CHESTERTON — The Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District's Board of Trustees recently approved a five-year capital plan surpassing $1.1 billion in investment in the South Shore Line.
The list includes the West Lake Corridor and Double Track NWI projects, the rerouting of the railroad's approach to the South Bend International Airport, purchase of new rail cars and completion of a federally mandated safety project.
"The face of this railroad will look significantly different when this five-year period is done," said South Shore President and General Manager Michael Noland.
If all the projects come to fruition, roughly half the funding would come from federal sources and half from local.
The West Lake Corridor project to extend the railroad nine miles south from Hammond to Dyer, and to build four new stations, would account for nearly half the total, about $604 million, with half that funding from federal grants.
Local funding for West Lake is essentially secure, according to officials involved. It consists of a combination of Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority funds, local income tax contributions from most Lake County municipalities and the county, and funds from the state.
The effort to secure Double Track NWI funding is ongoing, both at the General Assembly in Indianapolis and with LaPorte and St. Joseph counties and municipalities.
The South Bend project would reroute the rail line so that it comes directly into the airport from the west side. Currently the railroad winds through the city with numerous at-grade crossings. The reroute would significantly cut trip times.
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"This is an essential part of our goal to get from South Bend to Chicago in 90 minutes," Noland said.
The plan for South Bend calls for application for a federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, grant totaling $7.5 million, with $12.5 million in local funding.
TIGER grants can fund as much as 80 percent of a project, but Noland said the South Bend project's candidacy for the highly competitive grants would be helped by putting up more than 20 percent of the funds.
An initial study on the project, planned for this year, would be paid with $200,000 in local funding and $800,000 in federal State of Good Repair funds.
State of Good Repair grants will continue to be used for a variety of projects to improve railroad infrastructure. Over the five years, the federal funding for those projects is projected to top $80 million.
Some $16 million of that will be paired with $4 million in local funds to purchase new rail cars. An additional $10 million will bring rolling stock purchases over five years to $30 million, according to the capital plan.
The safety project, called Positive Train Control, is being financed through a bond issue. The $100 million project will employ automated systems to prevent train collisions and derailments and other accidents. The federal government has mandated its completion by the end of 2018.
"We're going to meet the deadline," Noland said.