(This is behind a paywall so I don’t know if you’ll be able to see this, but the publisher put the Share This button there so blame Kalmbach …)
The headline is inaccurate. Corridor Capital LLC may be providing locomotives and rolling stock for the quad-weekly Hoosier State that runs between Chicago and Indianapolis on the days that the Cardinal doesn’t run. The trains will have Amtrak crews and will, presumably, still carry Amtrak numbers and be in the Amtrak reservation system.
Amtrak’s main overhaul shop is in Beech Grove, Ind., a suburb of Indianapolis so the main function of the train in past years has been to move locomotives and rolling stock to and from the shop to Chicago on days the Cardinal didn’t run. However, 2008’s PRIIA, the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act, forced changes in the Hoosier State and other short-distance trains.
Among other things, the law mandates that trains operated at the request of state governments must have a common cost structure. This is good because as it was, different states paid different amounts for service that wasn’t always at the same level – i.e. the states where the Penn Central ran (NY, NJ, PA primarily) seemed to pay a lot less than other states like Oklahoma and even Maine, both of whom sponsor trains. The law set the lower limit for “long distance” trains at 750 miles (see below for a list of those that exceed 750 miles), though, so many trains that formerly cost states $0 were now going to cost them a bunch more.
The law also included a provision that allowed “unbundling” of services, meaning that states were free to purchase service from companies other than Amtrak. I’m not clear on this point because while Amtrak once had a legal monopoly on intercity passenger trains, that hasn’t been the case since at least 1997. Regardless, the governor of Indiana really wanted to halt funding of the Hoosier State, which would have result in the train’s cancellation, but his constituents had other ideas. Instead, he’s trying very hard to make sure that Amtrak isn’t the contractor, or at least not the sole contractor.
And that’s OK. Amtrak, on the whole, provides a decent basic service, but has never been consistently run and has had, and continues to have, some poor business practices. Contracting entire services or even portions thereof will, hopefully, cause them to “straighten up an fly right”. The problem is that the attitude always seems to be that if they just hang on that those particular Congressmen will go away and everything will go back to normal. So far, that’s worked.
The trains that have routes over 750 miles are:
- Silver Meteor/Silver Star/Palmetto, NYC to Savannah and points in Florida
- Lake Shore Ltd, NYC and Boston to Chicago
- Cardinal, NYC to Chicago via Cincinnati
- Crescent, NYC to New Orleans via Atlanta
- Capitol Ltd, Chicago to Washington, DC, via Cleveland and Pittsburgh
- City of New Orleans, Chicago to New Orleans
- Empire Builder, Chicago to Seattle and Portland via St Paul
- Sunset Ltd, New Orleans to LA via Houston, El Paso, and Tucson
- California Zephyr, Chicago to the Bay Area via Denver
- Southwest Chief, Chicago to LA via KC and Albuquerque
- Texas Eagle, Chicago to San Antonio via St Louis and Dallas/Ft Worth
- Coast Starlight, Seattle to LA
- Auto Train, near Washington, DC to near Orlando, Fla.