The South Shore
railroad is finalizing a strategic business plan that includes extending
passenger service to Munster and Dyer by 2022, and several parts of the
Westlake puzzle are falling into place.
Directors of the
Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District learned Thursday that
requests for proposals have gone out to do a Phase1 environmental-impact
study along the route.
manager Gerald Hanas said he hopes to bring a recommendation in March which
consultant to hire.
Hanas also said 1st
District U.S. Rep. Peter Visclosky is pushing hard for Westlake to be
approved for federal New-Starts money to fund up to 50 percent of the $600
of communications Celina Weatherwax previewed a new promotional video
featuring Visclosky and others touting Westlakeís benefits. Weatherwax said
the congressman is a passionate advocate for the opportunities and companion
economic development Westlake will bring.
Calling it a
generational imperative in the video, Visclosky said Northwest Indiana needs
a sense of urgency today because people failed to act in the past.
He also said
Westlake will help keep the regionís best and brightest young people here
rather than losing them to areas with good transportation access to
business plan, jointly funded by NICTD and the Northwest Regional
Development Authority, will include overall investment strategies for the
next 20 years including several upgrades along the current South
Bend-to-Chicago route to boost ridership. These include phased purchase of
58 new passenger cars and station contruction/improvements.
2014 budget and beyond is continued implementation of positive train
control, an unfunded federal safety mandate that Hanas said likely wonít
meet its nationwide Dec. 31, 2015 deadline. PTC could cost the South Shore
$45 million; the system requires development of new technologies between
trains, trackside and centralized traffic control to stop trains before an
The NICTD board,
with member Porter County Commissioner John Evans among those absent,
approved a 2014 South Shore business plan showing a net deficit thatís
covered by state and federal subsidies. At 66 percent the largest portion of
NICTDís total $40.2 million expenses, less depreciation, are salaries, wages
and fringe benefits.
The 2014 plan
anticipates flat operating revenue, the same levels of service and no fare
increase although that depends on whether Metra in Illinois raises its
NICTD director of
marketing John Parsons said 2013 South Shore ridership dipped 1.7 percent
compared to 2012 resulting in 3,606,926 passengers last year. Most of that
drop occurred on off-peak and weekend trains. Metra posted a 2.1 percent
ridership drop through November, Parsons noted.
As well as the
sluggish job market in and around Chicago, he added, poor weather and other
factors held down attendance at major 2013 events there that typically draw
more South Shore riders.
last quarter saw a positive trend in rush-hour ridership, said Parsons, this
Januaryís weather has been brutal compared to last year. Hanas thanked
passengers and employees for their patience.
Well received, said
NICTD officials, have been email and text alerts started in August notifying
passengers of delayed trains. So far 2,484 have subscribed with 1,000 alone
signing up Jan. 5-7.
The NICTD board
split Thursday when discussing renewal of a $135,000 contract with AC
Incorporated of Valparaiso to handle South Shore social media, website
hosting and paid-media advertising. Contract consideration was tabled after
member Michael Repay, a Lake County Commissioner, raised questions.
He said ridership
word of mouth is free and sometimes more valuable than paid advertising.
NICTD and LaPorte County Council member Mark Yagelski said more advertising
could have been done there, some of it at no cost.