Study: South Shore Lowell expansion has more steam

2011-03-25T17:15:00Z 2011-03-29T20:34:30Z Study: South Shore Lowell expansion has more steamBy Lu Ann Franklin Times Correspondent nwitimes.com
March 25, 2011 5:15 pm  • 

CHESTERTON | NICTD trustees heard Friday the Monon/CSX corridor from Chicago to Lowell likely would capture the most ridership for any South Shore expansion.

NICTD general manager Gerald Hanas said the feasibility study showed it would be "extremely difficult and costly to work with Canadian National on a shared corridor" that would run from Munster to Valparaiso.

Hanas said the Monon/CSX corridor could be developed in two phases from Hammond to Lowell. Phase 1 would take the South Shore from Chicago to Munster/Dyer. This phase would involve seven trains a day with a weekly inbound ridership to Chicago of 4,510 passengers.

Lake and Porter counties and 12 communities within those counties funded the local share of the West Lake Corridor New Start feasibility study done by STV Inc.

The estimated operating cost would be $14 million annually. Of that, 30 percent, or $4.2 million, would be recovered in fares. Hanas said the estimated capital cost of this phase would be $464 million. The total of annual debt service and the $9.8 million deficit not covered by fares would be nearly $26.1 million.

To qualify for federal funds for this project, the cost effectiveness per hour of user benefit must be between $16 and $24.99. The study shows the Phase 1 cost effectiveness would successfully fall within those boundaries at between $20.50 and $21.50.

The next step is for NICTD staff to meet with the stakeholders to begin discussions on funding. The region must demonstrate to the federal government that there is financial capacity to support two commuter railroads, Hanas said.

In other business, the NICTD board approved TranSystems Corp of Chicago to provide the South Shore realignment through Michigan City and Tonn & Blank of Michigan City to reconstruct the Gary Metro Center platform.

South Shore ridership was down 3.5 percent or 18,000 passenger trips during February due to the February blizzard and the fact that the Chicago Auto Show didn't extend through Presidents Day. Ridership on Presidents Day during the Auto Show is typically 13,000, said John Parsons, NICTD planning and marketing director.

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