This article is written by Carole Carlson on Aug 4, 2015 of the Merrillville, IN Post TribuneSOURCE: POST-TRIBUNE, MERRILLVILLE, IND.
Aug. 03--The South Shore Railroad is gearing up to carry bicycles on trains next spring, kick starting the transit plan years earlier than a previous timeline.
South Shore General Manager Mike Noland unveiled prototypes of two bicycle racks at Friday's Northern Indiana Commuter Transit board meeting and the board approved a one-year pilot program set to start in April. The racks were designed by SportWorks, a Seattle-based transit design company.
Advocates have been pushing the initiative for about 10 years. Bike supporters say the South Shore is the only commuter railroad in the nation that bans bicycles on its trains because its cars aren't configured to hold them.
The pilot program approved Friday will outfit three cars with specially-made bike racks. Bike owners will sit next to their bikes.
Noland said three cars will be equipped with about 25 to 30 bike racks each. The racks will be attached to the car's metal heating system. Each rack costs $500 to $600. No final cost estimate for the pilot program was available.
The pilot bike program will only run on weekends and cyclists must get on and off at stations with high-level boarding platforms, Noland said. It's also not intended as a permanent solution.
At a public hearing last month, officials presented a bikes on trains plan that's dependent on the purchase of new cars within five years. NICTD then plans to retrofit five existing cars at a price tag of about $10 million. When bike advocates and even some NICTD board members heard the program likely wouldn't start until 2021, they complained and officials began to look for a short-term solution.
"We heard the board loud and clear to accelerate the process prior to the next train car order," Noland said. He said cars purchased in 2009 were finally performing well and anchoring the fleet, allowing the railroad the opportunity to look at modifying its older cars.
Noland acknowledged the South Shore's shortcomings. "Metra has more space than we do. We have no room for anything but seats, that's the fundamental difference."
NICTD board member and Lake County Commissioner Mike Repay thanked Noland for quick action. "I commend you for listening to what was being said. I think this is the right way to do it. I know there are still bugs... Folks who really want their bikes on trains will be hospitable."
Advocates, including Save the Dunes Council and the National Parks Conservation Association, immediately praised the action.
"Save the Dunes has taken a leadership role in the project as part of our desire to increasenon-motorized access to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and Indiana Dunes State Park, yetclearly the benefits would be experienced region-wide," the Save the Dunes Council stated in a release.
"This decision has been a long time coming and today's vote by the NICTD board is a welcome change and one that we look forward to seeing through," said LeAaron Foley, an outreach coordinator with the National Parks Conservation Association.
Contact Carole Carlson at email@example.com.
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