Riding Amtrak Hoosier State leaving Chicago leaving Indianapolis

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This video shows me leaving Chicago on Amtrak Hoosier State heading to the Midwest High Speed Rail Association 2013 Fall Meeting in Indianapolis Indiana. The second part shows me leaving Indianapolis very early in the morning on Hoosier State.

I was lucky to even have the option to ride Amtrak Hoosier State. Even though I had booked my seat a few months in advance – there was serious concern if the Hoosier State would still be running on the date of my journey. Politicians in Indiana didn’t want to provide financing for operating this passenger rail line. A massive grassroots effort was undertaken to educate the public on the potential loss of this service and how it would effect transportation and regional jobs.

After this grassroots campaign Indiana Governor Mike Pence finally realized that politically it made sense to support funding of the Hoosier State passenger service. When you see enough voters come out in support and realize job losses could take place if service were discontinued – it’s normally a good idea to change your mind in favor of funding. Amtrak Hoosier State is used to move equipment from Chicago to a maintenance facility in Beech Grove Indiana.

Recently while waiting to board an Amtrak train in Springfield Illinois – a passenger told me he had taken Greyhound to Chicago from Indianapolis – then got on the train. I made him aware that Amtrak service in Indianapolis was still at risk and could be lost next year if passengers don’t show their support by purchasing tickets to ride. I explained how big of a fight it had been to keep this service running. After this – he did at least go to the ticket counter and inquire about ticket pricing for the route. Greyhound and Amtrak are both located within the same station in Indianapolis.

I rode Amtrak Hoosier State train 850 at 5:45 PM on Nov 8, 2013 leaving Union Station Chicago. It’s been a couple of months but I can’t recall if any announcements were made to passengers that evening. The video starts as we are leaving the station and continues for a good portion out of the rail yard and beyond. At no point are any passenger announcements heard. I honestly can’t recall if they were made earlier before the recording started. Normally they are made just before or as the train is leaving station.

Even though Hoosier State runs between two large cities ( Chicago and Indianapolis ) – no Business Class seating is available. We have BC seating for Lincoln Service from Chicago to St Louis – but not from Chicago to / from Indianapolis – makes no logical sense. This train also offers NO food service – no Cafe car is operating on this route. Although one might be attached to the train heading to or from Chicago after or before servicing at Beech Grove.

The older female Amtrak Conductor did ask me how I got my eTicket onto an old fashioned flip cell phone. She is not the first conductor to ask me this. A few on Lincoln Service have asked me the same question. I’m always willing to try my best to explain the process. I’ll get around to writing a quick how-to at some point.

I expressed how much I loved eTicketing and how I thought it was one of the smartest things Amtrak had implemented. She complained about how much longer it takes her to scan tickets versus the old punch paper system. This brings up food for thought – is she just complaining because this is a new system that is a huge change from years past? Or does she have a valid concern that needs looked into and addressed? From my perspective as a customer – eTicketing has brought ease of use and functionality to a process that use to be a pain in the ass. I no longer have to go to the station to pickup a ticket. Don’t have to deal with station employees, lines or other drama. Granted if everyone chooses eTicketing – this could reduce employment numbers in stations. From what I have seen many who have smartphones have not adopted eTicketing unfortunately. Only decent argument I heard against eTicketing was a man in Indianapolis who stated he didn’t trust his phone battery not to go dead – so he preferred a paper ticket.

Heading out of Chicago on Amtrak Hoosier State went fairly smooth until we got held up for a very long time in the Metra rail yard. If I remember correctly there may be up to seven host railroads that Amtrak needs to interact with on this route just to get out of town. I don’t recall the exact cause of the delay that evening. Amtrak by law is supposed to have priority over freight – of course there are exclusions to this rule – it is also just ignored at other times.

One of the biggest complaints about Hoosier State is on-time service. A big hurdle to improving this performance is the bottleneck experienced trying to depart Chicago. That evening I experienced this first hand.

