|The Hoosier State. Note the full-length dome car behind the locomotive. |
Photo courtesy Indiana Dept. of Transportation.
The Hoosier State is an unusual train for Amtrak. Its locomotives and cars, done up in attractive orange-and-brown livery reminiscent of the old Illinois Central during its heyday, are owned by Iowa Pacific Holdings, an outfit best known for luxury cars coupled to Amtrak trains and booked for luxury prices. The train, subsidized by the state of Indiana, runs four days a week 196 miles between Chicago and Indianapolis on the days that Amtrak's three-day-a-week long-distance Cardinal from Chicago to New York doesn't run.
Amtrak provides engineers and conductors as well as the tickets, but the service crew is from Iowa Pacific. (Tickets on the Hoosier State, by the way, cost no more than they do on the Cardinal.)
And so I decided to take a joyride just to see what the Hoosier State was like, stopping at Lafayette at 10 p.m. and getting back on the return trip at 7:36 a.m. rather than detraining at Indianapolis at near midnight and reboarding at 6 a.m. Each journey ran about 3 1/2 hours.
Last week was the first week for business-class passengers, who are accommodated on the second level of a beautifully restored full-length two-story dome car from the 1950s. They're served free drinks (alcoholic, too) and meals there while coach riders can buy dinners and breakfasts in the dining area on the first level. The coaches, by the way, are also nicely refurbished former long-distance cars from the 1960s, and the seats are roomy and the legroom ample.
|Business class inside the full-length dome car.|
|Servers wear old-fashioned white jackets.|
The service, from a quintet of veterans and eager young attendants, was pleasant and efficient. While the cuisine is hardly gourmet, it's prepared fresh on the train, is served in china dishes on white tablecloths and is acceptably tasty. The bud vases on the tables contain real flowers. There's free wi-fi, too. No complaints there, none at all.
|Real roses in the bud vases on the tables, something we no longer see in Amtrak dining cars.|
|The endearingly ugly Tippecanoe County Courthouse.|
|It's still dark when the northbound Hoosier State arrives in Lafayette. The consist: GP40H locomotive, two coaches, full-length dome car, coach, another GP40H.|
I'm glad I took this bucket-list trip. I'm also glad I don't have to take it again.
(Later. From time to time Amtrak safety inspectors find something wrong with an Iowa Pacific locomotive, and there apparently are no replacements, so the Hoosier State becomes a bus to Indianapolis. If you'd rather avoid "bustitution," call Amtrak the day of the trip to make sure the actual train is running.)