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Full construction to start soon on commuter rail projects

WFYI Public Radio

Full construction on a billion dollars worth of commuter rail projects will begin next month. Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District President Mike Noland says both the West Lake Corridor and Double Track projects will be "in the ground" in early March.

"Pardon our dust. It is a new railroad coming to a neighborhood near you, and it's a very, very exciting time," Noland told the NICTD board Monday.

The West Lake Corridor will add a branch to the South Shore Line, running from North Hammond to Dyer. Noland says construction will start on the north end and then extend south over the next three years. Meanwhile, the two-year project to double track the main line between Gary and Michigan City will move from east to west, and Noland says additional state and federal funding was recently made available to take it across the finish line.

"We are now able to fully fund the Double Track agreement, so we restored all of those elements that the board in November passed as options. Those are now included in the project," Noland said.

The West Lake project will also benefit from lower interest rates, thanks to financing through the U.S. Department of Transportation's Build America Bureau. The board also approved a nearly $2 million increase to HDR Engineering for program management services, due in part to the "intense negotiations" required to bring down construction costs.

Noland warns that construction will lead to service disruptions, but he promises riders it'll be worth it. "It's not going to be your typical daily service. We're going to be operating the service through construction zones. We're going to be doing a lot of busing in order to make this happen. And so we ask our riders' patience," Noland told board members.

But the projects will also require more improvements. NICTD plans to fix a choke point on the Metra Electric District by converting a storage track to a fourth mainline track between 11th Street and Millennium Station. The South Shore is also rehabilitating its train cars, the oldest of which are now approaching 40 years of service.