Amtrak and Indianapolis

Discussion related to Amtrak also known as the National Railroad Passenger Corp.

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Station Aficionado
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Amtrak and Indianapolis

Post by Station Aficionado »

Following a recent discussion regarding the Cardinal, I've been wondering whether it really is worthwhile for Amtrak to run a Chicago-Indianapolis train. (I know that the Cardinal/Hoosier State is used to ferry equipment back and forth between Chicago and Beech Grove, but I don’t think it does so every day, and I would think Amtrak could simply run a “shop train” once or twice a week to transfer equipment). I’ve looked at old timetables, the SPV Great Lakes East railroad atlas, Kalmbach’s reprint of the 1948 Rand McNally railroad atlas, and Craig Sanders’ Limiteds, Local and Expresses in Indiana, 1838-1971, and done a good bit of searching on the map function on Bing (highly recommended for those who have not checked it out). And I have reached the conclusion that Amtrak would be better served to focus its efforts elsewhere. (The Indianapolis-Cincinnati route is also problematic, but I’ll stick to Chicago-Indianapolis for this posting.)

Once upon a time, there were three relatively direct passenger routes between the two cities: the NYC(Big Four)/IC route through Kankakee and Lafayette; the Monon route through the town of Monon, Frankfort and Carmel; and the PRR route through North Judson, Logansport and Frankfort. According to the January 1955 Official Guide, the fastest times on these routes were 3:35, 4:00, and 3:50, respectively. By comparison, the Cardinal is carded for 5:05, but often takes much longer.

None of the three routes is now usable. The NYC route is entirely gone between Lafayette and Rock Island, just north of Indianapolis. It no longer serves the old Big Four station (now moved), and a backup move (albeit a short one) would be required to do so. Moreover, between Lafayette and Kankakee, the ex-NYC is today a slow-speed short-line route. And I’m sure CN doesn’t want any more passenger trains on the ex-IC route than are already there. The Monon is gone between Monticello and Indianapolis (although Amtrak uses the portion northwest of Monon). The PRR route is now missing several large chunks north and south of Logansport.

Thus, there is no good passenger route left. This is not Amtrak's fault, and I thing the freight railroads were trying to opitimize trackage for freight servive. Amtrak, hence, must content itself with the present cobbled-together route through Crawfordsville, Lafayette and Dyer. Leaving Indianapolis, this route looks like the path of someone trying to shake off a pursuer. A train must first head southwest on the ex-PRR line to St. Louis, then turn north on the ex-PRR line that went to Logansport, then turn west-northwest on the ex-Peoria & Eastern (the direct P&E line to downtown Indianapolis is gone), and finally turn in the general direction of Chicago when it attains the ex-Monon route at Crawfordsville.

This route is slow, and congested, with parts controlled by antiquated signals. It is not remotely competitive time-wise with either auto or plane (even factoring in the necessary pre-arrival time at an airport). It also doesn’t attract a lot of people relative to the markets it serves. For FY 2008, the total boardings and alightings at Lafayette and Indianapolis, the only two significant traffic centers on the route, were 23,083 and 34,089. That amounts to 63 and 93 people per day getting on and off, and some of them were going to or coming from locations east of Indianapolis. That’s a very small percentage of the daily travel between those two cities and Chicago. In my opinion, this route is simply not viable as a passenger corridor

There are no real alternative routes, either. While the ex-PRR line remains in service between Indianapolis and Frankfort, a train would have to turn west on the NS at Frankfort to in order reach Lafayette. There is no connection (at least in proper quadrant) at Frankfort, however, and the train would still have to use the present dysfunctional route north of Lafayette. The only other route that looks even remotely possible would be the ex-NKP line to Tipton and Kokomo. This line is owned by the Indianapolis Transportation Museum between Indianapolis and Tipton. It is slow, NS severed it at Tipton more than a decade ago, and the line’s direct connection to downtown Indianapolis is either severed or gone. Furthermore, although Indiana pays lip service to the idea of Chicago-Indianapolis-Cincinnati high-speed service, I don’t sense any real commitment to it. In fact, a few years back, one of the economic powers-that-be in Indianapolis (Eli Lilly, I believe) raised the idea of removing almost all railroad trackage in the downtown area. Finally, I don’t think the Indiana congressional delegation has historically been a big booster of Amtrak. Thus, dropping Chicago-Indianapolis would not seem to carry a huge political cost.

