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