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jpIllInoIs Jul 3, 2011 8:15 PM

South Shore Line weighs Munster, Dyer expansion
 
Gary Post Tribune link By Chelsea Schneider Kirk cschneider@post-trib.com July 2, 2011 8:42PM

The operator of the South Shore Line is renewing talks of extending its commuter rail service.

A challenge is finding local funding to help sustain new lines.

Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District officials plan to build a rail line south to Munster and Dyer as the first phase of its West Lake Corridor project. Earlier plans for the corridor called for the line to extend to Lowell and for a second rail line to run to Valparaiso.

While those aren’t off the table, NICTD wants to first implement service to the Munster and Dyer area because an analysis shows the extension meets a critical guideline to qualify for federal funding. The federal New Starts money helps state and local governments implement capital transportation projects, and NICTD is positioning its project to go after it.

“Technically what we’re able to show for half the cost we capture maybe 90 percent of the projected ridership,” NICTD General Manager Gerald Hanas said. “Rather than going all the way to Lowell, it makes sense to do this.”

But to receive federal funding, NICTD must find local revenue to help operate the system and pay for construction costs federal funding doesn’t pick up.

That step led NICTD to canvass Northwest Indiana leaders last month with the goal of drumming up support for the project.

Fares are expected to cover at least $4.2 million of the estimated $14 million in operating costs, but local dollars would need to cover the rest. NICTD plans to ask the federal government to fund half of the estimated $464 million in capital costs leaving a $232 million gap.

“We are seeing certainly the cities and towns that are in the corridor are still enthusiastic about the project,” Hanas said. “They still believe it has economic benefits for their communities. They are very supportive of this effort. We’re putting our heads together in how we can meet the mandate of the local share.”

Next step, local funding

Community leaders who met with NICTD say no specifics were discussed on a plan to obtain local funding.

An answer, or at least a tool to secure those dollars, may come at next year’s Indiana General Assembly where public transit is expected to become a big issue in the off-budget year. In the upcoming session, a central Indiana group is planning to make a push for lawmakers to authorize county referendums for the purpose of dedicating funds to transportation projects.

“If they think that tool legislatively works for them, certainly we want not to be left out or have that option available to us whether it will work or not,” Hanas said. “We hear from various elected officials as they do polling that transportation and this commuter railroad question polls very high even if it involves local financing.”

The majority of transit-orientated referendums ask for a dedicated portion of the sales tax, Central Indiana Regional Transportation Authority Executive Director Ehren Bingaman said. Other than a sales tax, an income tax is another highly considered option. Vehicle registration fees fund some transportation initiatives, but very few, if any, use the gas tax, Bingaman said.

“I don’t know what the Legislature’s approach may be. Obviously, I work for CIRTA, and I would like to see our organization come out with something that benefits the region,” Bingaman said. “We want to see the whole state win, too; by win, have the tool available to them. All we are talking about is creating a tool.”

Yet, Hanas doesn’t know if a referendum is the right tool for the NICTD project. An earlier referendum attempt to create a Regional Transportation Authority with the ability to raise funding for transportation projects was soundly defeated, but that initiative wasn’t well-coordinated, Hanas said.

NICTD isn’t limiting itself to a referendum strategy; public-private partnerships or local improvement districts are also options, according to the proposal..........more

ardecila Jul 4, 2011 2:53 AM

Wow, I could have swore that the project was dead. I'm relieved to see that it's still foremost in the minds of NW Indiana planners. The new approach with the smaller project is probably for the best.

Interestingly, the original proposal wanted to use dual-mode locomotives. I imagine that, if they move fast, they can probably get a decent deal by piggybacking onto NJTransit's order from Bombardier.

It occurs to me that this proposal will directly compete with Metra's SouthEast Service... the favorite stepchild boondoggle of the Will County politicians and Jesse Jackson Jr (after Peotone, of course).

ardecila Jul 7, 2011 6:45 PM

Quote:

Quinn signs bill promising 'universal fare card,' free WiFi on CTA, Metra and Pace
Posted by Greg H. at 7/7/2011 11:25 AM CDT on Chicago Business


How about a universal fare card: one piece of plastic good on Metra and Pace and the Chicago Transit Authority? Or free WiFi for your morning commute on every public transit line in town?

Gov. Pat Quinn Thursday promised just that in signing legislation that orders Chicago's often-feuding transit agencies to quit squabbling and actually develop a universal fare system and work to develop free WiFi service on transit vehicles.

Under House Bill 3597, the Regional Transportation Authority, which funnels state and local subsidies to transit operators, is ordered to honcho development of a transfer policy by Jan 1, 2013.

Then, by Jan. 1, 2015, it must develop and implement a system in which customers can use credit or debit cards, or contactless credit cards, to buy a ticket good for all fares and all transfers on all three transit systems.

Beyond that, the law requires that the RTA conduct a study of the feasibility of providing free WiFi on every bus and train by Jan. 1, 2012. Metra actually is required to implement the system by then, provided it can do so at no cost to itself.