In short, the present route is not really viable. Any new or rebuilt alternative would cost massive amounts of money, which could not be justified absent the building of a high-speed, multiple-frequency service (which I don’t see happening any time soon). Thus, I believe Amtrak should redirect the money and equipment it uses on the west end of the Cardinal route to enhance or start service on more viable routes (e.g., the Michigan line, Chicago-Quad Cities, an additional Chicago-St. Paul train, etc.). I’m curious what others may think about this.

electricron
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Re: Amtrak and Indianapolis

Post by electricron »

My opinion is for Amtrak to acquire portions of the abandoned railway corridors and build anew. Something Amtrak or the FRA should have been doing as the railroads abandon them all along. It's fine with me if the freight railroad companies abandon corridors because they are redundant, but the corridor property should be turned over to the Feds.

Then the FRA, FHA, Amtrak and other Federal Agencies can debate the best usage for the corridors, for use by Amtrak, rail to trails, highways, fiber-optic networks, transmission lines, pipelines, etc.....then implement those usages.

Golly, in the western half of the nation, most of that land belonged to the Feds initially anyways, the railroads got the land for nothing, except for the capital and labor costs for building a railroad on that free land.

CHTT
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Re: Amtrak and Indianapolis

Post by CHTT »

You are right that no good rail route exists between Chicago and Indianapolis. The abandonments of the 1970's were particularly destructive in Indiana. And the current transit time is no way competitive with driving. But seeing that the Hoosier State only involves a two or three car train four days a week and equipment runs would have to remain as long as Beech Grove is Amtrak's main shops, I don't see much of a saving in demoting a large city like Indianapolis to only three day a week service.

D.Carleton
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Re: Amtrak and Indianapolis

Post by D.Carleton »

Station Aficionado: your synopsis is on target, the current routing is less than optimal at best. This is a corridor that will not be a cheap fix and as of right now the political will to correct this does not exist. There may be a small improvement in the not too distant future. It's been hypothesized that if/when Grand Crossing is rebuilt the Cardinal/Hoosier State will move to the former IC as far as Harvey, IL and connect with the former GTW thereby obviating the UP out of Chicago.

Alcochaser
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Re: Amtrak and Indianapolis

Post by Alcochaser »

80% of the of the problem with this Corridor lays within the greater Chicago Metro area.

The other 20% is problems with CSX.

Look at the time taken between CUS and Dyer.... That route is horrible. traverse the GTW, thru a BUSY UP yard, hope the Belt Railway is feeling charitable,then onto the Metra, and then onto the NS ex CR or continue on the Metra, and then onto Amtrak's lines at CUS. You spend most of your time just getting thru the outskirts of Chicago. When Amtrak first moved to this routing, they used the PRR/CR Bernice cutoff to get access to the Conrail main directly into CUS. Problem was Amtrak was the last thru train using it. Amtrak or anyone else did not want to cough up the bucks to maintain the route so Amtrak was stuck with the current bad routing.

There are a couple ways this hopefully gets fixed.

There is hope that NICTD will restore the Monon between State Line and Maynard. Amtrak can use the new NICTD tracks to State Line and use the South Shore to get to the IC and then into the station.
A quicker way would be moving to a an all CN GTW/IC routing between CUS and Maynard. You would avoid the BRC and UP yard which cause most of the hassles.

CSX as I said is to blame for the other 20%. The monon once was a 79mph railroad until recently. Now it's down to 60mph. While CSX has replaced all but a couple of the ancient signals it's still ABS on stick rail.

The larger reason this has occurred is the freight patterns. The big NS and CSX freight mains to further south go around each side of Indianapolis. CSX runs down the West side of the state on the C&EI, NS uses a cobbled together route down the East side of the state. Conrail got all the good north south routes thru Indy, and promptly went on an abandonment craze over the years as Conrail wanted ALL the freight traffic that went thru Indiana to filter thru ether Avon or Elkhart yards. This led to Conrail using the Marion branch for IND CHI traffic. A route useless for Amtrak.

The only reason the Cardinal runs thru Indianapolis is it's better route (the C&O) got the axe as well. It exists to serve farther east and only needs to "get thru" Indianapolis. The Hoosier state is the shuttle train plain and simple, without the Grove it would not exist.

