Our History

 

South Shore Rail Passenger Service History

Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District History

 


History of the South Shore
Rail Passenger Service

Introduction
The first decade of the Twentieth Century saw the creation of an ambitious network of Electric Interurban Railways spanning the eastern and mid-western states. The South Shore Line Rail Passenger Service is the last of this once vast network of electric interurbans.

The Early Years
The South Shore Line had humble beginnings in 1903 as "The Chicago & Indiana Air Line Railway," a streetcar operator between Indiana Harbor and East Chicago. In 1904, the streetcar line was renamed "The Chicago, Lake Shore and South Bend Railway" to reflect its founders' vision of an ambitious plan for expansion and growth.

By 1908 "The Lake Shore" stretched across Northwest Indiana, extending 68.9 miles from Hammond to South Bend. "Lake Shore" passengers enjoyed fast, frequent, comfortable service, and the line was widely recognized as among the best in the country. Scheduled train service was inaugurated between South Bend and Michigan City and operated every two hours, with stops frequently 1/2 mile apart. Later in the year ten daily round trip trains were operated between Hammond and South Bend.

By 1909, "Lake Shore" trains were operated to Pullman, Illinois. There, passengers changed trains to continue their journey to downtown Chicago. An agreement was later worked out with the Illinois Central Railroad whereby "Lake Shore" cars were coupled to a steam locomotive at Kensington and then hauled into downtown Chicago.

Like most of the rest of the system of interurban railroads, "The Lake Shore" did not operate profitably. Competition from steam railroads and the newly popular automobile drained ridership, and "The Lake Shore" went bankrupt.

The Insull Years
Samuel Insull purchased the railroad at public auction in June, 1925 and renamed it The Chicago South Shore and South Bend Railroad. Insull immediately began a program of moderization which restored the railroad to top condition. Insull purchased new cars, built new stations, and converted the railroad from AC electric system to its current 1500 volt DC system. This was an important change, for new South Shore trains could operate directly and continuously over the trackage of the Illinois Central Railroad from Kensington to downtown Chicago, helping assure the South Shore's long term survival.

Insull aggressively and successfully sought freight business along the line to build revenue. He instituted a renowned marketing campaign to stimulate ridership to the Indiana Dunes and lakes of North Central Indiana. Ridership responded positively to these efforts. However, the Great Depression reversed the tide of ridership gains and in 1933 the South Shore was again bankrupt.

The railroad operated under the direction of the bankruptcy court while its finances could be reorganized. Coupled with the nation's strengthening economy and tentative emergence from the Depression, by 1938 the South Shore was once again operating profitably.

The War Years
The nation was soon plunged into the Second World War, and the South Shore experienced its best years ever. Ridership climbed to over six million annual passengers during the war years, a record yet to be broken. Trains operated around the clock to move people working in the factories. "Rosie the Riveter" could well have taken the South Shore to work in one of steel mills lining the south shore of Lake Michigan. These were heady times for the South Shore Line. The region was fortunate to have the railroad on which to rely.

A victorious America returned from the war economically strong and vigorous. The "GI Bill" helped returning veterans buy new homes in sprawling suburban developments and the once again readily available and affordable automobile helped the veterans drive from their new homes in the suburbs to their places of work in the central city.

Post War Years
This new pattern of housing and journey to work, while it spelled freedom to the individual, spelled competition to the South Shore. The South Shore, locked into a mobility pattern of dense urban development, could not compete with the new pattern of suburban growth and began a long period of ridership decline.

Each new highway in the area led to additional drops in ridership. Where once the passenger service helped finance the freight service, now profits from freight paid for the struggling passenger service. Losses could not continue unabated. Service was cut back and fares raised, but each change led to further decline in ridership.

Discontinuance
In 1976, faced with mounting losses and deteriorating rail cars, stations, and electrical system--all of the improvements Samuel Insull made fifty years earlier--the South Shore asked the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) for a total discontinuance of passenger service.

The ICC delayed approving the cessation of service to allow the State of Indiana time to develop a solution to the problem of the South Shore passenger service. In 1977, the Indiana General Assembly created the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District (NICTD) to rescue the ailing South Shore. The State approved a program of annual grants to offset operating losses and it provided money to help buy new rail cars, upgrade the electrical system, and modernize stations and maintenance facilities. The State's actions, and money from the State of Illinois and the Federal Government, rescued the South Shore from the brink of discontinuance.

NICTD
The railroad remained privately owned with NICTD responsible for paying for the service. Under NICTD's tutelage, a steady series of improvements was funded and ridership increased from 1.48 million passengers carried in 1978 to over 3.5 million passengers at the turn of the century.

The privately held railroad changed ownership in 1984 and five years later was hopelessly in debt and once again bankrupt. NICTD purchased passenger assets from the bankruptcy court and in December, 1989 began direct operations of the passenger service. In 1990, with the help of the State of Indiana and the Federal Government, NICTD was able to purchase the track, right-of-way and other assets used in passenger service.

The railroad is now in the hands of the public sector and profit is no longer the motivation for providing rail passenger service. NICTD operates the rail service as a public service because the people and economy of Northwest Indiana need an alternative, reliable form of transportation to get to jobs, schools, museums, and recreational opportunities found in the City of Chicago. NICTD has helped make the South Shore strong once again. In turn, by providing a balanced transportation system, the South Shore can help make, and keep, the Northwest Indiana economy strong.

