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