Chesterton Tribune

South Shore service: New delays for Kensington bottleneck relief project

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In 2010 they said it would be done spring of 2011.

January of this year it was supposed to be done by mid-summer.

Friday, directors of the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District learned construction of a time-saving $19 million bypass track for the South Shore commuter railroad should be in service in December.

Paul Bobby of project manager STV Incorporated requested, and the NICTD board approved, an additional $325,000 for the firm to extend its construction-management contract through spring of 2012 when all work is to be completed at the Kensington interlocking in Illinois.

Bobby explained how having to coordinate design and construction with the South Shore, Metra and Canadian National railroads, who all share tracks at the 115th Street interlocking, has led to delays. “If one (thing) slips, everything slides with it.”

NICTD general manager Gerald Hanas said about 180 trains use the Kensington crossover on an average day so shutting down tracks and busing thousands of passengers isn’t feasible.

Because of the complexity involved, Bobby added, if plans are changed --- like lightning forcing a work stoppage --- it can take two to three weeks to get permission to schedule the same work again.

The Kensington project, in the planning stages for a decade, involves laying new track as well as installing new signals, signal houses and overhead catenary that powers the South Shore trains on their way to Millennium Station at Randolph Street in downtown Chicago.

Heat sparks AC complaints

Hanas apologized to passengers for air-conditioning failures on some train cars during the unseasonably hot July, adding that compressor failures were within normal ranges even though the AC system is reaching its design limits on extremely hot days.

Hanas said when center doors open at high-level boarding platforms, cool air escapes and it’s difficult for the system to recover. “The heat load that comes in is huge (and the air conditioning) won’t ramp the temperature down to 74 degrees in minutes.”

Through June of this year total South Shore ridership of 1,775,020 is down 2.6 percent over 2010, said NICTD marketing director John Parsons.

Average off-peak ridership this year is down 8.9 percent but average weekend/holiday rebounded up by 5.3 percent. 2011 revenue to-date of $8.7 million increased by 1.5 percent on the heels of a fare increase this year.

Parsons outlined new marketing efforts including the website that offers promotions and suggestions how to take the train into Chicago for off-peak leisure activities.

Also Friday, Hanas said a public hearing is planned in September on seven possible realignment options that would move the South Shore tracks off downtown Michigan City streets and replace the smaller 11th Street and Carroll Avenue stations with a new, modern one with expanded parking.

Consultants currently are reviewing the options in cooperation with NICTD and the city, who jointly funded the local match for a federal grant to pay for the study.

Tree coming down?

Town of Pines resident Anne Prokuski urged NICTD to have a large cottonwood tree located on its adjoining right-of-way taken down before it falls on her house. “I’m in constant stress about it,” she told NICTD directors.

Addressing board members, Pines Town Council member Cathi Murray said, “I think you need to realize there’s a responsibility here to protect (Prokuski) and her family.”

Prokuski said a few years ago a tree on South Shore property fell into her yard necessitating she be responsible for having it removed, and she doesn’t want to go through that again. Board member Fran DuPey, a Lake County Commissioner, said NICTD failed Prokuski by not paying for the clean-up then and the railroad should take the cottonwood down now.

St. Joseph County Commissioner Robert Kovach’s motion to have an arborist determine the health of the tree passed, as did a second motion by Porter County Commissioner John Evans to have the tree cut down if the arborist so recommends.

The NICTD board doesn’t meet again until Sept. 30. Absent Friday were Jim Biggs of Porter County, Christine Cid of Lake County and Mark Yagelski of LaPorte County.


Posted 8/1/2011