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NICTD mulls impact of federal safety law; tentative South Shore pricetag $35 million

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By PAULENE POPARAD

“This is infrastructure that doesn’t exist in this country now.”

That’s how Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District general manager Gerald Hanas described the federally mandated positive train control system that all commuter and freight railroads are required to have in place by the end of 2015.

PTC will enable real-time data transmission from trains, signals, switches and track circuits to a control center so collisions can be prevented.

Hanas told NICTD board members Wednesday that the GPS-based network is estimated to cost the South Shore passenger line $35 million. “Even for us, it’s a substantial number.”

While it’s possible the PTC deadline will be pushed back, Hanas said the South Shore has to proceed with its approved 2010 implementation plan. And in the South Shore’s case, its new system will have to coordinate with that of Metra Electric in Illinois, whose tracks NICTD leases.

Chief engineering officer Vic Babin said NICTD will save money on PTC because the South Shore is completing major wayside signal upgrades and has its own dual-route fiber optic system available.

Hanas said what’s needed now is to identify funding for the PTC project.

NICTD likely will be renegotiating a $32 million, 2007 bond issue to save an estimated $1.5 million in interest. Also, the $5 million balance on 2004 bonds could be refinanced with the $35 million PTC sale. The new combined debt service is estimated to approximate the amount paid annually for the current bonds.

The Federal Railroad Administration has a PTC loan program that may prove to be more favorable than a bond sale, Hanas added.

After the meeting NICTD director of marketing John Parsons was asked whether PTC will affect train on-time performance. “It all depends if there’s a hiccup in the system. It could end up delaying trains. The industry is concerned (what will happen) if a critical piece of hardware or software isn’t working properly.”

Earlier in the meeting Hanas reported South Shore revenue for 2012 is up at least $800,000 over the prior year, in part thanks to a 5 percent fare increase Feb. 15. This year’s 2,499,349 passengers through August keeps pace with 2011, but growth is seen in weekend/holiday ridership.

Hanas said next year when new high boarding platforms are built at Dune Park Station in Porter County, the railroad could experiment by placing additional ticket vending machines on the platform. TVM transactions this year are up 23 percent as NICTD moves to discourage on-train ticket sales to avoid cash handling.

NICTD transit police chief Robert Byrd reported a rash of thefts of railroad cable east of Michigan City may be solved and he’s conferring with the LaPorte County prosecutor. Byrd estimated about $13,000 in damage to railroad systems occurred.

It was announced some upcoming trains can expect 10 to 20 minutes delays in the area of Torrence Avenue as wires and signals are moved following installation of the new bridge. The work should take 47 days and is hoped to be completed by Thanksgiving. Notice will be given when a firm start-date is known.

Parsons said the South Shore will issue a new public timetable Oct. 8; the only change is weekend eastbound Train 513 that currently terminates in South Bend will revert to Train 613 and terminate in Michigan City.

The South Shore has mounted an advertising campaign targeting Notre Dame students and fans who will attend the 6:30 p.m. Notre Dame vs. Miami game Oct. 6 at Chicago’s Soldier Field. Scheduled and extra train service is planned prior to and following the game. Use the Museum Campus station.

Stanford has chartered four train cars for its Oct. 13 game at Notre Dame, and Wake Forest has reserved six cars for its Nov. 17 game in South Bend.

Parsons reminded that a regular weekday schedule will be in effect for Columbus Day and Veterans Day this fall.

 

 

Posted 9/27/2012