CHESTERTON | Ridership on the South Shore commuter railroad fell 1 percent in 2012, impacted by slow job growth in Chicago's Loop as well as a slow holiday shopping season, according to the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District.
The railroad had almost 3.67 million riders in 2012, as compared to 3.71 million in 2011, according to NICTD ridership figures. The 2011 figure represented a 0.2 percent decline from 2010.
Planning and Marketing Director John Parsons told the NICTD board at its Friday meeting at the Dune Park station that a number of unusual incidents played into the 2012 ridership decline. Those included a Dec. 29 incident when a truck crash on the Indiana Toll Road sent heavy steel rollers hurtling onto South Shore tracks below. In all, 16 trains were canceled that day and others delayed.
Underlying factors such as the 20 percent decline in insurance and financial jobs in Chicago's Loop due to the recession have driven the longer-term trend, Parsons said.
However, despite the small decline in ridership, NICTD fare revenues were $19.6 million in 2012, a 7.4 percent increase as compared to the year before. The increase was due to an average 5 percent fare increase NICTD instituted in 2012.
The South Shore also plans to soon do its first comprehensive ridership survey in almost a decade. The NICTD board authorized management to enter into negotiations with the Blackstone Group, of Chicago, to perform the survey for a contract amount not to exceed $115,500.
The NICTD board also approved a number of expenditures for equipment and construction work.
Contracts totalling $263,620 were awarded to Racine Railroad Products, of Racine, Wis., for the purchase of two new automated machines for removing and reinstalling rail anchors. A contract for $189,831 was awarded to Nordco Inc., of Oak Creek, Wis., for an automated spike pulling machine.
The work is currently done by old-fashioned railroad gangs with sledge hammers. The new machines will increase productivity and reduce injuries, NICTD Purchasing Manager Randy Welch told the board.
The board also awarded a construction contract for $1,199,528 to Ellas Construction, of Gary, for the replacement of a bridge over Trail Creek, in Michigan City.
A $345,033 contract for the overhaul of tread brakes on rail cars was awarded to Knorr Brake Corp., of Westminster, Md.