Passenger rail investment in Region marks largest ever for state of Indiana
Oct. 28, 2020, was a historic day for the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District. It marked the culmination of three decades of planning, behind-the-scenes work and community support for the Region’s first new passenger rail line in more than 100 years.
Gov. Eric Holcomb led this celebration where INDOT Commissioner Joe McGuinness, and NICTD’s board chairman, signed a $945 million Full Funding Grant Agreement with the Federal Transit Administration for the project. With $355 million of federal funds in place, coupled with funding commitments from the state of Indiana, the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority, Lake County and 15 other Lake County municipalities, construction can begin on this new rail line.
The day after the groundbreaking, NICTD issued a Notice to Proceed to the FH Paschen & Ragnar Benson Joint Venture team to finish the engineering design and construct the West Lake Corridor rail project using a design/build construction process.
The real work begins now. NICTD has spent the past year acquiring more than 150 properties for the West Lake project. By early December, NICTD had title on more than 95% of the required properties, and many have already been razed. NICTD hired Indianapolis-based BLN to handle the real estate acquisitions, and all acquired property owners were protected by the Federal Uniform Relocation Act.
FH Paschen & Ragnar Benson is completing the project’s engineering design plans and expects to start construction this fall. As part of the design/build construction process, NICTD provided the technical requirements for the project, including 30% engineering design plans. Utility relocation will be a big part of this project. Whether it is NIPSCO, AT&T or municipal infrastructure, much utility relocation will be required. The utility companies and municipalities have been preparing for this project and will continue to work closely with NICTD and its partners to ensure all relocations are executed smoothly.
The corridor might not look like a railroad now, but by late summer, it will begin its transformation to move thousands of passengers boarding at four new train stations. FH Paschen & Ragnar Benson’s plan is to start construction on the north segment of the project in the upland areas in north Hammond, while they continue to work through the Section 401/404 permitting process with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. North Hammond is the most complex portion of the project with more than one mile of aerial structure. Once the north section is finished, work will begin on the south end of the project, with the last phase of the construction at the end of the line at the Munster/Dyer border.
At each step, NICTD and FH Paschen & Ragnar Benson are committed to working with each municipality to coordinate construction activity. Detailed maintenance of traffic plans will be executed, and NICTD will engage in public outreach to make sure it communicates construction plans to all stakeholders. The project should be almost finished by summer 2024, allowing NICTD to do all the necessary commissioning and testing of the new rail line for a planned start of service in early 2025. It is projected that more 1,000 construction jobs will be created by this project, and NICTD will provide more than 7,000 daily passenger trips when service commences.
The Double Track Northwest Indiana project will be a traditional design-bid-build project, with construction expected to begin this summer. NICTD anticipates construction of the double-track project taking two years to complete, with service expected to begin by fall 2023. As with the West Lake project, property acquisition is well underway with demolition and utility relocation commencing as well. NICTD expects more than 16,000 daily passenger trips on the South Shore Line when the double-track improvements are completed.
The West Lake Corridor and the double-track projects were the cornerstones of NICTD’s 20-year strategic plan that was adopted in 2014. These visionary plans that offered transformative growth and investment opportunities are now realities. Both projects are the largest transit infrastructure investments in the history of the state of Indiana, and it is our hope it will bring additional dollars in the future to further enhance commuter rail service in the Region.