to do absolutely nothing new or innovative in their long-distance operations. Their lack of aggressiveness speaks volumes. The FEC RY Amtrak restoration was the largest out pouring of public support for the addition of a new transportation link in history... CHIRP! CHIRP!

If Amtrak were serious we'd have 'The Champion' back in service from NYC to Miami, and the Silver Star would be running down through Ocala terminating in Tampa as in tradition. We would be talking about 'The Palmetto' running through to Miami via the FEC on a swift overnight.  The 'Gulf Wind' would be providing the through cars to/from Los Angeles via the Sunset Limited, in New Orleans and Atlanta would be married to Jacksonville via a new 'Royal Palm' and 'Ponce De Leon' at least one if not both of which would be running on to Cincinnati-INDIANAPOLIS-CHICAGO... DAILY!

Iowa Pacific is weak financially even though they do have operating contracts with Amtrak right now. The reborn 'PULLMAN COMPANY' is an I.P. operation, it's luxury cars roll on the Chicago-New Orleans, 'City of New Orleans.'  See:  (WARNING-You might not ever want to fly again). Hopefully they have the staying power because right now they are waiting to hear from Oklahoma on the new EASTERN FLYER route which they've offered to operate. See:
« Last Edit: March 30, 2014, 08:25:23 PM by Ocklawaha »


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Re: Don't like Amtrak? Put it out for bid!
« Reply #5 on: June 27, 2014, 10:01:23 PM »
Well, Indiana did it.

Capital Corridor beat out Iowa Pacific and 2 other bidders to replace Amtrak for the Hoosier State intercity rail service.  No one is protesting this one. No RRIF loans either.

Per Trains News Wire:

Indiana replaces Amtrak as 'Hoosier State' service provider

By Bob Johnston
Published: June 27, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS — Although Amtrak conductors and engineers will continue to operate Indiana’s Hoosier State, the Indiana Department of Transportation has selected Corridor Capital LLC of Chicago to provide the equipment and maintenance, effective Oct. 1, 2014, for its state-supported train. Before any contract is signed and agreement details are finalized, however, officials from on line communities which agreed to help keep the train operating through Sept. 30, 2014, must approve the new service plan and funding they will be required to pay beginning Oct. 1. The operation agreement would include the four weekly round-trips over the Chicago-Indianapolis when the Chicago-Washington-New York Cardinal does not run.

Indiana thus becomes the first state seeking to “unbundle” service currently provided by Amtrak under Section 209 of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008. That legislation mandates that states assume financial responsibility for any Amtrak train operating less than 750 miles. The legislation requires Amtrak to itemize costs it is passing on to states or operating authorities so whatever it charges can be competitively bid on by other entities. The document released by INDOT this week reveals that Corridor Capital narrowly edged Iowa Pacific Holdings in judging criteria scored by the agency’s Selection Review Committee. Herzog Transit Services and Travel Train Holdings Inc. also submitted proposals.

Department spokesman Will Wingfield tells Trains News Wire that Corridor Capital was essentially tapped as a consultant to help define the scope of alternatives for service that the state and Indiana communities will ultimately decide upon. “Leaders from the towns of Beech Grove, Indianapolis, Lafayette, West Lafayette, Tippecanoe County, and Rensselaer are being invited to help evaluate the options and costs that will determine how much support the train will need during the next fiscal year,” he says. Ticket pricing, possible café car service, and business class amenities are all on the table.

In an interview with Trains News Wire, Corridor Capital communications director F.K. Plous says his company will use up to five single-level cars that are certified for Amtrak operation, currently in charter service, and are similar to North Carolina’s reconditioned Raleigh-Charlotte Piedmont equipment. However, Plous declines to name the source of either the cars or locomotives that will be used. Corridor Capital owns a fleet of stainless steel Hi-Level coaches built for the Santa Fe and once operated by Amtrak, but these cars have not been modified.

Railplan International, a Baltimore-based designer of modular interiors, is being hired as a subcontractor to retrofit luggage towers and modular bathrooms into the cars, “to make them fit for daily intercity operation and be responsible for maintenance,” Plous says. Railplan currently has maintenance contracts for commuter carriers Virginia Railway Express and MARC in the Washington, D.C., area, and recently took over maintenance of North Carolina’s trains from Herzog.

“We were selected based on our reputation and our sub-contractor’s reputation,” Plous says, “but costs are not settled yet.” Those specifics are being handled in discussions between Corridor Capital, INDOT, and the on line communities over the next several weeks. “The main thing is that on October 1 we will have a new train out there,” he adds. “Then we’ll be able to gauge how many more people will come out and buy tickets if they are given the opportunity to ride better equipment.”

Of concern for both parties is the fact that as currently scheduled, the Cardinal arriving into Chicago Monday morning doesn’t leave the Windy City until Tuesday evening. This means that unless the Corridor Capital’s cars and locomotives operate in tandem with the Cardinal on those trips, they will be out of position to take the next run.