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Completed $650 million rail project improves NW Indiana service to Chicago

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(The Center Square) – Indiana officials celebrated the opening of a $650 million upgraded passenger rail corridor that’s expected to significantly reduce travel time from Michigan City to Chicago.

The project doubles portions of the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District’s South Shore Line. Workers laid down about 18 miles of new track along the 26-mile corridor and made several other enhancements for safety and convenience.

According to a release from Gov. Eric Holcomb’s office, the project came in on time and under budget. Holcomb called the rail expansion an investment that will pay dividends for Indiana 100 years from now.

“This game-changing project is yet another example of how the state of Indiana continues to make targeted investments that attract talent and commercial investment that, in turn, helps our communities take it to their next level,” he said.

Starting Tuesday, passengers will see their commute times to Millennium Station in the nation’s third-largest city reduced, in some cases by more than a half-hour. According to the Double Track NWI website, a trip from Michigan City to Chicago previously took 101 minutes. With the double track completion, it will now take 83 minutes during peak times and 72 minutes for express routes.

The trip from Gary to Chicago used to take 69 minutes, but the new express service will be 20 minutes faster. Peak service will still get passengers to Millennium Station in 53 minutes.

Beyond the additional rail lines, the project realigned the tracks to eliminate 20 at-grade crossings. It also added more than 1,400 parking spaces, new platforms for passenger onboarding and departure and 14 more trains offering weekday service in Northwestern Indiana.

“With the additional track, high-speed crossovers and high-level boarding platforms now in place, we can deliver far superior commuter rail service to our riders with greater train frequency, better on-time performance and dramatically reduced times to and from Chicago,” Michael Noland, president of the South Shore Line.

State and local governments provided 70% of the project’s cost, according to the project’s website. Indiana invested $340 million, and Northwestern Indiana communities added $80 million. The Commuter Transportation District agreed to cover up to $30 million. The federal government provided the remainder with $173 million in funding from the Federal Transit Administration’s New Starts program and $24 million in contributions from the American Rescue Plan Act covering the rest.

The Double Track project is one of two major rail enhancements in the region. The other is the West Lake Corridor project, a $950 million endeavor that adds an 8-mile spur from Hammond to Dyer in Lake County. Holcomb said that construction for that project is expected to finish in a year.

When completed, the two rail projects are expected to help the region attract upwards of $2.7 billion in private investments, create 6,000 new jobs and generate $5 billion in economic activity within the next quarter-century.