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
“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
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
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,”
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
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.”
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.
acquisition is also “well underway and we’re on target for our completion
date,” he noted.
West Lake Corridor
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.”
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.