You can hear the rambunctious children in the video. Their mother tried to do a good job at calming them. A bit later in the trip she gave up and it didn’t make for a pleasant journey. There were at times issues with devices phones / computers not on silent or users not using headphones. When conductors walked by nothing was said to these passengers. Even though this behavior is supposed to be against Amtrak rules.

Once we arrived in Indianapolis – the adventure really started. Over the years I have driven through the area but never stayed. This was technically my first visit. I was staying at the Omni Severin Hotel. I had been told if I called the hotel they would provide a cab. This turned into drama. Instead of stating I was at the Amtrak station I said Union Station – so the hotel employee told me to just walk across the street. Keep in mind this was my first visit and I wasn’t aware that the Sheraton hotel operates the closed Union Station.

I was outside when I called the hotel. Trying my best to avoid the massive collection of bird droppings just outside the entrance to the Amtrak station. In frustration I tried to get a cab – only to have the cab driver refuse to take me where I wanted to go. Why? Because he felt I should walk. Yes the Omni is less then two city blocks from the station – but I didn’t know the area or this fact when I wanted a cab ride. Keep in mind it was very late in the evening, very cold and the sidewalk area didn’t look like a location where a tourist should be walking at night – it was also encased in bird droppings. When you have a good amount of luggage sometimes you don’t want to hassle with walking a couple of blocks.

Needless to say my arrival story has nothing to do with Amtrak – other than those who are employed at the station don’t clean outside. Then again inside the station looked prison like and dingy.

My return trip home was on Sunday Nov 10, 2013 the day after the Midwest High Speed Rail Association 2013 Fall Meeting. I had expected to see more attendees riding Hoosier State home. Unfortunately I only noticed a few riding to Chicago that morning. To me this is rather hypocritical of passenger rail advocates not to lead by example. Especially considering all the conversation about the efforts to save this service during the meeting. If the advocates don’t walk the walk – you can’t really expect others to follow.

Further down is a link to a video showing Purdue University Student Government members receiving awards for their efforts in helping Save the Amtrak Hoosier State.

The early morning 6AM departure for the return trip to Chicago – I think has been criticized by some. This isn’t as bad as some departure times from other Amtrak stations.

I rode train 851 on Nov 10, 2013. Again at various times we had passengers who were not respectful of others. There was a young lady under headphones – but her choice of music was clearly blasting through them. For the last 30 minutes of the trip into Chicago a young man directly behind me played games – audio from his device could be heard by all in the car. At no time did his father or the passing conductor saying anything. The conductor also had ignored the woman’s blasting tunes throughout the passenger car.

I’ve found over my years of riding with Amtrak that rules are rarely if ever enforced. There is no continuity in the passenger experience. Really good crews exist – but are still outnumber by the lousy ones. In station it is the same experience no continuity – many times even with the same employees.

My ride on Amtrak Hoosier State was not my worst Amtrak experience. That is almost always reserved for Illinois Lincoln Service. Although I have had less than pleasant experiences on the California Zephyr & Southwest Chief in coach. My last ride on Southwest Chief in a roomette was much better – made the journey much more peaceful and enjoyable – of course at a much higher ticket price.

Hoosier State needs Business Class and food services ASAP. Trains should be run similar to the Lincoln Service schedule. But that definitely won’t happen in the near future. Especially if riders don’t standup and demand service – they may lose it in a year. On time service over the next year will be a hurdle needing overcome.

Yes I’m aware my low light settings didn’t auto kick in at points in the video – it is what it is. Keep in mind leaving Chicago it was very late at night and leaving Indianapolis it was early morning and I was running on very little sleep.

I am a Midwest High Speed Rail Association, NARP ( National Association of Railroad Passengers ) and Amtrak Rewards member.

Update 10/5/2014 – Amtrak Hoosier State now offers Business Class seating, Cafe and Wireless Internet. Better late than never – how long Amtrak will still be running trains on this route is still in question. Service may be taken over by another provider after first of year – January 2015.

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