INDIANAPOLIS HAS A DINNER TRAIN, TOO

Published: Sunday, Nov. 18 1990 12:00 a.m. MST

Stepping aboard the Indiana Dinner Train is like chugging back to the days when Glenn Miller ruled the airwaves and politicians had whistlestop campaigns.

Thankfully, campaign speeches aren't on the menu. But a rotation of choices including chicken Dijon, stuffed flounder and prime rib is.And somewhere, swinging in the background, is that dreamy Miller music.

The five-car dinner train is a business venture for Thomas and Lisa Hoback, owners of Indiana Rail Road Co. shortline. It is the latest addition to the dinner train boom that started in the mid-1980s and has extended to about 25 American cities, train enthusiasts say.

On track since April, the Indiana Dinner Train has been serving elegant meals during a 25-mile round trip through the countryside south of Indianapolis.

The dinners, served Thursday through Sunday evenings, remain the train's main fare and cost $54.95 per person.

Expanding specialty excursions now include murder mystery nights and round-trip treks from Indianapolis to Indiana University football games in Bloomington, Ind.

Kevin Keefe, associate editor of Trains magazine in Milwaukee, said the train's football trips are unique. Otherwise, he said, the offerings are a mixture of what's available on the other dinner trains that have cropped up over the last five years.

Keefe said the dinner train boom is an outgrowth of the nation's burgeoning interest in recreational railroading.

"For years, tourists have been taking these short-trip trains just so they could say they rode a train," Keefe said. "Now some of the operators have seen fit to offer dinner, too. And some very fine dinners, at that."

For the time traveler, the Indiana Dinner Train is a delight.

Passengers are greeted by a uniformed porter at the Indianapolis station and seated by a maitre d' in one of three dining cars.

A recent visit offered a seat in the American Ingenuity car, built in 1953 and restored for the dinner train.

The seating arrangement in the long, narrow car made for a cozy ride. The dim glow of tiny table lamps created a romantic atmosphere in the green and brown decor, and the gentle rocking of the train made relaxation easy.

For the restaurant critic, the train's food is better than average.

The meal, prepared in the train's kitchen car, got off to a smashing start with a tingling appetizer of chicken wild rice soup.

Overall, the experience of eating a good meal on a slow-moving train made the cost palatable.

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