Legendary country singer Johnny Cash might have said it best when he sang, I hear that train a comin’.
There is good news aboard the Hoosier State passenger train that comes to Crawfordsville four days per week. Since Iowa Pacific Holdings took over operation of the passenger train in August, there has been nothing but good things happening in terms of service, ridership and destination arrival times.
Local passenger train advocate Helen Hudson had heard positive remarks about the train, so she and her husband Marc, boarded the train Wednesday for a day in Chicago. The Hudsons were impressed.
“The trip on Wednesday just blew me away,” she said. “From the moment those sleek brown cars pulled up at the Crawfordsville station we were impressed. We felt the train was as good as it was promised.”
Indiana Department of Transportation spokesperson Will Wingfield relayed more good news — the Hoosier State is making plans for a busy holiday season.
“We have had to double the capacity on our two trains that travel to Chicago, the Hoosier State and Cardinal, for the holidays,” Wingfield said. “We will have more seats on board at affordable pricing.”
When IPH took over the train, they promised upgrades such as free wifi, better railroad cars and dining. Hudson said they made good on all three items.
“The wifi was good all the way to Chicago,” Hudson said. “And we were on time to Chicago and back to Crawfordsville. With the time change between Indiana and Illinois, we actually had seven and one-half hours to be in Chicago.”
What impressed Hudson the most was the renovated dining car.
“We walked down into the renovated dining car and I was thrilled to see how beautiful it was,” she said. “The staff was so professional and you could tell they cared about their jobs.”
Hudson complimented the elegance of the dining car experience including the linen table clothes, cloth napkins, dinnerware and even the silverware. But what she was most impressed with was the person she met after her meal.
“We got to meet Nick the chef,” Hudson said. “He is a true chef who went to culinary school and has worked at fine restaurants in Florida, and he is a Purdue graduate. He cooks everything fresh. There is no microwave in his kitchen.”
Hudson said the Blue Plate Special on Wednesday was fiesta chicken, corn, black bean salsa, salad, roll and beverage all for the price of $12. She gave the meal a high grade.
Amtrak officials are pleased with the improved destination times for both the Hoosier State and Cardinal trains. Amtrak Regional Media Relation Director Marc Magliari said the trains performance has improved. He said the on-time performance of the Hoosier State in October was 82 percent, which is the percentage of the time Hoosier State and Cardinal trains arrived within 10 minutes of the schedule at the endpoints, Chicago and Indianapolis.
Hudson said Amtrak is not the only one keeping an eye on the success of the Hoosier State. The unique two-way partnership between public and private entities has people all across the country watching with interest. Hudson discovered that fact when she was a guest panelist at a national conference in Indianapolis recently.
The agreement between IPH and INDOT has been highlighted in the National Association of Rail Passengers magazine.
In June, INDOT along with Crawfordsville, Lafayette, Rensselaer, Tippecanoe County, West Lafayette and Dyer agreed to help fund the train service. Crawfordsville pays $3,221 per month. INDOT’ s monthly payment is $254,527 monthly.
Crawfordsville Mayor Todd Barton has said many times that keeping the train service is important to economic growth and is a tool that can be used to keep young adults living in the city. Hudson was pleased to find couples from Covington, Avon and Brownsburg boarding the train with her and Marc as they departed Crawfordsville.
“I am so pleased to see so many from out of town using our train station,” Hudson said. “I think we will see more and more people using the train, especially during the holidays.”
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