2005 Bustrip

NWI chapter members pose in front of a South Shore car at their Michigan City, IN shops.

Trip Report -- Lance Wales

    A nice sunny day, a train trip and a tour of the shop made for a complete day as around two dozen North Western Illinois Chapter members enjoyed the outing to the South Shore in Michigan City, IN on Saturday, September 10, 2005. Chapter members Jerry Stauffer and Dennis Kern once again did a great job lining up a trouble-free event.
    The Dixon-Meyers motor coach picked us up at each of the three designated stops and we made good time into downtown Chicago. We were dropped off at the Randolph Street Station in plenty of time for our 10 a.m. departure. We spent the time shooting a couple of South Shore trains from the platform before boarding our own car (#3) on train #507 for the ride down to Michigan City, IN. Upon leaving the station, the employees opened up the back vestibule, allowing us better views through the clear windows.
    We got to meet Iowa Division train M337 around 91st Street, with the WC SD45 6497 leading an IC SD40-2 as it was headed up toward Hawthorne Yard. A short while later we crossed over the CN freight lines at Kenningston Tower while a Metra Electric train was headed north.
    Now on the South Shore’s own right-of-way we zipped right along, meeting train #504 at Hegewisch. Two different South Shore freight movements were spotted--a trio of the their GP38-2s running light at Gary (probably going to get a coal train) and another pair of geeps working at Bailey Yard near Miller. The South Shore’s line was impressive--being able to ride in the back vestibule provided a chance to view the cab speedometer. At one point it read 78 mph as we were moving right along.
    Things slowed down a bit for us as our train trundled down the middle of the streets at Michigan City, IN--at one point we even had to wait for a fire truck coming up behind us with its lights and siren going--sort of hard to pull over to the curb for that!
    At the Carroll Ave stop in Michigan City the crews cut free the trailing two cars and we were pulled alongside the shop buildings. From there we detrained, going into the office for a quick safety reminder along with a presentation about the South Shore. Bob Burnett (Safety) and John Parsons (Marketing Director) provided us with an overview of the South Shore Line.
    The South Shore operates 41 trains each weekday, typically using 62 cars out of their current fleet of 68. The line had been carrying about 12,400 riders per weekday until the recent round of gas price hikes. Now the railroad has been averaging 13,500 riders since the first part of August. The line is expecting to carry close to 3.7 million passengers this year, approaching the all-time record they set back in 2001.
    This increase in business is not without its drawbacks though--the aging physical plant on the route is steadily being upgraded. In recent years the railroad has replaced several of the pin-truss overhead bridges with through girders. The power distribution system has also been a concern, as the new system they are currently installing allows them to isolate stretches of track better to minimize disruptions. The old system had both main tracks engerized at the same time and the new system separates the power to each of the mains where there is double track. New signals along the line are also going up and the old ABS is changing to CTC control. The South Shore will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2008 and these upgrades to the fixed plant should have it in a good position to handle the increased passenger traffic as it enters a second century of service.
    Beyond these upgrading issues, the South Shore is also seeking a couple of projects that will speed up train movement. The junction between the Metra Electric and the South Shore Line at Kenningston Tower at 115th Street on Chicago’s south side, can be a source of significant delays. The South Shore trains must cross over a couple of CN freight lines to enable them to reach the Metra Electric lines. A proposed project there would have them joining the Metra route a bit further to the north, eliminating this issue. Another project in the planning stages would change the way their trains access the South Bend Airport by building a new route through the south west side of South Bend. That project could cut 8 to 12 minutes from the current 2-1/2 hour trip into downtown.
    Enough of sitting inside the conference room--time to head outside to photograph some equipment. First up was the MTW-100, their Catenary Maintenance Vehicle. It traditional interurban terms, this would have been a line car--responsible for maintaining the overhead trolley wire--but this piece of modern equipment was much more than that. Capable of using either the overhead wire or diesel propulsion, the CMV was custom built for the South Shore. With its support flat car, has a boom with interchangeable work heads. For example it can use the auger attachment to drill a hole for a caternary support pole and then switch to a claw to place the pole in the hole. The deck of the flat car has spools of overhead trolley wire ready to go should an emergency situation arise.
    From there we went inside the shop where a couple of cars were being overhauled. Going through a nearly complete strip-down were cars 9 and 33. They had been involved in a derailment a while ago and were being redone. The shop had all the windows out of the cars, the end step wells were being replaced and the interiors refurbished. These two cars were also some of the oldest on the South Shore, more than 20 years old themselves.
    Heading outside we found the NICTD 1000, their maintenance of way GP38, spotted for photos. The gray unit was acquired a few years ago to replace an ex-Army GE center cab that struggled to move a few loads of ballast, according to Bob as he guided us around. The engine was built for the Grand Trunk.
    Since it was Saturday, quite a bit of the fleet of stainless steel cars were present at the shops. We took note that only one or two of them have the “Chicago South Shore and South Bend” sign boards above the windows that they came delivered with. The railroad is known as the South Shore Line now, and the signage reflects that for the most part.
    Although sharing the same tracks, the freight portion and the passenger service are operated by two different companies that share the railroad. This is true on the mainlines and at the shop, where four South Shore GP38-2s were sitting around in the their orange paint with the maroon stripe. Although we were on the north (shadow side), a request to go over to the sunny was allowed, but we had to walk a few extra steps around the far side of the electric car wash rack to do so.
    A check of the watch revealed that it was close to 2:30 p.m. and our westbound train would be through just after 3 p.m. to pickup our two cars and continue onward to Chicago. We made a quick tour of the inspection shop, looking at their wheel lathe for turning and the air brake shop where the components are rebuilt. With that we thanked our South Shore hosts for their hospitality and their time--they truly enjoyed working for the railroad and their devotion to it showed during our visit.
    We boarded car #3 again and we were coupled up to the rear of train #510 for the westbound trip to Chicago. We wouldn’t have the car to ourselves going back, as the Rolling Stones were having a concert at Soldier Field that Saturday evening and the whole six-car train was packed after leaving East Chicago for the trip downtown.
    Our bus was waiting just outside of Randolph Street and we were out of downtown in no time, headed back home. Thanks again Jerry for organizing our outstanding time along the South Shore Line!

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