State of U.S. Passenger Rail – Indiana

Indiana’s Amtrak ridership has grown 83% from 2003 to 2014, making it the 7th fastest-growing state in the nation in terms of rail ridership over that time period, which is the time period for all of these posts. The article below will look into some of the trends that are driving that growth. But first, here’s an overview of the train stations and routes serving Indiana.

The state is served by two passenger railroads, Amtrak and the South Shore Line. Amtrak has 11 stations served along three railroad lines that have service on a total of five train routes. Two long-distance trains make their way across the northern portion of the state each day, the Capitol Limited between Chicago and Washington, D.C., and the Lake Shore Limited between Chicago and New York City and Boston. These two routes serve the same three stations in Indiana, Elkhart, South Bend, and Waterloo, which I had the pleasure of using twice in 2013 to arrive from New York City to attend a friend’s wedding nearby, then depart for Iowa’s cross-state bike ride, RAGBRAI. Then, running diagonally across the state from northwest to southeast is a third long-distance route, the Cardinal, which runs three days a week from Chicago to New York via Kentucky and West Virginia. On the days that it doesn’t run, the Hoosier State runs on its route, creating daily service between Indianapolis and Chicago. And Michigan’s Wolverine also makes two stops in Indiana along the Lake Michigan shore en route to Chicago, at Michigan City, and Hammond-Whiting.

The South Shore Line is a regional, electric-powered railroad in the northwest portion of the state, running from South Bend to a number of stations in Chicago with about 20 departures daily in each direction. It shares its Chicago stations with Metra‘s Electric District, and ultimately terminates at Millennium Station. The South Shore Line serves 12 stations in Indiana and seven in Illinois. It does not share any stations with Amtrak in either state. In Indiana, both railroads have separate stations in South Bend and Michigan City.

Let’s look at Amtrak’s ridership first then turn to the South Shore Line. Indiana’s own train route is the Hoosier State. Ridership on this line has grown dramatically, with a growth rate of 74% between December 2003 and January 2015. This chart shows the train’s ridership over that time frame.

As you can see, ridership surged along with the 2008 spike in gasoline prices. Then, bucking the conventional wisdom that people would leave the train once gas prices came back down again, it not only retained its ridership growth, but in fact grew more. The great success of the Hoosier State is one of the reasons why Indiana Amtrak ridership overall has been growing so much. But ridership at Indiana’s other stations has grown as well. Let’s take a look.

The stations in red are on the Cardinal/Hoosier State, while the stations in blue are on the Capitol Limited & Lake Shore Limited, and the Wolverine in green. Note that ridership at Hammond-Whiting fell from 2004 to 2006 because it lost half of its service when Amtrak discontinued the Three Rivers in March 2005. The fastest growth in the state took place at Dyer, in suburban Chicagoland, which grew 305%, from 838 passengers in 2003 to 3,392 in 2014. Next was Elkhart, which grew 257%, from 6,062 passengers in 2003 to 21,666 in 2014. Here’s the same information in stacked column form.

It’s interesting to note that in 2003, Amtrak had two additional routes that no longer exist, the Three Rivers as noted above, which appears in orange for Nappanee above, and the Kentucky Cardinal, in purple for Jeffersonville. Here’s the same information again, as a pie chart, which shows the relative sizes of ridership at each station in Indiana, grouped by route.

As of 2014, ridership on the Cardinal/Hoosier State is roughly equivalent to the ridership on the Capitol Limited & Lake Shore Limited.

Now, let’s return our attention to the South Shore Line. Here’s the railroad’s monthly ridership.

On the South Shore Line, ridership did surge along with the rise in gas prices circa 2007-2009, but since then it has returned to its prior levels.

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