Indiana DOT Commissioner Karl Browning abruptly resigns

April 24, 2015

In the summer of 2014 Corridor Capital was named the preferred vendor as the new operator of Indiana’s Hoosier State passenger train service, transitioning the train from a wholly Amtrak train to a public/private partnership. In the end, Corridor Capital was removed from the project. Corridor Capital chairman James Coston responds to the announcement of Commissioner Karl Browning’s departure. Mr. Coston’s statement is first, then the story of Commissioner Browning’s departure from the Indianapolis Star newspaper.

On June 24, 2014, Bob Zier of INDOT called to tell me the Corridor Capital Hoosier State Team had been selected as preferred vendor for the Hoosier State outsourcing procurement. Mr. Zier said we’d won mainly because the communities providing financial support for the route examined our proposal and determined that our proposal reinvented the Hoosier State as a modern, appealing, relevant and viable corridor train. That’s because we:

  • Immediately commissioned a completely renovated train, with modern conveniences, and a full-service café and business class section, all with distinctive Indiana branding.
  • Made arrangements for INDOT to acquire completely remanufactured, high-capacity, bi-level stainless steel trains good for 110-mph, to elevate service and reduce expense.
  • Had a broad corporate sponsorship plan approved to help underwrite the cost of the corridor.
  • Partnered with industry leader RailPlan International for design/engineer of the trains, manufacture of modular interior components and contract maintenance.
  • And brought in the foremost passenger rail service transition specialist in the country – James Stoetzel – to create and implement the service plan.

Mr. Zier masterfully wove the various corridor service elements, stakeholders and resources together, resulting in a final plan to implement the new corridor operation on a timely basis. But just as he was completing this remarkable balancing act, Bob Zier fell victim to a medical condition, and had to enter a hospital for a prolonged stay. The moment he left, the entire Hoosier State initiative began to fragment. Progress halted, dates were missed and Corridor Capital was isolated. Almost immediately, INDOT radically changed the terms of the negotiated agreement. Instead of focusing on service improvements to stimulate revenue and ridership, the only apparent goal was cost containment. Ultimately, INDOT took our proposal and handed it to a lower-cost provider.

I wrote Commissioner Browning, advising him that the Corridor Team had collectively expended hundreds of thousands of dollars in time and costs to mobilize the service start, and asked him for a meeting. At a meeting on December 4th, Commissioner Browning told us:

  • The Corridor proposal was excellent, and Corridor Capital’s work to implement it was outstanding, but that INDOT wanted a vendor that was cheaper.
  • That he was unaware that other Midwest states had sponsored long-standing, successful corridor routes for decades; he declared that “passenger trains don’t belong in America or in Indiana.”
  • That if it was his choice, he would kill the Hoosier State, and replace it with a bus.

Thus, in a few short months, Indiana went from emulating the successful model for implementation of corridor routes in other states to implementing a corridor plan that features none of the attributes of successful state-sponsored corridors.

It is not clear at this time whether Commissioner Browning’s handling of the Hoosier State issue played a part in his sudden departure. One hopes his departure leaves the field clear for new players and new thinking at INDOT. But the time is very short. – James Coston, Chairman, Corridor Capital

Here is the story from the Indianapolis Star:

INDOT chief Browning resigns abruptly

By John Tuohy

Indiana Department of Transportation Commissioner Karl Browning turned in his resignation Wednesday, the governor’s office said.

Neither Browning nor the office of Governor Mike Pence provided a reason for the resignation, which was effective immediately.

Browning sent an email to his staff announcing his decision.

Read the complete story from the Indianapolis Star by clicking here.

 

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