Gilbert B Norman
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Re: Amtrak and Indianapolis

Post by Gilbert B Norman »

It is refreshing to have a topic originated with a well thought premise, presented in clear expository writing, and leading to a conclusion with recommendations instead of the all too prevalent 'tweets' that of late somehow find their way on to this forum.

The equally mature follow up postings further establish the point that very simply there is no route between Chi and Indy, which of course would be the nucleus for service continuing to Louisville, Cincinnati, and Columbus, over which 79mph passenger train operations can be attained, save a "spurt here and a spurt there' (whoops, did I ever just degrade to twittertalk?). This is unlike the existing UP/SP/CMW/ICG/GM&O/C&A Alton Route in which with comparatively small investment could be restored to double track and easily support 'twelve a day' - and UP's freight operations.

The problem is that Indiana has never shown any initiative towards supporting intercity trains. They participated in the six month 1971-72 "Preamble Express' of the Lake Shore, but otherwise a 'that's all folks'. Even assuming that the CCCSTL "Big Four' Route that joined the IC at Kankakee could be resurrected, the onus would likely fall upon Federal funding - but the "model" for additional passenger service places the burden on Local (State) jurisdictions to initiate such. The "Feds" will do their part with existing (independent of any Awards to be made under ARRA '09) FTA "matching funds" and maintaining a rail passenger system national in scope (Amtrak) to provide the ready to go expertise needed to operate a train.

But alas, even if I personally hold 'take 'em elsewhere", should Chicago be awarded the 2016 Olympics, and with the influx of visitors from overseas that are accustomed to at least hourly service between major cities 200 miles and a "max" three hour ride apart, something could happen and with a Federal funds initiative.

NY&LB
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Re: Amtrak and Indianapolis

Post by NY&LB »

These is a pervasive mis-understanding of railroad land grants.

electricron wrote:
Golly, in the western half of the nation, most of that land belonged to the Feds initially anyways, the railroads got the land for nothing, except for the capital and labor costs for building a railroad on that free land.
Perhaps THIS http://www.aar.org/IndustryInformation/ ... s/144.ashx will help clear up the issue. (file can be opened with adobe)

BTW, the first land grant railroad was the IC, see http://www.landgrant.org/history.html

"1850 U.S. Senator Stephen Douglas arranges a checkerboard compromise to create the first federal land grant railroad, the Illinois Central. Illinois Central Railroad attorney Abraham Lincoln will soon challenge Stephen Douglas for political office, and, with the Illinois Central's help, will eventually be elected president of the United States, from which office he will sign the largest of the railroad land grants into law."

I guess IC territory was "the west" in 1850!

Sorry for the "off topic" post, but I wanted clear up the statement made by electricron.

Gilbert B Norman
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The ICRR and Urbana-Champaign

Post by Gilbert B Norman »

I'll understand if the Moderator chooses to kill this off topic material, but "once upon a time, say 1850' Champaign, IL simply 'wasn't'. The eastblished community at that time was Urbana, some three miles to the East of where Champaign was to be. The IC was laid out virtually (not quite but almost) tangential from Chi to Centralia, the surveyors did not see fit to alter the "course' for the benefit of Urbana (there may have been politics involved FAIK - or care), so therefore Champaign 'sprung up' and quickly after, because they had the railroad to Chicago, became the dominant community.

The University of Illinois (in common with most other major State universities, a Land Grant school), always had a split personality. While the Administration Building, i.e. the school's address (and my annual check going to), and "The Quad" are all in Urbana (the West Side of Quad being on the municipal line), most student housing, "campustown', and many a University facility are in Champaign (to students, at least in "my day' it was East Berlin and West Berlin). While many a symbol such as ChamBana or CU have been used over the years, now that the University has multiple campus(es?) about the State, they have settled on University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, or UIUC.

Oh well look what the railroad did.

GBN
UIUC '70

Station Aficionado
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Re: Amtrak and Indianapolis

Post by Station Aficionado »

Mr. Norman, thank you for the kind words. It's been interesting and gratifying to read the thoughtful responses to my original post.

