Chesterton Tribune                                                                                   Adv.

NICTD keeping South Shore expansion plan alive

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Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District officials haven't abandoned hope of extending the South Shore railroad from Chicago to Lowell in Lake County.

Eventually a spur line could bring passenger trains through Hobart or Merrillville to Valparaiso in Porter County as well.

In the coming weeks NICTD officials will begin discussions with affected local governments over how to help pay for a 29-mile initial plan that takes seven trains per day along stops to Munster/Dyer hoping to attract 4,500 inbound Chicago weekday riders.

Local financing is said to be critical to securing federal new-starts funding for the initial phase's $464,447,181 construction and capital costs.

The current 90-mile South Shore line operates across northern Lake, Porter, LaPorte and St. Joseph counties between Chicago and South Bend. Said NICTD director of marketing John Parsons, “We're going to have to demonstrate to the federal government we have the capacity to support two commuter railroads.”

NICTD management stressed Friday there needs to be a way to help finance the estimated annual Munster/Dyer operating cost in addition to its debt service. Projected income from fares would cover only about 30 percent of operations initially leaving an estimated $26 million annual debt service/deficit.

In the upcoming meetings with local stakeholders --- 12 in Lake County as well as with Valparaiso and Porter County government here --- NICTD will solicit ideas how to pay for West Lake, now a key missing element in the project plans.

Parsons said NICTD wants to hear suggestions from the stakeholders and what's available to them as far as revenue sources. Porter County Commissioner John Evans and Porter County Council member Jim Biggs are members of the NICTD board.

In addition to money, NICTD representatives will discuss with county/municipal officials the federal requirements regarding land use, economic development and mobility improvements needed to help make West Lake's case for grants.

Michigan City track study

A divided NICTD board chose TranSystems Corporation of Chicago over six other bidders to conduct a $1,021,500 study to evaluate various realignment options and propose a preferred route for the South Shore through Michigan City.

Both city and railroad officials want to move the trains off the middle of downtown 10th and 11th Streets, in operation since 1908, and consolidate two small passenger stations into one modern, accessible facility.

The study will be funded primarily with an $800,000 federal grant and $100,000 each from NICTD and the city.

The vote authorizing NICTD general manager Gerald Hanas to negotiate a contract with TranSystems was 8-2 with Frances DuPey, a Lake County Commissioner, and St. Joseph County Council member Mark Catanzarite dissenting.

After the vote St. Joseph County Commissioner Robert Kovach said he misunderstood LaPorte County Council member Mark Yagelski's motion and would have voted no also.

Yagelski had moved to adopt a resolution engaging TranSystems, but also to have them make an attempt to hire local Indiana subcontractor/consultants. Kovach said he thought Yagelski was merely amending the resolution.

LaPorte County community and civic leaders spoke in support of the realignment study. Fred McNulty of Purdue University North Central said, “This is a vital piece of what we need to do for economic development. This is really a big deal for us.”

John Pugh said there is a great deal of support from Michigan City government for the project. A safer, more-direct South Shore alignment would attract hundreds of new housing units in his county and new commuters for the railroad as well as commercial transit-oriented economic development, he predicted.

Quiet train cars ahead?

NICTD board members agreed a suggestion to designate "quiet cars" on selected rush-hour trains needs more study; some commuters have requested the option.

Quiet-car passengers are asked not to make or receive phone calls, to talk in subdued voices and to keep earphone volume at a low level. Two railroads have quiet cars and Metra in Chicago has a pilot program on one line.

Hanas said enforcing the restrictions on quiet cars would fall primarily on train crews. A labor/management meeting including NICTD police will be convened to discuss enforcement.

The board did vote unanimously to have Tonn and Blank Construction of Michigan City reconstruct the deteriorating Gary Metro Center railroad platform in service since 1984. Approval was contingent on Tonn and Blank agreeing to reduce its $766,256 low bid of seven received by $116,430 to keep the complex project in budget.

Parsons reported South Shore ridership 2011 to-date was up 5.6 percent on average weekend/holiday trains yet down 3.5 percent overall.

The first of planned weekend service outages this year to facilitate overhead catenary replacement begins at 2:30 a.m. April 1 until 3 a.m. April 3. Service east of Dune Park station is affected; all weekend trains will run between Dune Park and Chicago.








Posted 3/28/2011





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