Chesterton Tribune


Porter endorses tourism trolley concept; stops short of town financial commitment

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Porter Town Council members agreed Tuesday to draft a letter offering conceptual support only that the non-profit Railhead of the Dunes Transit Authority can take to federal, state, Porter County and Indiana highway agencies to flesh out more details about their proposal.

Dunes Railhead promoters had asked the council for funding to help determine the feasibility of a trolley system using vintage South Shore passenger cars to ferry tourists from the Porter County Tourism visitor center in Porter to the state and national parks on the town’s doorstep.

Council members Elka Nelson and Jeannine Virtue said while the project’s goals are exciting, neither member can in good conscience commit the town to pay $10,000 to $30,000 for a feasibility study without knowing, as Nelson put it, whether the National Park Service “would play ball.”

Nelson also said the town needs a better handle on environmental impacts, easements needed for the electric trolley service route, and how how much it would cost to construct, operate and maintain the new system.

Dunes Railhead advocate Richard Riley agreed the project “needs to come into focus. It’s not in focus yet.”

He and Sherrill Newman made the council presentation, describing the reconditioned circa 1908-1929 vintage South Shore cars that could be made available for the project as a tourist attraction in their own right; estimates are they could carry up to 400 passengers headed to Dunes beaches per hour relieving congestion on local roads and parking problems at Porter Beach.

The trolley service would be based at the Visitor Center, lone tenant in the stalled Munson Place development at the southeast corner of U.S. 20 and Indiana 49. Porter’s Gateway to the Indiana Dunes project originally planned an indoor/outdoor water park, hotel, restaurants and shops there; a trolley service for tourists also was mentioned.

Nelson said she especially needs more information about the proposed route. Newman said the group is not ready to talk about routes although Tremont Road east of Munson Place tentatively has been considered.

Newman and Riley said a local owner of antique train parts including rail and overhead catenary wants to find a home for them, and others familiar with vintage rail car operations are prepared to donate their time and expertise to the project. However, seed money and grants will be needed, they added.

Newman said operators of the current South Shore passenger service need to be brought into discussions to determine if the Dune Park Station on U.S. 12 could link up with the tourism trolley.

Riley operates Riley’s Railhouse in Chesterton where two boxcars are parked on a siding downtown. He said he’s a newcomer to this area and as such isn’t burdened by the past. The Railhead group realizes the scope of the project it’s proposing, he added, but its rewards should be worth the effort.

In other council business, Porter Fire Department assistant chief Jay Craig presented awards to five firefighters who responded in Porter on Aug. 18 to an unresponsive male. Through their cooperative efforts the subject was revived.

Cited for meritorious lifesaving and drawing applause from the audience were deputy chief Glenn Zaideman, captain Dan Branham, firefighter Joe Mulholland, engineer Mitch Louthan and firefighter Mark Piazza.

Craig said when volunteers respond they’re making a difference in people’s lives. “A call like this is definitely a big hit in bringing this home.” Craig also noted the close cooperation between Porter town departments.

As part of Fire Prevention Week, Craig said firefighters will visit Yost Elementary and Discovery Charter schools in Porter.



Posted 10/10/2012