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South Shore Line passengers may get faster rides after more track changes

South Shore CVA

While the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District is moving ahead with the Double Track and West Lake Corridor projects, the railroad is also tackling smaller improvements to improve travel times.

That includes realigning tracks through some South Shore Line stations. Currently, commuter trains have to slow down and turn off of the main line to pull up to the high-level platforms at stations like Hammond and Hegewisch. Now, the railroad is installing higher-speed turnouts that reverse the pattern, allowing passenger trains to pull straight into the platform, while wider freight trains diverge away but without having to slow down.

NICTD President Mike Noland says trips times were reduced by a minute and a half, when the change was made at East Chicago. Now, the NICTD board has approved the installation of similar turnouts at Hegewisch next year at a cost of almost $1 million. And Noland says the Hammond station will get the new design when it's rebuilt as part of the West Lake project.

"That's significant. When you look around and you take a look at the opportunities to improve our time to market, it's not one big chunk. It's multiple little chunks," Noland told the NICTD board Monday.

And the recent federal infrastructure bill could open the opportunity for more improvements or even grants for larger projects. Noland said one long-term goal that currently isn't funded is rerouting the tracks in South Bend.

"We need to determine in South Bend where our ultimate home is going to be, whether it's on the west side of the airport or downtown South Bend or both," he told board members.

Noland explained the existing circuitous route to South Bend International Airport was only meant to be temporary but has been in place for 30 years. He said the South Shore Line would eventually like to run almost-hourly shuttles between Michigan City and South Bend, to improve service to the area and increase access to the airport.