MICHIGAN CITY | A consensus has been reached on realigning the South Shore Railroad ttracks in Michigan City in a move aimed primarily at reducing travel times to and from Chicago.
The Central Corridor option, featuring double tracks, was unveiled during a public meeting Thursday night attended by about 150 people inside a jammed Michigan City City Council chambers.
The single track running in the middle of the streets since 1908 would be paved over and replaced with double tracks that would run mostly beside the streets on an elevated and landscaped line following the existing route excepting for straightening a sharp curve.
Gerald Hanas, general manager of the railroad, said trains running off the street would allow trains to travel faster. Maintenance on a double track could be done without having to board passengers on buses and drive them to the next station to get on another train to continue on their destination.
The second track would remain open for trains to veer around the work which is especially critical during rush hour when trains carrying up to 800 passengers on the single track are blocked whenever rail maintenance is needed.
''That's a lot of buses,'' said Hanas.
Supporters believe a double track system with faster travel times and fewer delays will help further the redevelopment taking shape on Michigan City's north end.
Developers could recognize there's a stronger market for building condominiums for people who want to commute back and forth from Chicago and establishing businesses looking to serve the influx of people.
The plan includes things like a new station with 800 foot platforms on Franklin St. The Central Corridor option is the seventh realignment route considered over the past six years but the only one agreed to by both the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, which operates the railroad, and the mayor's office.
''A lot of hard work negotiations and compromise from both sides were demonstrated during this process,'' said Mayor Ron Meer.
Hanas said the railroad used to have tracks in the streets in places like East Chicago and South Bend but the only ones left are in Michigan City, something that inhibits growth of the commuter railroad, which runs from Chicago to South Bend.
The cost of all of the improvements is estimated at $102 million and hinges on whether federal funds are available to help finance the work.
If funding is secured, construction could start in five years, officials said.
The only stretch where trains would remain on the street is on 11th Street, but the rails would be off to the side of the street, which would be restricted to one-way travel.
City Councilman Don Przybylinski said he supports the plan except for having the slightly elevated double tracks along heavily residential 11th Street with trains running at up to 45 mph. He said there should be a single track on 11th Street and double tracks exist only in spots between Michigan City and South Bend.
''I don't want our center of town looking like a railroad yard with double tracks going down the middle of the streets,'' said Przybylinski.