Archive for July, 2009

What is the Plan?

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

With a 2015 deadline approaching NICTD needs to move forward to get their tracks out of the city streets. After removal, trains will need to get from the yard on Carroll Ave to the main railroad on the west side of town.

The most popular path over the years has been a plan to go north along former Norfolk Southern tracks to the Amtrak line on the north side of Michigan City then along side the South Shore Freight yard to meet the existing main line near the county line. The big problem with this alignment is Trail Creek … which is crossed by Amtrak via a single track swing bridge. This bridge gives boats the right of way – which means a rush train could be delayed if the bridge needs to be opened for boat traffic. A high level bridge similar to the US12 bridge over trail creek could be built but the cost is prohibitive (an estimated $200-$300 million dollars).

A second option would be to take the line south along the CSX route that passes to the east of the Michigan City yard. While not as expensive as the north route, this option would still cost over $65 million and would cost NICTD extra operating expenses to get their trains eastward to the line then reversed to get on the CSX line.

The new option is literally a “middle ground”. The existing successful 11th St alignment will be moved “one lot south”. Properties along the south side of 11th St from East Michigan Ave (US 35)  to Chicago Ave would be purchased. NICTD would build a double track railroad along that path continuing west just north of the prison property rejoining the existing line at (or near) Sheridan Ave. (A few properties on 10th St would also need to be purchased.) The initial build would be a single track with a double track at the new 11th Street station downtown.

The new station would have high level platforms for fast boarding (also satisfying ADA requirements) and an expected 800 parking slots. This replaces the non-compliant “street boarding” station and 37 car lot. The Carroll Ave station (compliant with a manual chair lift) with 201 parking slots (plus overflow) would be closed.

A PDF of the plan is available on the City of Michigan City’s website – PDF

What is the problem?

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

Since the line opened in 1908, the South Shore railroad has been running down the middle of 11th St and 10th St in downtown Michigan City. Discussions on removing the line from the street have been ongoing since at least the 1960’s. Street running in East Chicago ended in 1956 with the assistance of the State of Indiana when the Indiana Toll Road was constructed. Street running in South Bend ended in 1970 when the station was moved to the edge of town.

While popular with railfans (people with a hobby interest in railroads) street running is expensive to maintain. Asphalt must be removed to maintain the rails and the heavy trains damages the roadway. Signalling and crossing alert systems are hard to maintain when repair work often means tearing up the road. The cost of those repairs are borne by the city and the railroad … with the railroad being supported by government grants.

For the safety of the public railroad crossings are best protected by gates that physically block traffic from entering a crossing. Quad gates where the opposite lanes are also blocked to prevent driving around gates are preferred. Providing such signalling in street running is not practical. Gates could be provided to stop additional vehicles from entering the street when a train is approaching but the traffic on the street still needs to be dealt with.

A new law passed in 2008 requires “positive train control”. While what this is varies between railroads the basic goal is for the railroad to have complete control over their tracks. This includes active feedback from crossings to make sure that warning systems and gates are operating as designed. The deadline for railroads to install “PTC” is the end of 2015.

The safest and cheapest long term option is to get the rails out of the street. The question for the last 50 years is where to put them. NICTD now has a plan.

Presenting the Plan

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

On May 29th, 2009, at a regularly scheduled board meeting NICTD approved “entering into a memorandum of understanding with the city of Michigan City to move the South Shore tracks, now down the center of 10th and 11th streets, to the south side of those streets.” (Chesterton Tribune, 6-1-2009)  The project is expected to cost $65 million dollars including land acquisition. An alternative plans to route to the south was reported to cost $65 million plus land acquisition (and would cause operational problems for the railroad). Another alternative to route to the north would cost at least $200 million and include a bridge over Trail Creek.

The Michigan City News-Dispatch also wrote an article about the topic on June 5th (link).

This plan was met with some surprised in Michigan City as many took the articles as meaning the slight realignment was a “done deal”. The city had not responded to the memorandum and many councilmen were caught off guard when their constituents asked them about it. (Michigan City News-Dispatch, 6-18-2009)

The northern bridge route has resurfaced in the debate (Michigan City News-Dispatch, 6-28-2009) More information on the northern route can be found at .


Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

Welcome to my website! This website has been set up to write about the plan to build a new “South Shore” railroad alignment through Michigan City, Indiana.  I hope to be able to track the progress of the plan as it moves through completion.

It is VERY IMPORTANT to note that this site is completely unofficial. It is not operated or endorsed by the city of Michigan City, the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District (passenger operator and owner of the “South Shore” line), the South Shore Freight railroad company or any county, state or federal government entity.

The official website is available here: Michigan City Alternative Analysis Realignment Study.

That being said, I hope to be able to share some information about the project.