Indiana town says goodbye to 'Hoosier State' — and to trains as a daily travel option

RELATED TOPICS: AMTRAK | PASSENGER | MIDWEST
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Hoosier_Volunteers_Johnston
Shelbi Hoover, Paul Utterback, and Dr. Helen Hudson help prepare the Crawfordsville, Ind., station on Saturday, June 29, the day before the final run of the Hoosier State.
Bob Johnston
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Passengers and volunteers greet the final northbound Hoosier State as it arrives in Crawfordsville, Ind., on Sunday.
Bob Johnston

CRAWFORDSVILLE, Ind. — Seven passengers boarded the last northbound Hoosier State in Crawfordsville on Sunday at the town’s tidy station — an occasion marked by many of the 20 volunteers, led by retired high school teacher Dr. Helen Hudson, who had spruced up the grounds with flowers in recent weeks. Crawfordville’s sendoff included a banner thanking Amtrak crews who passed through the small town 47 miles northwest of Indianapolis.

Though sold-out more than a week in advance in both directions on the Chicago-Lafayette, Ind., segment, the Hoosier’s usual two coaches and business class/cafe consist was not expanded for regular revenue riders.

But the consist behind well-worn P42 locomotive No. 160 was swelled by three deadhead passenger cars — Superliner II sleeper 32071, freshly refurbished at Amtrak’s Beech Grove Heavy Maintenance Facility, plus a heritage baggage car and Horizon coach — and two private cars, ex-Pennsylvania lounge Colonial Crafts and blunt-end observation Frank Thompson, bringing up the rear. They were chartered by two young entrepreneurs, Keiwoon Krause and Gideon Comanse, who managed to sell tickets to 40 passengers. Perhaps because of that added equipment, the train departed Indianapolis 24 minutes late; it would arrive in Chicago 31 minutes late at 10:31 a.m.

The end of the four-day-a-week Hoosier State marks the end of daily passenger service for Crawfordsville, Dyer, and Rensselaer, Ind., although Amtrak is adding a few more Greyhound-operated Thruway bus schedules in each direction that will stop at Indianapolis and Lafayette, Ind.

The train had run in various guises and frequencies since 1998 (after an earlier version was discontinued in 1995), and had been running in its current four-day-a-week format since 2003. It is being discontinued because Indiana failed to include funding in the state budget for the next two fiscal years.  [See “Analysis: Why the Hoosier State will die on June 30,” Trains News Wire, May 2, 2019.]

The triweekly Chicago-Washington-New York Cardinal doesn’t operate through Indiana on the busy Friday and Sunday travel days and only runs one way on Mondays and Tuesdays. Without the Hoosier State, that train will certainly lose passengers who need the scheduling options that were provided by daily service.

Shelbi Hoover and Paul Utterback, two of Hudson’s former students who have returned to Crawfordsville after public service stints with AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps, respectively, vented their frustration while helping her out at the station on Saturday.

“You’re telling me our governor can’t cough up $3 million a year twice in a $33 billion two-year budget?” Utterback asks rhetorically. “In the State of Indiana, the legislature says if you don’t make enough money to own a car and aren’t physically able to drive, you don’t matter. Instead, we subsidize a daily Delta Airlines Indianapolis-Paris flight by $3.2 million a year — that works out to about $110 per person. To me, it’s a regressive application of transportation dollars.”

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Former Pennsylvania Railroad observation lounge Frank Thompson brings up the rear on the last northbound Hoosier State, leaving Lafayette, Ind.
Bob Johnston

Hoover, who spent two years in Rhode Island, also wonders, “How can the Hoosier State possibly work with [how little] Indiana and Amtrak have invested in it? I came back for family and have been impressed with Crawfordsville’s downtown revitalization, but I can tell you this for sure: transportation is not one of the things that attracted me back. In fact, it’s the bane of my existence here because I can’t get around without a car. It’s like 1980 — we’re not staying up to date with what my generation wants for transportation.”  

Hudson began renovation of Crawfordsville’s modest shelter and beautification of the grounds at Utterback’s suggestion in 2005 as an after-school project [see “Famous in a small town,” Trains, March 2008]. She has been a tireless passenger rail advocate ever since.

“It’s especially frustrating when we’ve watched our neighboring states like Michigan and Illinois do it so well,” Hudson says. “It changed the life of Bloomington-Normal, Illinois; that’s an equivalent distance from Chicago as Lafayette and Crawfordsville are in Indiana. We would have benefitted economically and from young people choosing to settle here if they could easily commute.”

Utterback and Hoover are the type of people Amtrak President Richard Anderson says he wants to fill trains that only run short distances. But there were others boarding the Hoosier Sunday, like Oregon-bound Phyllis Pearson, connecting to the Empire Builder at Chicago after visiting her sister and friend Brad Caldwell.  

The Hoosier State’s last run shows that under the current Amtrak authorization’s “you want it, you pay for it!” model of state-supported service, there’s a big flaw in Anderson’s vision of corridor service. It will be at the mercy of states, which are in a position to grant or withhold operating and capital funds on the basis of whether they think a train “makes sense” from a ticket revenue standpoint — a standard not applied to highways.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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