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Like a 'heavyweight fight': South Shore double tracking opens next week after long construction process

U.S. Sen. Todd Young hammers in a golden spike as part of the groundbreaking ceremony while officials, including Gov. Eric Holcomb, look on.
Jakob Lazzaro/WVPE
U.S. Sen. Todd Young hammers in a golden spike as part of the groundbreaking ceremony while officials, including Gov. Eric Holcomb, look on.

After close to a decade of planning and two years of construction the South Shore Line has finished its massive double tracking project.

The new 26 miles of track from Gary to Michigan City will be operational starting Tuesday, heralding shorter travel times in northwest Indiana.

A trip that previously took over 2 ½ hours should take about 1 hour 49 minutes from the South Bend airport to downtown Chicago. Michigan City to Chicago will now be 40 minutes quicker as well.

And, again starting Tuesday, there will be no more busses.

"This is a new South Shore. This is a new day, we haven't had this kind of investment in our railroad in over a hundred years and we're going to celebrate it," said Michael Noland — the president of the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District which operates the South Shore line.

At times the project's completion was hard to see on the horizon. The total cost of construction totaled $650 million — about 30% from the federal government and the rest from state and local funds. Adding to the stresses of obtaining the massive funding was the COVID-19 pandemic and the supply issues that raised the cost of construction projects left and right. All that caused Noland to compare the project to a prize fight.

“This is like a 15-round heavyweight fight. If you’re going to take a blow in the second or third round, don’t get in the fight,” Noland said.

But the COVID slowdown did have some significant silver linings. Noland said ridership plummeted to about a fifth of what it used to be, which allowed leaders to think outside the box. Instead of trying to do construction while keeping train lines operational, Noland said the slowdown made it feasible to close down train lines to allow crews to work more efficiently — though many passengers had issues with the bussing that came with it.

“While that was certainly not the ideal commute for our riders, it gave the contractor basically a greenfield site,” Noland said.

Noland said ridership is currently about half of what it was before COVID, but with more trains and faster travel times, he’s hoping ridership grows steadily as the service wins back former riders and new riders alike.

The new track also comes with a new schedule that includes an additional sixth weekday train from South Bend to Chicago. Noland highlighted the 7:27 a.m. train which puts commuters in Millennium Station by 8:17 a.m. Central Time.

There will be a grand opening ceremony on Monday in Gary. Ahead of those festivities, Noland had a long list of thank yous to dole out, including to U.S. Representatives Frank Mrvan (D-1st) and Rudy Yakum (R-2nd), senators Todd Young and Mike Braun as well as Gov. Eric Holcomb, who all supported the project.

"We've had incredible state support and with a project champion like Eric Holcomb, what could go wrong?" Noland said.

In total throughout northwest Indiana, there will be 14 additional trains going into Chicago daily, though there's only going to be one added train in South Bend. A full schedule can be found here.

Marek Mazurek has been with WVPE since April 2023, though he's been in Michiana for most of his life. He has a particular interest in public safety reporting. When he's not on the radio, Marek enjoys getting way too into Notre Dame football and reading about medieval English history.