By PAULENE POPARAD
South Shore management and a member of the union that represents
approximately 85 conductors, collectors and engineers clashed Friday over
new boarding procedures for rush-hour trains that would require some
trainmen to supervise three rather than two commuter cars each.
South Shore officials made the cost-saving proposal to the Northern Indiana
Commuter Transportation District, a four-county public agency that owns and
operates the railroad.
NICTD board member Dennis Burke, a United Transportation Union Local 1526
member who represents South Shore employees, told the board, “If this is
implemented, the UTU will take action.”
Burke later declined to specify what action might be taken by the union but
said a well-placed international union official authorized the warning.
The South Shore had hoped May 3 to implement the change, which would result
in not all train doors opening at all stops and some doors not opening at
all in the last two cars of certain eight-car trains.
After Burke and South Shore chief operating officer Jeff Lowe got into a
disagreement over whether the union already had agreed to the work-rule
changes, NICTD chairman David Niezgodski, a St. Joseph County Commissioner,
assigned himself and board members Sam Melnick and Paul Pobereyko, both
commuters, as a committee to work with union and management to resolve the
Melnick said he had mixed emotions about the proposal. He predicted the door
restrictions will cause passengers confusion and inconvenience, yet as a
board member he understands the need to cut costs. The proposal would
eliminate some overtime for union workers.
NICTD general manager Gerald Hanas said some railroads have one trainman
responsible for from three to even six or eight train cars, and that the UTU
local has agreed to increase productivity. After the meeting Burke said the
union agreed to three train cars for collectors but not conductors.
NICTD’s Dario Brezene later said of 22 previous times a South Shore train
had to go out with one trainman covering three cars, none of those trains
arrived late at their destinations.
Safety, not on-time performance, was a concern for Elvin Schacht of Michigan
City, a retired 33-year South Shore conductor in the audience Friday. “With
luggage, packages, coats and kids, to take care of three cars, that’s a
dream. Never, no, for safety alone,” said Schacht.
Burke, a conductor, agreed with Schacht. “For homeland security railroads
are adding people. Now I’ll have 300 people instead of 200 people. Tell me
how I can safely evaluate people. Are (South Shore officials) sacrificing
safety for money?”
After the meeting NICTD board member William Carmichael, Porter County
Council president, said Burke’s reaction to the proposal came as a surprise.
“I was under the understanding this was part of negotiations with the
union.” As for the union’s warning, “No one likes to be threatened and I
took that as somewhat of a minor threat,” said Carmichael. “You can’t strike
a railroad like this.”
He noted modern public railroads are becoming more automated and any time
management proposes work-rule changes to operate more cost-effectively,
there’s conflict. However, “There has to be mutual agreement by both parties
under the contract.”
NICTD board member Porter County Commissioner John Evans was absent.
NICTD had hoped to have the boarding procedures and staffing with the union
worked out before May 30, when schedule changes are slated to go into effect
due to Metra’s proposed switch from 59th Street to its new station and
platforms at 57th Street in downtown Chicago. The changes would affect some
arrivals and departures at Dune Park Station in Porter County. The NICTD
board’s next meeting is May 21.
Neighborhood train watch
NICTD Police Chief Robert Byrd described the Transit Watch program launched
March 17 on all South Shore trains. Based on community policing concepts,
commuters as well as ticket agents, track workers, line and signal crews,
office and train personnel all are asked to be alert to any unusual persons,
circumstances or activities on or near the trains.
NICTD received a nearly $800,000 Homeland Security grant to support its
safety activities and programs.
Byrd said this will allow police presence on NICTD property 24 hours a day,
seven days a week and random inspection of facilities and trains. He noted
the programs were set in motion months ago and are not a knee-jerk reaction
to the recent Madrid commuter train bombings.
Pamphlets and posters in NICTD rail cars and stations urge commuters to be
alert for suspicious behavior, packages and persons and to report any
concerns to train employees or police immediately. Preparedness tips also
are given and emergency contact cards are provided.
In other business, NICTD approved an agreement with the City of South Bend
to transfer a portion of unused South Shore right-of-way on Westmoor Street
and Bendix Drive in exchange for $10 and the city agreeing to cut the grass
and weed the area. NICTD operations now are based in the South Bend Regional
Airport; the South Shore station is used by Amtrak and NICTD has no plans to
sell the station.
Catenary, signal advances
Long-awaited upgrades of the South Shore’s aging signal system and
electrical catenary power supply advanced when Edwards & Kelsey of Illinois
was hired to provide design review, construction management and related
services for both projects, which together carry an approximately $80
NICTD board member Will Smith of the Lake County Council balked at approving
the proposed $1,782,642 Edwards & Kelsey contract based on a verbal
presentation. He requested and by meeting’s end the board was given a
detailed bid analysis and award resolution prior to its unanimous vote.
Chief electrical engineer Victor Babin said five proposals were received and
ranked based on several criteria. Melnick questioned how realistic the
Edwards & Kelsey bid was for the three-year project when the next lowest bid
was $3.8 million. “It sounds to me like it may be a low-ball figure,” said
Hanas said the other bids are likely too high. He noted Edwards & Kelsey has
worked for NICTD before and were found to be efficient and experienced when
dealing with public railroads. The contract was approved not to exceed
$1,960,934 including a 10 percent contingency.
Hanas said the railroad needs very careful coordination of the signal and
catenary upgrades to minimize service interruptions for passengers.
Also Friday, the board approved negotiating with Toshiba to extend an
existing contract to convert the railroad’s four remaining DC-powered
passenger cars to the new AC propulsion system, and approved several bids
for annual track material and services.