I had not thought about the possible impact of the Olympics. If Chicago is awarded the games, you're quite correct that spectators (and perhaps athletes in training) may well have to stay far away. That could provide some impetus for (re)building a better route to Indianapolis. The upcoming Winter Games in Vancouver certainly seem to have been a big factor in getting a second Seattle-Vancouver frequency. But if the games should go to Rio, Tokyo or Madrid, then I don't see anything on the horizon that would improve the Chicago-Indianapolis situation (which, as you point out, has implications for service to Cincinnati and Louisville).

jstolberg
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Re: Amtrak and Indianapolis

Post by jstolberg »

Thank you, aficionado, for your wonderful analysis of the routes (or lack thereof) between Chicago and Indianapolis.

I think keeping Lafayette and Valporaiso on the route between Chicago and Indianapolis has some merit, but as you point out, many of the best alignments have been abandoned at least in part.

Indiana's economy (the whole state's) relies heavily on truck traffic to Chicago and to Detroit. Improving rail service along the I-65 and I-69 corridors would benefit many Indiana manufacturers and their communities. Nevertheless, the state has done very little rail planning.

Indianapolis has many fine athletic venues. The city hosted the PanAm Games in 1987. But even if the International Olympic Committee decides in favor of Chicago on Friday, I doubt that HSR to Indy can be a reality by 2016. North Carolina has been doing the planning work necessary to restore rail service to an abandoned right-of-way. It can be done, but the process is long and arduous. Indiana hasn't started all of the necessary background work. The only interest in the state for passenger rail seems to be in Ft. Wayne. Chicago to Cleveland stands a better chance by 2016.

goodnightjohnwayne
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Re: Amtrak and Indianapolis

Post by goodnightjohnwayne »

Alcochaser wrote:Conrail got all the good north south routes thru Indy, and promptly went on an abandonment craze over the years as Conrail wanted ALL the freight traffic that went thru Indiana to filter thru ether Avon or Elkhart yards. This led to Conrail using the Marion branch for IND CHI traffic. A route useless for Amtrak.
The real problem is that midwestern "north south routes" were of little value in an era when profits came from the "east west" movement of intermodal and unit trains. Conrail was worried about centralizing switching at a handful of big yards to reduce costs, a decision that was in turn driven by the labor issues of the era. It made sense to remove a number of redundant and effectively worthless routes., while maintaining enough infrastructure to serve the few remaining local shippers. It was the right decision at the time and I'm sure that state and local governments had every opportunity to buy these routes before Conrail removed the rails.

Even today, the State of Ohio is finding that its own intact "north south route" is in relatively poor shape for passenger service, due to the simple fact that routes connecting former industrial towns simply aren't profitable, and as a consequence, they aren't worthy of the same level of maintenance as the vital and prosperous east-west mainlines.

justalurker66
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Re: Amtrak and Indianapolis

Post by justalurker66 »

jstolberg wrote:But even if the International Olympic Committee decides in favor of Chicago on Friday, I doubt that HSR to Indy can be a reality by 2016.
Do people really want to stay in Indianapolis for the Olympics? Or would it just be international visitors without a clue to the actual size of the US who think Indy is just a few minutes down the road?

The Olympics in Chicago will be very helpful to local and close regional transportation systems. But the furthest out I expect to see any improvements would be 100 miles. Perhaps some improvements for the South Shore to take advantage of the large number of hotels in the South Bend area (capacity built for Notre Dame games)? Building out the NICTD "West Lake" projects to Lowell and Valparaiso would also help. (Depending on how West Lake connects to METRA Electric it could provide an Amtrak link to the IC ... but Amtrak connections would have to be on excess capacity.)

A Chicago to Lafayette IN temporary service (with improvements that would help Amtrak beyond 2016) ... but I wouldn't count on HSR to Indy. There needs to be a better long term reason to spend the money. There is need for Lowell/Valaraiso/Michigan City-South Bend to Chicago service without the games. Indy to Chicago, not so much.
The only interest in the state for passenger rail seems to be in Ft. Wayne. Chicago to Cleveland stands a better chance by 2016.
There are a lot of people who would rather see HSR serving South Bend. The proposed route through Fort Wayne is not a done deal. What would really sell HSR in northern Indiana is a route that served BOTH South Bend and Fort Wayne and didn't pit the two communities against each other in a competition where one wins and the other loses. But such an "everyone wins" route would require a SB to FW connection that doesn't exist or a routing that doesn't serve either particularly well (Three Rivers route).

electricron
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Re: Amtrak and Indianapolis

Post by electricron »

Who cares whether the railroads paid the government back over time with reduced fares?
Anyone getting anything from government is expected to give some back in return.

