Chesterton Tribune

6,843 South Shore seats take a lot of work and money to maintain

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Sitting for more than one hour on a soiled or uncomfortable seat is no way to start the day.

Just ask any commuter.

The South Shore railroad has 6,843 seats in its fleet with 5,500 in use every day. As part of the 1982 fleet’s mid-life overhaul, the seats are being replaced, as well as the windows and propulsion system and braking mechanism. Approximately half the 41 cars slated to be upgraded are completed.

The Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, which owns the public railroad, is spending $27,800 on seats for each renovated rail car. NICTD General Manager Gerald Hanas said, “The old seats are pretty amazing. They’ve gone 20 years. They’ve held up marvelously well.”

Unlike the old ones, the new seats must meet tougher federal requirements for flammability and toxicity; this makes the seats soil easier and hold dirt, said Hanas, and require more cleaning.

To maximize productivity, Hanas said changes have been made at the Michigan City shops where the cars are cleaned to move cleaning supplies between the cars more quickly. The railroad also will try applying a fabric treatment to the seats to prevent stains.

In a related matter, NICTD board member Sam Melnick, who commutes regularly to Chicago, confirmed after the meeting NICTD has received complaints about the seats on the 10 new cars purchased. The seat backs are not as high as the 1982 seats, and the shape of the back of the new seat restricts leg room for the passenger behind it. Melnick said NICTD is discussing possibly modifying the seats.

Also Friday, NICTD marketing director John Parsons said the commuter district was awarded $2.4 million in federal discretionary funds for 2002 and is awaiting Congressional action on a requested $4 million grant for 2003. The money will be used for ongoing signal modernization and replacement of the 80 year-old electric catenary system, which powers the trains.

Hanas said projects to renew 5,000 railroad ties and 21,000 lineal feet of catenary wire between Beverly Shores and Ogden Dunes recently were performed by busing commuters around the work zones.

Board members also discussed the massive busing effort that took place July 11 when a Metra derailment in Illinois created a roadblock for South Shore trains.

Hanas said NICTD had only 1,700 seats available for 5,000 passengers because much of its equipment was on the wrong side of the shutdown.

“For the most part, people were not exactly happy but tolerant of the situation considering the extreme conditions involved,” he said.

NICTD chief operating officer Jeffrey Lowe said it took a Herculean effort by many people to tow the trains with diesel equipment out of Chicago when able and get them cleaned and ready for the next day’s rush hour.

Parsons reported that mid-year ridership through June 30 is 4.8 percent below 2001 or 89,088 fewer riders with the decline in rush-hour passengers, likely due to layoffs in the Chicago job market. However, fewer passengers results in more seating available, he noted. Off-peak and weekend ridership remain steady.

Free shuttle bus service will be provided Aug. 3 and 4 from Dune Park station to Hawthorne Park for the Chesterton Art Fair.

NICTD also plans to offer a special Oct. 13 train to the Chicago Marathon that will arrive in the city at 6:24 a.m.

NICTD Chairman David Niezgodski, a St. Joseph County Councilman, said he will visit Poland next month as part of a South Bend delegation visiting its sister city there.

Niezgodski said he hopes to exchange information about transportation systems.

NICTD adopted a minimum goal for participation by disadvantaged business of 12 percent of the value of all contracts let during fiscal year 2003.




Posted 7/29/2002