NATO on Saturday has little effect on NWI trains, planes

NATO SUMMIT
2012-05-19T19:30:00Z 2012-06-01T22:53:03Z NATO on Saturday has little effect on NWI trains, planesBy Keith Benman keith.benman@nwi.com, (219) 933-3326 nwitimes.com

Rumors and reports were running east and west Saturday on the South Shore Line at speeds faster than any train could muster.

"They said they stopped a train with the bomb-sniffing dogs and stuff," said Cole Matthews, who had boarded westbound train No. 606 at 9:27 a.m. at the Carroll Avenue stop in Michigan City.

Catholic Sister Nkechi Iwoha, of the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ, said a station attendant in Gary just before 10 a.m. had told her no trains would be coming back out of Chicago until 3 p.m.

Just then the public address system on the Gary boarding platform announced that eastbound trains would be up to one hour late, giving some credence to what she had heard.

"I don't know if it's connected to the NATO or just something technical," she said.

That was the question all day long on the South Shore Line as riders tried to determine if there were any truth to last week's ominous warnings and Saturday's latest rumor.

The one-hour delay announced as Iwoha stood on the platform turned out to be due to a suspicious suitcase found in a coffee shop a little before 9 a.m. under the 57th Street station in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood, NICTD Police Chief Robert Byrd said. A Chicago police bomb squad ended up blowing it up in place, but it turned out to be empty.

Eastbound South Shore train No. 503 was stopped for an hour at the 57th Street station, and Metra trains also were stopped. Otherwise, trains on Saturday were running on time.

At Gary/Chicago International Airport, even those usually in the know were waiting for what might come next.

"It's not like an airshow where you know what's coming in," Gary Jet Center owner Wil Davis said at 9 a.m. in his office overlooking the main runway at Gary/Chicago International Airport. "They will be pop-ups if they come in. You're dealing with the State Department and all that."

By 2 p.m., no NATO summit planes had arrived, and there was no diverted traffic from Chicago's airports, Davis said. But the airport still was preparing for Saturday night, when strict NATO flight restrictions were set to go into effect over Chicago and its airports.

Four Navy F-18 fighter jets were parked just outside a Jet Center hangar. Davis said those were for a flyover at Wrigley Field in Chicago, not for NATO.

In the airport parking lot, police officers, ambulance teams, the American Red Cross and others from five Northwest Indiana counties were participating in training to handle chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive threats.

The Indiana Homeland Security District 1 Task Force was going to drill during the day and provide airport security at night from Saturday through Tuesday, said Stephen Scheckel, District 1 law enforcement commander and Munster police chief.

District 1 consists of mutual aid agencies from Lake, Porter, LaPorte, Jasper and Newton counties

"We are using our training funds to safeguard and protect Indiana assets during the NATO summit," he said.

A week of tense buildup to the NATO summit did not seem to be keeping people away from the South Shore commuter train or Chicago, at least early in the morning Saturday. In fact, it was acting as a draw for some.

"This is history in the making," said Jeff Jirtle, of Valparaiso, as the train approached McCormick Place, where world leaders from 60 nations are meeting Sunday and Monday.

He and Sandra Bruner, of Portage, were headed into Chicago on train No. 606 to track down, witness and photograph protests.

"I'll show them to my grandchildren someday," Jirtle said. "I'll show them what history is."

Joey Nelson, Katie Harold and four of their friends were celebrating the end of another semester of college by taking the 10:09 a.m. South Shore out of Gary for a day of sightseeing, winding up with a nighttime baseball game at Wrigley between the Cubs and White Sox.

Harold stopped to read a South Shore posting with all of the passenger restrictions and security measures for the NATO weekend, most of which go into effect Sunday.

"Oh, we should be all right," she said.

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