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South Shore Line Commuters

South Shore Line commuters disembark from an eastbound train Tuesday at the Hammond station. The railroad has begun the process of seeking a manufacturer for new rail cars.

The South Shore Line has designated $40 million over five years starting in 2020 to the acquisition of new rail cars it will add to the fleet on its main line while allowing rehabilitated cars to be transferred to the planned West Lake Corridor.

The Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District Board of Trustees approved a contract with the New York-based firm STV at its January meeting that would have the firm advise the railroad on the purchase of new rail cars, including identifying a manufacturer and specific features.

STV has had similar consulting experience recently with Metra and with a Virginia commuter railroad, NICTD Purchasing Manager Tony Siegmund told the board. STV will be paid $39,800 for a process intended to last about four months.

The manufacturer of the South Shore's current two-level gallery cars, Nippon Sharyo, pulled out of the U.S. market.

"We really need to look at all options, whether we can get someone to build our current gallery-style, or, we need to look at other style cars," South Shore President Michael Noland said.

The railroad is looking at buying 26 cars in coming years, and Noland said the decision on the new cars will likely set a precedent for future purchases.

"This is a 40-year decision," Noland said. "We may want to go and kick the tires, and meet with some of the other commuter propoerties that are using these styles — find out the pros and the cons."

Six-year plan

The money for the new rolling stock is included in a 2019-2024 capital plan that tops $1.3 billion. Of the total, about $703 million would be federal funds, and $613 million local and state.

Most of the $1.3 billion — about $1.1 billion — is dedicated to the South Shore's two major capital projects, the West Lake Corridor extension from Hammond to Dyer, and the Double Track recapitalization along the existing line from Gary to Michigan City.

Both are in the Federal Transit Administration's Capital Investment Grant program, through which the federal government would pay half the cost of the $764 million West Lake and $400 million Double Track projects. The next step at the federal level is for the projects to be rated for advancement to the grant program's "engineering" phase, the last before negotiation of a grant agreement.

"West Lake is in consideration for advancement to engineering," Noland said. "We are targeting Double Track to be submitted to the FTA this spring for its consideration for entry into engineering."

The plan also includes $30 million for relocation of the South Bend station, and realignment of the tracks. That project is still under review by the city of South Bend, which is investigating the possibility of moving the station from the South Bend International Airport to downtown.

The 2019 capital plan includes $41.2 million for completion of work on Positive Train Control, the federally mandated safety system the South Shore is nearing operations of now.

Some work will continue into 2020; the NICTD board approved a contract extension with the firm Gannet Fleming to continue program management through 2020 for $2.8 million, on top of the $10.1 million NICTD has already paid the firm since 2013.

The extension is a result of added reporting requirements by the Federal Railroad Administration, and the need to make the system interoperable with Metra, which is behind in PTC implementation, according to South Shore officials.

A bridge rehabilitation project will also come to conclusion in 2019. Money will be spent on station improvements, including addition of a second entrance at East Chicago. Other funds will go to rail car rehabilitation, and rails, ties and track upgrades, among a variety of other things.

The remainder of the $1.3 billion is dedicated to a series of projects to maintain and upgrade the railroad, including completion of the Positive Train Control safety project and the potential move of the South Bend station.

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Transportation Reporter

Andrew covers transportation, real estate, casinos and other topics for The Times business section. A Crown Point native, he joined The Times in 2014, and has more than 15 years experience as a reporter and editor at Region newspapers.