One other customer-friendly change: The bill orders that by Jan. 1, 2012, each agency provide arrival data — for instance, is my train on time? — on the Internet for all vehicles. The CTA now offers a somewhat similar, partial system known as Bus Tracker.
I'll believe it when I see it, but this is a huge step forward. Hopefully we can have a system as good as London's Oyster.

London figured out that they could allow for free transfers without a physical connecting passage by adding "touch-out" validation machines at the two stations to be linked. In Chicago, that would really come in handy linking State/Lake to Lake, or Polk to Medical Center, etc... There's no money and not much will to build connector passages, but a properly-designed card system could allow for this kind of stuff.

emathias Jul 8, 2011 6:37 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by ardecila (Post 5340556)
I'll believe it when I see it, but this is a huge step forward. Hopefully we can have a system as good as London's Oyster.
...

All well and good, but I'm exceptionally annoyed that the State is levying even MORE requirements on the RTA while failing to pay hundreds of millions of money owed.

Quinn should find ways to fund existing operations before he starts throwing new requirements at the agencies.

Beta_Magellan Jul 8, 2011 7:16 PM

I’d have to agree with emathias—although there are good ideas in the bill, it’s a bit too specific, especially on the side of the universal fare card. The legislature should have simply mandated coordination of fares, not requiring a universal fare card. Although based on the Crain’s article it sounds like Raoul and Burns (my former senator and rep/alderman, both of whom I’m probably 90+% in agreement with on most issues) seem to generally know what they’re talking about, if a farecard’s done wrong—imagine some custom, one-of-a-kind deal from a not-great vendor instead of just going with one of the standard Asian systems—it could be a big money drain on the RTA. And a smartcard’s just assumed to be the right choice—there’s no looking into whether unified fares with paper tickets and inspectors might actually be more cost-effective. Sure, tickets and inspectors seems more primitive, but if big German and Swiss cities—which I’m sure have higher mode shares and just as crowded vehicles at peak—have stuck with them, there must be some advantage. Saying we need a farecard is just self-flattery—it makes Chicago seem like a transit powerhouse along the lines of Tokyo, HK or London, when in reality we’re more comparable to Hamburg

So, in short universal fares are good, but specifying exactly how to achieve that’s unnecessary (this rant inspired by Alon Levy’s post on New York).

I don’t have as much of a problem with the realtime data requirement. The CTA already does it, and I think would be great for Pace but if it’s an unfunded mandate I don’t see how they could manage it. I’m not sure how necessary it is for Metra—requiring them to do clockface schedule, which they already have or get pretty close to having on their lines—would be just as good, if coupled with some kind of requirement about disclosing delays.

ardecila Jul 11, 2011 4:24 AM

Yeah... as a daily Metra commuter, I'm having difficulty envisioning how a smartcard system would work.

Unless there's also fare integration, whereby I can have a discounted transfer from Metra to CTA, it doesn't really make sense. It's really not any more convenient to carry one unified card vs. a Metra monthly pass and my Chicago Card. In fact, it's more convenient to carry both - if I misplace one, I still have the other one to get me where I'm going via a less-convenient route.

Haworthia Jul 11, 2011 7:10 PM

I think a smart system would work if Metra had its conductors use a handheld device which calculated the cost of the fair. It could work like a Chicago card where proximity is sufficient to read it. I could then print a receipt. UPS uses something like this right now. They might be able to re-purpose something like that.

I would find this very convenient. For instance, I have two rides left on a 10 ride Zones B-F. I would love to use that money for the CTA or to go B->A. As it is, this ticket will go to waste.

emathias Jul 11, 2011 7:22 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Haworthia (Post 5343989)
...
UPS uses something like this right now. They might be able to re-purpose something like that.
...

UPS's are old and clunky and fairly limited in capability. There are better systems available. Heck, for maybe a quarter million dollars, the RTA could probably have a custom Android app developed that would use whatever sort of android device they wanted to use and connect back to a backend tracking system via whatever wireless vendor gave them the best deal.

emathias Jul 11, 2011 8:02 PM

What transit projects in Chicago are linked to the "Back to Work Illinois" infrastructure bill that the Illinois Supreme Court just affirmed as legal? I could only find vague, non-specific mentions in my online searches.

ardecila Jul 11, 2011 8:11 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by emathias (Post 5344053)
What transit projects in Chicago are linked to the "Back to Work Illinois" infrastructure bill that the Illinois Supreme Court just affirmed as legal? I could only find vague, non-specific mentions in my online searches.

They're vague, non-specific grants. Presumably, each RTA agency will use it for regular capital spending rather than system expansion.

$500 million was promised about a year ago. Greg Hinz enumerates:
Quote:

The CTA will get $253 million, funds it says it will spend to upgrade ventilation systems on the Red and Blue lines, replace ties and track on the Loop el, and rebuild the 63rd and Ashland station. In addition, extensive work is to be done on the Red Line south and on the Evanston Purple Line el, where crumbling viaducts will be renovated or replaced.

Metra gets $157 million. It will use some to buy 30 new cars for its south suburban Electric Line, and the rest to rehabilitate stations in Flossmoor, Hazel Crest, Cicero, Naperville, Fox River Grove, Geneva and Elmhurst and at 79th Street in the city.

