Chesterton Tribune

 

 

South Shore losing $3.4 million monthly during COVID19 crisis

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By KEVIN NEVERS

The South Shore commuter line is losing millions during the COVID-19 crisis, with ridership now at approximately 5 percent of normal levels.

So South Shore President and General Manager Michael Noland told the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District’s Board of Trustees at its Zoom meeting on Wednesday afternoon.

“There’s a $3- to 4-million hole that needs to be filled,” Noland said.

Noland did say that the CARES Act earmarked $25 billion for relief of public transit across the country, but those moneys haven’t yet been distributed. Even so, “we’re confident that from those funds we’ll be able to sustain operations in the short term and for the next year and a half,” he added.

At the moment, though, revenues have dropped through the floor and expenses have risen “to combat COVID-19,” while “state resources are strained,” Noland said.

With ridership down dramatically, the South Shore is now running essentially a weekend schedule with a “couple of extras thrown in,” Noland explained. Train crews are working half on and half off, with plenty of manpower available should it be needed.

To date, no South Shore employees have contracted COVID-19. “We’re promoting as much workforce safety as we can,” Noland said. “Wearing masks, social-distancing, washing hands.”

The trains themselves are running with more cars than usual, so there’s plenty of room for passengers--most of them essential healthcare workers commuting to medical facilities in Chicago--to social-distance. “Though we’re not carrying a lot of people, the people we are carrying are very appreciative,” Noland said.

More: the South Shore is employing a “multi-pronged approach to make our passengers as comfortable as possible” when riding the trains. “We’re adding a lot of car cleaners for deep cleaning and for mid-day cleaning in Chicago,” Noland said. Anti-viral and -bacterial fogging is also planned and UV technologies are being explored for “increased, enhanced sanitation.” In addition, trains have been stocked with hand sanitizer and passengers are being encouraged to wear masks,

Noland couldn’t say enough about the South Shore crews who’ve stepped into the breach. “They have a lot of pent-up pride,” he told the board. “They really are on the front lines and they haven’t blinked.”

Double-Tracking

In other business, Noland reported that 60 percent of the engineering plans for the double-tracking project have been received and are being reviewed. “This is a big milestone for us,” he said.

Right-of-way acquisition is also “well underway and we’re on target for our completion date,” he noted.

West Lake Corridor

Meanwhile, South Shore officials have succeeded in negotiating a “substantial reduction” in the contract price for the design/build of the West Lake Corridor project. Contractor F.H. Paschen initially submitted a price of $664 million, but under a tentative agreement that figure has been reduced by about $110 million, Noland reported. “That reduction in scope will not change the deliverables of the project,” he said. “We tweaked items that the public will never see.”

Right-of-way acquisition is proceeding well too, with between 90 and 100 parcels already acquired, and only five or fewer requiring eminent domain litigation.

As soon as federal funding is received for the project, probably late this summer, NICTD will issue a notice to proceed. Noland added that the project is expected to create 1,000 construction jobs in Northwest Indiana, so there will be a “stimulus opportunity” at exactly the moment one is needed.

 

Posted 4/23/2020

 
 
 
 

 

 

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