What is the problem?

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.