Chesterton Tribune

 
 

Hanas signals retirement ahead as general manager of South Shore commuter service

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By PAULENE POPARAD

The South Shore is forecasting stable levels of service and fares for 2013 although minor adjustments are possible, but a big management change likely will take place within the next 18 months, it was announced Friday.

Directors of the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, which owns and operates the South Shore, adopted a contract amendment for long-time general manager Gerald Hanas detailing terms if he chooses to retire between Dec. 31, 2013 and July 31, 2014.

After the meeting Hanas confirmed that’s his current plan; he will be 65 in 2014. “This isn’t the kind of job you can give two weeks notice.”

Upon retirement Hanas would receive additional compensation equal to 2 percent of all fees paid to NICTD by the Chicago South Shore and South Bend freight railroad in 2012 or 2013, whichever is higher. Hanas helped negotiate the current contract between NICTD and the separately held freight line, which uses NICTD trackage.

He also would be entitled to keep in effect his family health insurance coverage under NICTD for 12 months after retirement.

Mark Yagelski, a LaPorte County Council member, suggested beginning the preliminary search for Hanas’ replacement. He will be joined by NICTD chairman St. Joseph County Council member Mark Catanzarite and Lake County Council member Christine Cid.

St. Joseph County Commissioner Robert Kovach said more people should be involved. Porter County Council member Laura Blaney, who will become the south-district County Commissioner Jan. 1, said the search committee can be expanded in 2013. NICTD member John Evans, north-district Porter County Commissioner, was absent.

Hanas has been involved with NICTD since its inception in 1977 when the public agency was formed to fund South Shore operations after the owner threatened a total discontinuation of service. Hanas was hired by NICTD in 1978 as a project manager and became general manager in 1982. Eight years later NICTD purchased the passenger service and the 90-mile railroad’s major assets.

Hanas told the Chesterton Tribune he hopes his time at NICTD will be remembered as a recapitalization of the entire railroad that’s still ongoing.

NICTD has invested approximately $400 million to rebuild and reinvent the South Bend-to-Chicago line, which is unusual in that it operates across two time zones. Over the last 12 months NICTD’s carried 3.7 million passengers.

The 2013 business plan approved by the NICTD board reflects a $13.7 million net deficit before state funding is applied to cover the shortfall. Operating costs are set at approximately $40 million or 4.2 percent over 2012, said Hanas, who noted cost-containment measures will continue.

Passenger fares are anticipated to generate $18.7 million next year; a NICTD fare increase may be needed to maintain similar fare structures in overlapping zones if Metra in Illinois hikes its fares.

In 2013 NICTD plans four major capital projects, among them spring construction of a high-level boarding platform at Porter County’s Dune Park Station on U.S. 12 that will reduce dwell time and allow use of all train doors.

In other business Friday:

• The board unanimously approved refinancing at a lower interest rate a previous $32.1 million bond issue that funded purchase of new train cars. Doing so will save about $2.8 million in interest and allow the bonds to be retired early.

• Passenger Geof Benson of Beverly Shores said he understands there would be hurdles to address but he’d like to bring bicycles on the trains. Catanzarite said some share Benson’s desire and the request will be researched again, but previous discussions determined it wasn’t feasible at that time.

• Hanas said costs are being totaled to submit a bill to NIPSCO for sigificant damage NICTD equipment and structures sustained Oct. 14 when a NIPSCO conductor splice failed near Dune Park sending current through South Shore rail back to two substations. Train service was disrupted on two days and the Furnessville substation was off line 46 days affecting train speeds.

• Saturday, Dec. 8 and possibly Dec. 15 a special Chicago shoppers eastbound train will depart Millennium Station at 4:25 p.m. terminating in Michigan City. Monday, Dec. 24 and 31 trains will run on a weekday schedule. Tuesday, Dec. 25 and Jan. 1 will be weekend/holiday service on Christmas and New Years days.

• Retiring NICTD board members were thanked for their service: Lake County Commissioner Frances DuPey, over 20 years; LaPorte County Commissioner Barbara Huston, seven years; and Kovach, six years. All commended the NICTD board for being very professional. Blaney will be leaving as the Porter County Council appointment.

• Hanas thanked NICTD chief operating officer Robert Griffin for his 14 years of service.

• Yagelski apologized to the ridership for delays during construction projects, but good things are coming when the work is completed, he added.

 

Posted 12/3/2102