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History of the Northern Indiana
Commuter Transportation District

The Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District (otherwise known as NICTD or "the District") was established in 1977 by an act of the Indiana General Assembly in response to the threatened abandonment of South Shore passenger service.  NICTD was specifically created to maintain and preserve commuter rail service between South Bend and Chicago.  The District was established to 1) be a recipient of federal and state grants made for the purpose of renewal of the rolling stock and support facilities of the commuter passenger service then being operated by the Chicago South Shore and South Bend Railroad, and to act as owner and lessor of any new rolling stock and facilities; 2) receive federal and state monies intended for the financial assistance of the operations of that service; and 3) market and oversee the service in such areas as determining fare and service levels (in Indiana) and in attracting new riders to the service.  NICTD's governing board consists of two representatives each from St. Joseph, LaPorte, Porter and Lake counties and one appointment from the Governor's Office.  By statute the county representatives must include an appointment from the County Council (one of its members) and an appointment from the Board of County Commissioners.  The Commissioners appointment can be a Commissioner or their designee. 

The first Board Meeting of the District was held in June, 1977. Grant applications for federal, state and local money for the purchase of new rail cars and to rebuild the electrical distribution system were made shortly thereafter. By early 1979, the District was awarded a federal grant for these projects. New rail cars were ordered from Sumitomo Corporation of America, the electrical system was rebuilt, and track modifications were made to accommodate the longer cars. The first new car arrived in 1981 for extensive testing, and the first train of new cars entered revenue service late in November, 1982. By the fall of 1983, all commuter service was provided by the new cars, which ultimately numbered forty-four multiple unit, motorized cars.

Ridership, which had been declining throughout the 1970's, immediately began to increase, from an annual level of about one and one-half million passengers in 1978-79 to three and one-half million passengers by 1999. This led to capacity problems on most rush hour trains, which were carrying well over one-hundred percent of capacity.

The District's role in the South Shore Line passenger service increased steadily with the increase in passengers. Additional grant monies were obtained in the mid-1980's to improve a number of station facilities and to build new platforms at the Randolph Street Terminal in Chicago. An entirely new station, platform, parking lot and office facility was built in northern Porter County, Indiana; this location was named Dune Park for its proximity to the Indiana Dunes State Park, located directly north of the station. A new station in downtown Gary was opened in 1985.

Financial problems in the late 1980's resulted in the bankruptcy of the Chicago South Shore and South Bend Railroad in 1989. The District, realizing the potential jeopardy to the passenger service this might pose, worked in collaboration with Anacostia and Pacific, a nationwide developer of short line railroads, to purchase the freight and passenger assets of the bankrupt railroad. The District took over direct operation of the passenger service in December, 1989, and purchased the main line track in December, 1990. The freight service was thereafter operated by a new railroad, the Chicago SouthShore and South Bend Railroad.

In the early 1990's, the District addressed the growing demand for service by purchasing fourteen additional cars - four motor cars and ten trailers - from Sumitomo, the vendor for the original fleet, and delivery began in the fall of 1992. Further improvements have been made to various stations: a new station with an expanded parking lot was opened at Hegewisch in June of 1992, and in November of that year, a new South Bend Terminal was opened at the Michiana Regional Airport.

A new General Office Building was opened in late 1994 next to the Carroll Avenue (Shops) station in Michigan City plus improvements were made in its commuter parking lot at the same time. Work on improving track and structures began in the early 1990's; work on the construction of new bridges was started, and all main line track was converted to welded rail by mid-1996. Late in 1995, the District began construction of a new facility in Hammond, parking lot, station building and platforms. Engineering for improvements at Miller, Ogden Dunes, Beverly Shores and Dune Park also was started. Finally, construction of expanded rail car shop facilities at Michigan City began late in 1995.

As a response to the  Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the District began making it's key stations accessible to persons with disabilities. This process included the installation of high level platforms or wheelchair lifts, new signage and audio communications systems.

The shop facility was completed in 1996 and houses our engineering and mid-life rehabilitation program.  The new Hammond station building, parking and high level boarding platforms were completed in 1998. The late 1990's also saw the completion of expanded parking and new stations at Miller and Ogden Dunes, and a renovated historic station at Beverly Shores.  New bridges span the old Penn-Wabash right of way west of Gary and the CSX right of way in Miller, Burns Waterway and Bethlehem Steel's west entrance in Porter County.  Soon, an new bridge will span the EJ&E right of way near the Gary-Chicago Airport.  Two high speed passing sidings in northern Porter County have been linked with additional double track.  NICTD is also undertaking a comprehensive mid-life rehabilitation of its 1982 fleet of passenger cars including conversion from DC to AC traction power.  A new station with high level boarding platforms and expanded parking is under construction at East Chicago.

Furthermore, additional train service to South Bend and an express train from Michigan City and Dune Park, originally funded through the federal Congestion Management and Air Quality program, have been running since 1996.  NICTD also received 10 additional AC powered passenger cars to help relieve overcrowding on certain morning rush hour trains.

The history of the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District is one of modernization, expansion and constant change to meet the ever changing needs of our riders...making the right choices....moving in the right direction!

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