Chesterton Tribune

RDA and NICTD to team on 15 year South Shore plan

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

The Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority has found its next regional project, pledging Friday to help the Northern Indiana Transportation Commuter District create a new 15-year business plan.

The goal would be economic development, making it easier for NWI residents to commute to their workplaces like in Chicago, RDA President Bill Hanna said.

NICTD General Manager Gerald Hanas said the plan will act as a “blueprint” for the South Shore Line on how to improve its existing assets and possible expansions.

A working group of both NICTD and RDA members will be formed to begin the study for the plan and determine its scope. Hanas estimated the price tag for the effort will be about $500,000 and would be funded equally by both parties.

Items the study will look at include fix-ups to the South Bend station, quicker routes in Michigan City and moving forward with the West Lake expansion proposed to extend lines into the cities of Lowell and Valparaiso. The new improvements will hopefully bring quicker travel times and customer convenience, Hanas said.

Hanna said the plan will be done similarly to the RDA’s plan a few years ago to expand and revamp the runway at the Gary/Chicago International Airport.

“Having a level of commitment like that is a very power thing,” he said.

The plan will also attempt to collaborate with city bus systems.

The NICTD board approved the ordinance 8-1 with one disapproving vote from Robert Kovach of the St. Joseph County Board of Commissioners who said he was still weary at the possibility of another agency taking over city busses.

“We have no problems with our busses,” he said.

Those approving the measure included NICTD board member Laura Blaney who is the Porter County Council’s appointed representative. The Porter County Commissioner representative, Northern Commissioner John Evans, was absent Friday.

Also on Friday, the NICTD board approved a separate ordinance to link up the Munster and Hammond bike trails by building a bridge over the Little Calumet River through a memorandum of understanding.

Safety precautions slowing trains

The stifling heat in this summer’s dog days is causing South Shore passengers’ tempers to rise due to longer travel times and delays, Hanas said.

Trains are slowing their speeds from 79 miles per hour to 55 when the rail heads reach temperatures of about 130 degrees in order to minimize the rails’ susceptibilities to “sun kinks,” a condition when the rail is warped or bent by the compressive forces of the sun’s heat.

A freight train derailment on the Union Pacific Railroad in Glenview, Ill. that resulted in two deaths earlier this month was reported to have been caused by a sun kink. Reduced speeds is one way railroads can try to avoid sun kinks which are not entirely preventable.

Hanas said train delays are exacerbated by train meets in a single track.

“We’ve received a lot of complaints but it’s an issue of safety,” said Hanas. “It’s a matter of safety first.

July’s 90-degree temperatures extended to a span of 16 days with three days in the triple digits. Last year in July, only nine days were recorded with temperatures exceeding 90 degrees.

On-time performance is down by 10 percent this year in the morning rush hour with 85 percent of trains remaining punctual but during the afternoon only about 60 percent on-time.

NICTD Marketing Director John Parsons said despite the stress of a hotter summer, ridership numbers are up and holding steady with 1,820,741 riders in June compared to 1,800,565 in 2011.

Trains carried 52 percent fewer passengers during the time of the NATO summit, Parsons said, and a couple of more moves by the City of Chicago have stymied ridership. The mayor had moved the Taste of Chicago from the ten days before the July 4th holiday to just five days in mid-July.

Parsons said NICTD is expecting strong numbers for late summer events like Chicago’s Lollapalooza music festival in Grant Park Aug. 3-5 and the Superboat Grand Prix in Michigan City that same weekend. NICTD will not be allowing alcohol on trains Aug. 4 and 5 and not after 6 p.m. on Aug. 3, Parsons said.

More highlights on the horizon are the Chicago Air and Water Show, Aug. 18 and 19, and the Notre Dame home games starting Sept. 8.

Parsons further commented the trains’ air conditioning units have been stressed because of high ambient temps but have held up better this year than 2011.

Dunes Park station platform

construction update

In other business, the board approved the purchase of three new turnouts/switches and a new crossover for the tracks near the Dune Park station for $430,730.

NICTD Purchasing Manager Randy Welch said bids were requested a second time and came in $31,000 lower than before from Progress Rail Services of Woodridge, Ill., who was awarded the project.

Welch said he expects the turnouts will be operable by April, the same time construction is expected to be finished on the station’s proposed high level platform that is said to reduce 4 to 5 minute stop times to less than a minute.

Engineering work to be performed by URS Corporation of Chicago for the platform was approved by the board at its June 1 meeting.

Bids for construction will be recommended in November, Welch said.

Dune Park is currently the highest utilized South Shore station without a high level platform.

Hanas also reported there is a preliminary consensus with the Michigan City Council and NICTD officials to move the South Shore tracks north to Michigan Blvd. (U.S. Highway 12) near city hall, which could bring more business development to that area.

Both parties agree that consolidating the city’s two stops into one would mean faster travel times and reduced traffic, Hanas said.

 

Posted 7/30/2012