I'm not asking the railroads to give anything away. What I was suggesting was that Federal Agencies should take over ownership and control of corridors ABANDONED by the railroad companies. Presently there are approximately 233,000 miles of railroad track in the United States, and 143,361 total miles operated for all freight railroads in North America.
The mileage of U.S. railroads expanded rapidly during the latter-half of the nineteenth century and into the first few decades of the twentieth century. For instance, in 1880 there were 70,000 miles of railroad tracks, but by 1890 the number of miles increased by 84,000, and by 1900 had jumped to 193,000. In 1910, the United States had 240,000 miles of tracks, a number that increased by 10,000 two decades later (meaning over 250,000 miles of track in the 1930s).
Source: http://www.foresthistory.org/education/ ... ct3rr.html

One could look at the abandonment two ways, as a loss of approximately 20,000 miles of all track, or potentially as a loss of over 100,000 miles of track owned by the freight railroads. A ten percent loss of rail or one in ten corridors is significant; if your business, town, or city was situated on that one corridor, more so.

I still don't see why the Feds couldn't take over ownership and control of that 10% the railroad companies abandoned, for future use.

goodnightjohnwayne
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Re: Amtrak and Indianapolis

Post by goodnightjohnwayne »

electricron wrote:
I'm not asking the railroads to give anything away. What I was suggesting was that Federal Agencies should take over ownership and control of corridors ABANDONED by the railroad companies. Presently there are approximately 233,000 miles of railroad track in the United States, and 143,361 total miles operated for all freight railroads in North America.
The mileage of U.S. railroads expanded rapidly during the latter-half of the nineteenth century and into the first few decades of the twentieth century. For instance, in 1880 there were 70,000 miles of railroad tracks, but by 1890 the number of miles increased by 84,000, and by 1900 had jumped to 193,000. In 1910, the United States had 240,000 miles of tracks, a number that increased by 10,000 two decades later (meaning over 250,000 miles of track in the 1930s).
Source: http://www.foresthistory.org/education/ ... ct3rr.html

One could look at the abandonment two ways, as a loss of approximately 20,000 miles of all track, or potentially as a loss of over 100,000 miles of track owned by the freight railroads. A ten percent loss of rail or one in ten corridors is significant; if your business, town, or city was situated on that one corridor, more so.

I still don't see why the Feds couldn't take over ownership and control of that 10% the railroad companies abandoned, for future use.
Historically, an abandoned railroad right-of-way typically reverts to the property owners, although in recent years there have been a number of states with "rails to trails" initiatives. I can also think of other examples were utilities have used abandoned railbeds. None of this has anything to do with the federal government, despite the former federal role in regulating abandonments.

It's also worth noting that most abandoned ROWs are of little value to future passenger rail expansion efforts. There are examples where both VIA and Amtrak have acted to conserve track that otherwise would have been removed due to a lack of freight business, but as a general rule, if there isn't enough freight business to stave off abandonment, there's also very little justification in terms of potential passenger service.

So, in summary, this is not a federal issue and if the State of Indiana had wished to purchase any of these routes while the rails were still intact, or even after the rails had been lifted, the state would have been within its right. Any further measures to conserve the abandoned ROWs for future passenger service are are up to the state and local governments. This is not a federal issue and never has been.

electricron
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Re: Amtrak and Indianapolis

Post by electricron »

Historically, an abandoned railroad right-of-way typically reverts to the property owners, although in recent years there have been a number of states with "rails to trails" initiatives. I can also think of other examples were utilities have used abandoned railbeds. None of this has anything to do with the federal government, despite the former federal role in regulating abandonments.
Never been a Federal issue? Federal role in regulating abandonments? Who does the abandoned right-of-way revert to if the original property owner was the US government? If Indiana refuses to save a corridor from Chicago that could be used to connect Cincinnati to points south and east, don't you think the Feds have a right to step in and save that corridor?

I can think of many reasons why it is the Federal government's business..............

Let's just agree to disagree.

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