South Shore trip honors Orseno, discusses infrastructure plans

RELATED TOPICS: MIDWEST | PASSENGER | INFRASTRUCTURE
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SouthShore
View from a South Shore line commuter train rolling down the middle of the street in Michigan City, Ind. A double-tracking project will eliminate the street running.
TRAINS: David Lassen
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Recognizing a longtime partner and offering a look at what lies ahead, the South Shore Line commuter service hosted a trip from Chicago to South Bend on Monday to honor retiring Metra CEO and executive director Don Orseno as well as discussing planned South Shore infrastructure projects in Indiana.

Orseno will retire in December after a 43-year railroading career, the last four as Metra’s CEO.

Michael Noland, president and CEO of the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, the agency operating the South Shore passenger trains, lauded Orseno for his work in stabilizing the Chicago commuter agency and his importance to area railroading.

“Metra and the entire region has benefited by his leadership, and it’s been consistent throughout his career,” Noland said. “… We all know what he’s done to right the ship and put it on track, back to being the respected railroad that it should be. You’ve always been a good partner and we’re proud to be part of this celebration today.”

Shore Shore operates on 14 miles of Metra Electric District tracks from the downtown Millennium Station to Kensington, Ill. It has partnered with Metra on a joint study recommending improvements that would increase capacity on the Metra Electric and increase top speeds from 65 to 79 mph.

Noland also outlined the major infrastructure projects ahead for South Shore commuter operations:

— Double-tracking of 25 miles between Gary and Michigan City, Ind., which will involve 16 miles of new track and the end of street running in Michigan City.

“It’s quaint, but as they say, it’s no way to run a railroad,” Noland said of the street operation. “There are 33 grade crossings in a two-mile area. We’re going to close 20 grade crossings. As a result, it’s going to become a quiet zone, and every one of the remaining crossings will be fully signaled.”

The goal is to cut travel times between Michigan City and Chicago from 1 hour, 40 minutes to 67 minutes.

— The West Lake Corridor, a new 9-mile branch to Dyer, Ind., connecting with the existing right-of-way in Hammond, Ind.
“The big thing we’re looking at over there is transit-oriented development,” Noland said. “… Not only are we looking to build rail, but we’re also looking to make investments around the stations. We’re projecting about [$2.5 million] of private-sector investment that’s going to flow from our infrastructure projects.”

— A new route into the South Bend airport, which would replace a circuitous 3-mile, 15-minute journey to enter the airport from the east with a new west-side entry. Coupled with the double-track project, that would help cut travel times between South Bend and Chicago to 90 minutes from the current 2 hours, 35 minutes.

“When we’re done with all that,” Noland said, “we think we can double ridership.”

Current projections have the double-track project complete in the fall of 2020 and the West Lake Corridor opening in fall 2022. The airport project is still in the early stages.

The Chicago Rail Superintendents Association, which was also part of in the trip, recognized Orseno, a past president of the organization, with a gift of a model Rock Island locomotive and caboose in a display case. Orseno began his career with the Rock Island in 1974.
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