Sunday, March 15, 2009

South Shore to Reduce Weekend Service

In times of recession, it is not surprising to see operating agencies reduce service on account of fiscal woes, usually caused by declining subsidies. However, the explanation given by the CEO of the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District (NICDT), which operates the South Shore line from South Bend to Chicago, strikes us as odd.

According to WSBT-TV, the rail line wants to reduce weekend service to improve the reliability of its operations. This begs the question: if they can't run the trains on time during the weekend, when trains run every two hours, what must weekday operations be like, given that so many more trains are scheduled. Somebody isn't shooting straight.


  1. The explanation is that the 2 hour memory schedule locks the railroad into a meet point less than a half mile long just west of Michigan City, and a 20-minute turn time at South Bend. Both of those conspire to make the service unreliable at best. When the schedule was written and put in service in 1991, the South Shore was not doing adds and cuts at the Michigan City Shops (as it does today), and it had an extra 10 minutes of recovery time in South Bend because the airport station was not yet in service.

    Note also that the number of trains to and from Chicago is *not* being reduced - just the number to and from South Bend, which is connected to Michigan City by a very long (30+ miles) stretch of single track, broken only by two short sidings with time consuming hand-operated switches.

  2. And by the way, weekday on time performance is better by a long shot than weekend. Weekday AM peak train service is strongly focused into Chicago, so there are no single-track conflicts with reverse peak service. Midday meets are scheduled in long double track sections. PM Peak service is strongly focused on service out of Chicago, so there are again no single-track conflicts with reverse peak service.

    The weekend service, by contrast, requires every train to thread the needle at a small passing siding surrounded by miles of single track. A single delay not only delays that train, but the train being met, and may cause a delay leaving South Bend (with its relatively short 20 minute recovery time).

    The new weekend schedule eliminates meets in single track territory by moving them all to solid double track sections, and increases recovery time at South Bend. In the process, the 2 hour "memory schedule" had to be abandoned, and some service between South Bend and Michigan City consolidated.