Pace will receive $32 million for buses, with $58 million to go Downstate.
CTA specifically has not prioritized their capital needs (Viva, feel free to correct me if I'm wrong) so the projects that get money are decided on a pretty ad-hoc basis. The ventilation system seems to be in direct response to last year's Red Line fire, for example.

denizen467 Jul 12, 2011 11:01 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by ardecila (Post 5344068)

Quote:

work is to be done on the Red Line south and on the Evanston Purple Line el

Did they not mean Red Line north? The Dan Ryan branch was just redone. Unless they're referring to Congress thru the Chinatown portal or something.

k1052 Jul 12, 2011 12:55 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by denizen467 (Post 5344717)
Did they not mean Red Line north? The Dan Ryan branch was just redone. Unless they're referring to Congress thru the Chinatown portal or something.

Half the Dan Ryan branch is under track slow zone orders.

schwerve Jul 12, 2011 1:59 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by denizen467 (Post 5344717)
Did they not mean Red Line north? The Dan Ryan branch was just redone. Unless they're referring to Congress thru the Chinatown portal or something.

The previous Dan Ryan Red Line project did not involve any track work, just station rehabilitation and upgraded electrical systems.

ardecila Jul 12, 2011 3:11 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by schwerve (Post 5344804)
The previous Dan Ryan Red Line project did not involve any track work, just station rehabilitation and upgraded electrical systems.

No, it did involve track work. They just didn't rebuild track on the northern section of the line due to budget constraints. Now they have to go back in and finish the job.

The "crumbling viaducts" in Evanston are actually a sloped embankment, which doesn't need rebuilding. They simply need to replace a few of the bridges over streets (like the Metra UP-N project in Chicago) which is far, far cheaper than what is needed in Chicago, where the retaining walls holding the embankment up are failing.

CTA's already replaced quite a few bridges in Evanston already (probably 1/3 of the total). The one at Main has some really unusual brickwork.

schwerve Jul 12, 2011 3:34 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by ardecila (Post 5344884)
No, it did involve track work. They just didn't rebuild track on the northern section of the line due to budget constraints. Now they have to go back in and finish the job.

my mistake, there was some, the most detailed description of the work done in the previous project I've found was here:

http://www.chicagonow.com/cta-tattle...-line-project/

I don't know if that's what was in the original project scope or refined scope after budget constraints.

Beta_Magellan Jul 12, 2011 4:17 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Haworthia (Post 5343989)
I think a smart system would work if Metra had its conductors use a handheld device which calculated the cost of the fair. It could work like a Chicago card where proximity is sufficient to read it. I could then print a receipt. UPS uses something like this right now. They might be able to re-purpose something like that.

I would find this very convenient. For instance, I have two rides left on a 10 ride Zones B-F. I would love to use that money for the CTA or to go B->A. As it is, this ticket will go to waste.

On Chinese buses there were roving fare collectors with card readers strapped around their neck, so it's not improbably.

However, this won't be any quicker than having someone check your ticket--might even be a bit slower. And having to rely on a card system means the vendor will take a nice cut of fare revenue. The only advantage would be that Metra could continue to not have vending machines at a number of their stations (which is a pet peeve of mine--I just moved from Hyde Park, where stations have machines, to just south of the Clybourn stop, which does not, meaning I have have to go through the old-timey railroad ticket buying routine whenever I ride Metra).

Mr Downtown Jul 12, 2011 6:40 PM

Hey, just count yourself lucky that Metra now takes that newfangled paper money.

Chicago Shawn Jul 13, 2011 12:02 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by ardecila (Post 5343493)
Yeah... as a daily Metra commuter, I'm having difficulty envisioning how a smartcard system would work.

Unless there's also fare integration, whereby I can have a discounted transfer from Metra to CTA, it doesn't really make sense. It's really not any more convenient to carry one unified card vs. a Metra monthly pass and my Chicago Card. In fact, it's more convenient to carry both - if I misplace one, I still have the other one to get me where I'm going via a less-convenient route.


The Docklands Light Railway in London does not have turnstiles either, you just have to find the location to tap in and tap out of the stations at the entrance/exit. Took me a while to find it the first time I rode the DLR. I'd imagine Metra could do a similar set up with a tap-in attached to a vending machine that could print a validation receipt. This would work for pay-per-use, 10 ride or Monthly. This is also how all transportation in Frankfurt Am Main, Germany is set up.

BorisMolotov Jul 13, 2011 3:15 AM

Quote:

For instance, I have two rides left on a 10 ride Zones B-F
I'll take it off your hands for you

Beta_Magellan Jul 14, 2011 5:12 PM

Quote:

Metra gets $157 million. It will use some to buy 30 new cars for its south suburban Electric Line, and the rest to rehabilitate stations in Flossmoor, Hazel Crest, Cicero, Naperville, Fox River Grove, Geneva and Elmhurst and at 79th Street in the city.
Is this referring to the 79th Street infill station on the Rock Island line or rebuilding the 79th Street Metra Electric staion?


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