Over the next three years, the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District will invest about $2 billion dollars in capital projects as the South Shore Line undergoes multiple renovations, including the relocation of the commuter line’s eastern-most stop at South Bend International Airport. Other investments, including the Double Track project near Michigan City and the West Lake Corridor extension in Lake County, are already underway. The NICTD recently announced a $6 million engineering services contract to relocate the station at the airport, a project that could cut the travel time from South Bend to downtown Chicago to 90 minutes, saving about an hour.
In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, NICTD President Mike Noland said the long-talked about project to move the station from the east side of the airport to the west side is gaining traction.
“There’s been various, different discussions, proposals, ideas, and we almost got this thing started about five years ago. And we had some fits and starts. But I think we’re where we need to be. Now we’ve got a lot of momentum behind going to the west side of the airport,” said Noland.
LISTEN: Noland says the current station location was only supposed to be “temporary,” and that was three decades ago.
The NICTD awarded the contract to South Bend-based engineering firm DLZ. In addition to completing the design of the station and connection to the airport terminal, DLZ will lay out the best path for the relocated rail line.
“By realigning the current station terminus at the South Bend Airport, we can reduce distance, eliminate curves, and reduce grade crossings,” said Noland.
The station would only move about 300 yards, but by re-routing the track, it would eliminate 21 crossing grades and about a 1.5-mile path through the west side of the city, where the trains are required to travel at much lower speeds.
“To me, we go as slow as some of the amusement park ride trains,” described Noland. “So, we enhance safety [and] we significantly reduce time. It’ll be a much better ride. Wonderful enhancements to help us bring South Bend to Chicago down to that 90-minute threshold. We’re at about two and a half hours on average [now].”
Part of the trip-time reduction is due to the $649 million Double Track project near Michigan City. NICTD is adding a second set of tracks for an 17-mile stretch that will help reduce rail log jams.
“We’re nearing the halfway point on Double Track. We’re just about to finish the first season of construction,” said Noland, who adds the project is on time for a May 2024 completion date.
Back in South Bend, Noland says full engineering is expected to finish up in March of 2024. Environmental studies are scheduled to be complete in September of 2023, at which point the railroad could start applying for grants. Noland says there are no precise cost estimates on the South Bend project at this point.
“$75 million is an approximate number. But it’s also a very early number without really any engineering being done. And we’re certainly seeing increases in the costs of construction projects, both locally and nationally,” said Noland.
Federal funding will be key, including money from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed by President Biden in November 2021. But there will also be local dollars.
“We’re certainly going to have to put together a package of local funding to match up that that federal program, and we’ll start to work on accumulating those funds. And I could see that coming potentially from a variety of sources. There’s a lot of folks that are interested in see the benefits that can flow out of this project,” Noland said.
While not directly connected to the South Bend project, Noland did provide an update to Inside INdiana Business on the $945 million West Lake Corridor project. He says the eight mile-mile long extension of the South Shore Line is also on time for a 2025 completion. It will eventually bring commuter trains through high-growth areas Hammond, Munster and Dyer.