Calling it a fairly extensive construction project, South Shore railroad
officials estimate a November completion for this year’s planned
construction of a high-boarding platform at Porter County’s Dune Park
Bids will be presented to the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation
District in March, said NICTD general manager Gerald Hanas. The district has
reserved $2 million in federal capital funds for the project.
High-boarding platforms allow faster boarding because all train doors open,
steps are eliminated and access to trains by the disabled is easier.
Dune Park’s veranda will be extended north to the canopied, heated platform
preserving the historic Insull architectural style of the original 1985
station. The 800 foot-long platform will include a new entrance on its east
end with warming shelters and ramps. New walkways will be added and Dune
Park’s traffic flow will be revamped to allow two-way traffic on the
currently one-way eastern entrance off U.S. 12.
At Friday’s NICTD meeting, Hanas said it’s anticpated there will be minor
inconvenience during construction for Dune Park passengers but nothing too
The platform will be similar to the one built at the Hegewisch Station.
Hanas said Dune Park has significant ridership for not having raised
boarding until now.
NICTD board members expressed surprise and opposition to House Bill 1450
filed in the Indiana General Assembly that would dump NICTD’s County Council
representatives from Lake, Porter, LaPorte and St. Joseph counties in favor
of city mayors, four from Lake County.
The bill has been assigned to the Roads and Transportation Committee.
Portage and Valparaiso mayors would have seats on the new board representing
While one representative of each County Board of Commissioners would remain,
NICTD board members appointed by the governor representing passengers and
the South Shore’s labor unions would be dropped.
Another point of contention is that under the reorganization, a member may
designate an alternate member to represent and act for the member in his/her
HB 1450 is sponsored by District 12 Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon, D-Munster.
She was quoted in The Times of Northwest Indiana saying she filed the bill
in part over the slow pace of NICTD’s proposed South Shore extension in Lake
County known as Westlake, and to better represent where South Shore
ridership is heaviest.
In addition to bringing commuter trains into south Lake County, Westlake
could include a second alignment through Merrillville and Hobart to
Valparaiso. A stumbling block has been the $600 million to $900 million
project cost, and assuring a continuing source of funds to operate Westlake
trains as well as the current 90-mile Chicago to South Bend railroad.
St. Joseph County Councilman Mark Catanzarite said County Councils have been
a part of the NICTD board for 35 years. HB 1450 would devalue counties and
benefit others, he predicted, adding it was poor public policy the way HB
1450 surfaced without input from NICTD. South Bend would have St. Joseph
County’s only mayoral seat under the bill.
Porter County Commission member John Evans said, “If it’s not broke, don’t
fix it. Make it better, but this bill doesn’t.”
He noted mayors have their hands full and if an alternate can be seated on
the board in their place, there’s a danger of getting someone “who wants to
make a name for themselves and show they’re somebody".
Lake County Council member Christine Cid and Lake County Commissioner
Michael Repay both criticized the bill. “I don’t think there’s been any
prejudice against one county or another” under the current board make-up,
Repay said the board representation works and should be left as is. Under a
new board Gary, Hammond, East Chicago and Hobart would have mayoral seats.
Porter County Council member Sylvia Graham said knowing what she does about
HB 1450, “I would not be able to support it.”
LaPorte County Council member Mark Yagelski, who was elected 2013 NICTD
chairman, said, “I know there are boards that are troublesome; we are not
one of them.” Michigan City and LaPorte stand to gain mayoral seats if HB
1450 becomes law.
Catanzarite said the district can’t move forward with a proposed strategic
business plan for future expansion of South Shore assets and facilities not
knowing the board’s future. NICTD and the Northwest Indiana Regional
Development Authority had planned to partner in the $500,000 study.
By unanimous vote the Blackstone Group of Chicago was hired at a cost not to
exceed $115,500 to conduct an updated ridership survey this spring.
Blackstone hopes to circulate 9,000 surveys in person and online, and NICTD
will have input on which questions to ask.
NICTD marketing director John Parsons said South Shore passengers last were
surveyed in 2004. Sought is information about who’s riding what trains and
where, how they get to their stations and employment, what tickets they
purchase, and the quality of rail service.
Parsons said questions about the jobs South Shore ridership enables
passengers to have, and the value of the wages returned here, will be
important responses to have.
South Shore 2012 ridership of 3,668,098 was down 1 percent over 2011. The
highest increase last year at 5.6 percent was out of the South Bend Regional
Airport followed by a 2.6 percent weekend ridership jump. Weekday and peak
ridership both were down by 1.7 percent and off-peak ridership by 1.5
Passenger revenue rose 5.6 percent in 2012 to $19.5 million thanks in part
to a 5 percent fare increase.
In other business, the NICTD board:
• Accepted the $263,620 bid of Racine Railroad Products of Wisconsin to
purchase an anchor spreader and squeezer to help replace ties and rail
anchors more safely and efficiently; the work currently is done manually.
• Accepted the $189,831 bid of Nordco Inc. of Wisconsin for a spike puller
that cuts in half the time needed to do the work.
• Accepted the $1,199,528 bid of Ellas Construction of Gary to replace a
failing bridge over Trail Creek in LaPorte County east of the South Shore
shops. Replacement is slated for September.
• Accepted the
recommendation to hire Knorr Brake Corp. of Westminster MD for $345,033 to
perform maintenance on the South Shore’s double-decker passenger cars.