The Indiana Department of Transportation is misguided in hoping to privatize rail operations along Amtrak's Hoosier State route.
INDOT's request for proposals is broad, looking for ways to privatize all or part of Amtrak's Hoosier State route between Chicago and Indianapolis.
INDOT and seven communities have subsidized the service since the federal subsidy was rescinded last fall.
The existence of a subsidy is not in itself a sign the route isn't viable. Transportation is subsidized. It's just that the subsidy has shifted from the federal government to the state.
INDOT wants bidders to compete for the right to operate the train, in hopes a private operator would increase the number of passengers while decreasing the cost.
What INDOT should be doing now is looking at how to make the route more marketable.
The Hoosier State operates four days per week. A different Amtrak train runs three days per week and continues from Indianapolis.
Look at the timing and reliability of the train schedule. Examine amenities aboard the train, too.
Riders want wi-fi for their laptops, tablets and other devices. That's a selling point for trains that offer the service, especially for a route that long. Many Amtrak trains offer wi-fi, but not the Hoosier State.
Look at potential customers, too. Who would ride this train? Is there commuter potential on certain stretches of the route? If so, the stops would need to be timed appropriately. Is it for day trips? If so, time the stops according to when major attractions open and close.
It's incumbent on INDOT to figure out how to make the route more profitable by providing the proper amenities and operating the trains more efficiently.
Don't look to privatization as the solution, however, before further study on how to make the route more popular.