South Shore Line reopens Michigan City, Beverly Shores stations with double tracks
The double-tracking project took a major step forward last Wednesday, as service returned between the railroad’s Dune Park and Carroll Avenue stations.
11:25 PM CDT on October 30, 2023
By Igor Studenkov
The South Shore Line's double-tracking project took a major step forward last Wednesday, October 25, as service returned between the railroad’s Dune Park and Carroll Avenue stations.
For the past two years, the railroad has been adding a second track to the largely single-track section of the line between the Gary Metro Center station and Michigan City’s Carroll Ave. stop. In Michigan City, this meant digging up the portions of 10th and 11th streets where the line used to run in the middle of the roadway reducing the streets to one lane, putting in and fencing off two tracks, and blocking off most minor intersections. Instead of dropping off passengers in the middle of street, the trains now stop at the full-fledged Michigan Avenue 11th St. station with high-level platforms.
Work also impacted the stations further west. The Beverly Shores station now has two low-level platforms. Shuttle buses are still running between the Dune Park and Gary Metro Center stops as work continues at the Portage/Ogden Dunes and Miller stations. The former is getting a new high-level eastbound platform (the existing, mostly low-level platform north of the tracks will remain as is), while the latter is being rebuilt from scratch with two new high-level platforms, a new station house and stub tracks to store trains. Both stations are getting additional parking lots.
I took the train down to the 11th Street station on the afternoon of the first day of the relaunched service, October 25, and I took a trip to Beverly Shores on Saturday, October 28. While the shuttles ran without any significant issues, the trains on the newly reopened segment were another matter. The October 25 trip was plagued with delays, while on October 28, there was boarding confusion at the Beverly Shore station. The westbound trains stopped at the same platform as the eastbound trains, and I didn’t see any signage indicating that, so I had to scramble and run across the tracks to catch the train back to Chicago.
The reopened stations
I was there in May 2021 to capture the last westbound train to use the original 11th Street station. For the next few months, the trains simply skipped that stop. But on February 27, 2022, as work began in earnest, the railroad replaced Carroll Avenue to Dune Park service with shuttle buses. On August 6, 2022, shuttles replaced trains between Dune Park and Gary Metro Center as well.
While planning for the double-tracking project, the South Shore Line considered alternative alignments, but ultimately decided to stick with what is used for over a century. That was a less expensive option that Michigan City officials believed would help fuel the redevelopment of the city's Uptown district, the city’s historic commercial and cultural heart. But if they wanted to have two tracks and have the trains travel faster, street-running was no longer an option.
The new 11th Street station would look familiar to anyone who has seen South Shore Line’s Hegewisch and Hammond stations: two sets of high-level covered platforms that are long enough to berth the entire train sets. By contrast, during the street-running days, only the first two cars opened. The new 11th Street stop has a much larger footprint than the old one, spanning two blocks between Franklin and Spring streets.
Unlike the Hammond and Hegewisch stations, the 11th Street station doesn’t have a station house yet. Flaherty & Collins Properties will build a mixed-use development on the north side of 11th Street. Spanning the entire block between Franklin and Pine streets, the development will include a passenger waiting area, 5,900 square feet of retail space, a parking garage on the first floor, and 220 apartments above.
According to the South Shore Line, construction of the development was slated to start in mid-October. Indeed, on October 25, the site was little more than dirt and some construction equipment. The work is expected to be completed in October 2024. In the meantime, the westbound platform has an enclosed shelter with ticket machines and heat lamps.
Several houses that used to be on the north side of 11th Street between Pine and Spring streets have been demolished to make way for a new outdoor parking lot. The lot is noticeably larger than the old Pine Street parking lot by the street-running station.
Ramps allow passengers to exit the 11th street stop at Franklin and Spring streets. Passengers who disembark at the westbound platform can take the stairs down to Pine Street, but passengers at the eastbound platform have to take the ramps down and backtrack.
While the ramps make it easier than ever to reach Franklin Street, where many Uptown galleries and shops are located, there is a missed intermodal connection opportunity. Michigan City Transit bus routes 1, 2 and 3 all travel near the Franklin Street exit, but there are no clearly marked bus stops, and no signage of any kind letting passengers know the routes are even there. By contrast, there is a clearly marked MCT Route 3 bus stop at the Carroll Avenue station. It’s not in the most obvious place (Fairfield Avenue, about half a block south from the station parking lot), but it’s more of a bus stop than what 11th Street stop currently has.
In comparison to 11th Street the Beverly Shores station hasn’t changed much. The historic station house (complete with an iconic neon sign) is still there and once again open to the public. The second track was built where part of the station platform used to be, but the remaining platform area is still wide enough to comfortably accommodate passengers.
Beverly Shores' new eastbound platform was built south of the original single track. There is now a crossing connecting the new platform to the station, but unlike the north platform, there is no paved sidewalk of any kind connecting it to Broadway Street. It’s currently not a big deal since one can simply walk on the grass, but it’s going to be a bigger issue when there’s snow.
Delays and other issues
In the notice announcing the reopening of the South Shore Line's Dune Park-to-Carroll Avenue segment, the railroad warned passengers that there would be delays. Still, the first day didn’t start off promisingly.
I took the 2:25 p.m. train east into Indiana, and ended up arriving at 11th Street only four minutes behind schedule, at 4:29 p.m. But I quickly learned that the 4:20 p.m. westbound train was running late – and it didn’t show up until 5:01 p.m. I thought this was foreshadowing that my 7:51 p.m. train back to Chicago would also be late. All the same, when I went back to 11th Street station to catch the westbound train scheduled, I still arrived with plenty of time to spare.
Confirming my prediction that my train to Chicago would be late, the run schedule to arrive at 11th Street at 7:51 p.m. didn’t show up until 8:20. In the meantime, I witnessed an almost comic spectacle of several eastbound trains – some full of passengers, some carrying one or none at all – stopping at 11th Street, with conductors asking where I was heading, then the train moving on.
(Interesting side note: On October 25, at least, all Dune Park to South Bend trains I saw were only two or three cars long. The October 28 trains were the regular length).
The train stopped several times on the way from 11th Street to Dune Park, and while there was no issue with the shuttle to Gary Metro Center or the train to Millennium Station in the Chicago Loop, the delays added up so that I arrived almost 90 minutes late. All passengers got vouchers for a free one-way ticket, a standard South Shore Line practice when the trains are more than an hour late.
It didn’t help that the South Shore Line's train tracker service had technical issues for much of the afternoon and evening. That affected real-time arrival predictions and alerts.
On October 28, the delays were slight – only a few minutes. The issue came with boarding. I assumed that, since the eastbound train dropped me off at the south platform of the Beverly Shores station, the westbound train would pick me up at the north platform. But when the train back to Chicago stopped at the south platform instead, I was lucky that the train waited while I dashed across the tracks.
When I asked the conductor if the westbound trains would always stop at the southbound platform, he shrugged. That’s going to be the process "for now" he said but in a few weeks or months, "who knows."
Of course, the real test will come when the Gary Metro Center to Dune Park section re-opens and the entire line is back in service. The railroad currently predicts that this will happen in next spring, so keep your fingers crossed.
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