The South Shore Line is beginning the search for a company to manufacture new cars the commuter railroad will need if the planned West Lake Corridor is built.

The Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District Board of Trustees authorized railroad President Michael Noland to contact firms that may be interested in designing and manufacturing 26 new cars that would replace 32 that will be transferred to the West Lake Corridor, which would extend rail service nine miles from Hammond to Dyer.

NICTD has allocated $8 million per year to back bonds to finance the purchase. The cars need to be specifically designed to run on the South Shore and Metra system.

"We run on a different configuration, different power than anyone else in the country," Noland said.

All of the South Shore's current cars were manufactured by Nippon Sharyo Manufacturing, which has stopped doing business in the United States, Noland said.

"We're getting indications they may not be willing to do what they've done in the past," Noland said.

Nippon Sharyo, whose most recent work for the South Shore was manufacture of the double-decker cars purchased in 2009, made the car shells in Japan then finished them at a Wisconsin factory, satisfying the "Buy American" requirement when federal funds are used. 

The process is complicated by the unique design and engineering needed. The 2009 purchase included the opportunity for the South Shore to "piggy-back" on a larger purchase being made by Metra at the same time, which offered savings on engineering and design.

NICTD will communicate with Nippon Sharyo regarding the future project, and about what engineering work from previous projects is available to it, Noland said. He said the process is complicated by the amount of work companies need to do in advance of proposing to do a job, and much of it is proprietary.

The cars NICTD will shift to the West Lake Corridor will be rebuilt.

"We're going to give them a complete overhaul," Noland said. "We're going to strip them out — new seats, new windows, new HVAC, new AC propulsion."

The West Lake Corridor project is currently under review by the Federal Transit Administration for advancement to the engineering phase of the federal grant process. A grant would pay half the cost of the estimated $764 million project.

NICTD is also working on an application for its Double Track project to advance to engineering. The estimated $376 million project, which would add tracks, bridges and stations between Gary and Michigan City, recently had its environmental assessment approved.