NICTD double-tracking project enters federal pipeline

Carole CarlsonContact Reporter                Post-Tribune

The Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District has received the green light from the Federal Transit Administration to begin project development for the estimated $210 million double tracking of the South Shore Line from Gary to Michigan City.

The approval places the double-tracking project in the federal funding pipeline, making it eligible for a 50 percent matching grant, NICTD spokesman John Parsons said in a release.

Officials said the project could add 5,000 to 8,000 daily riders to the South Shore Line, increase train frequency by 30 percent, and improve on-time performance. The double-tracking will also reduce travel times for commuters, especially at stations farther from Chicago.

Last month, the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority board approved a $1.6 million matching grant to assist NICTD in its bid. The Northern Indiana RDA has also committed $800,000 for the HDR contract.

The RDA contributions will go toward $4 million in preliminary engineering and environmental work for the project.

In March, the NICTD board signed a $4 million contract with Chicago engineering firm HDR Inc. for work on the double track from Tennessee Street in Gary to just west of York Street in Michigan City.

NICTD General Manager Michael Noland said the double-tracking project is the key to reducing travel time to Chicago from South Bend.

The commuter line is currently only double-tracked from Chicago to Tennessee Street in Gary. After that, the South Shore has only a single track for both eastbound and westbound trains. As a result, trains must regularly slow or stop on passing sidings to allow a train traveling in the opposite direction to pass.

Noland stated that “double tracking the railroad unlocks the incredible potential of this region.”

Hanna called the double tracking project and the $510 million South Shore West Lake expansion keys to attracting and retaining population in Northwest Indiana. Hanna said the next step, along with the preliminary engineering and environmental studies, is gaining the local/state share of the $105 million to qualify for federal funding.

NICTD officials said in a release their goal is to seek a project rating by the FTA in late 2017. If successful, that would lead to a funding recommendation in the president’s 2018 budget. Once approved by Congress, construction could begin in 2019, with completion in late 2020.