Why Rail? Why Now?
St. Joseph County is in the middle of a period of economic expansion. A current economic renaissance includes major industrial investments, such as the $500 million energy center in the New Carlisle area; burgeoning housing and mixed-use development around the University of Notre Dame; and other industrial efforts throughout the County. While these areas are growing, other opportunities remain to be cultivated and considered. In particular, the wealth of transportation assets across the County have been recognized by officials for possible rail-related development.
Ideally positioned on a major eastern railroad thoroughfare, the County has three Class I railroads, two shortline railroads and two interstate passenger rail services (South Shore and Amtrak). There is ample available development land adjacent to many of these lines, as well as several existing businesses that currently utilize rail. Historically, the County has been limited in its ability to respond to site selection requests for rail-served sites owing to lack of information on optimal prospective sites and the fact that the County does not control the land. With a better pool of sites, as outlined herein, the County can now better respond to those interested in the area and in the attractive business climate within Indiana more generally.
Freight Rail Plan
In 2016, the County commissioned a rail opportunity plan which would examine the potential for economic development activities linked to rail transportation in St. Joseph County. It was commissioned as part of a public-private partnership between the St. Joseph County Economic Development Department and the South Bend Regional Chamber of Commerce for two reasons. First, it helps St. Joseph County respond to site selection requests that include rail access as a criterion. Second, it helps to highlight the development support the County and Chamber can offer to existing rail-served businesses and future investments.
The St. Joseph County Rail Opportunity Plan released in May 2017, examines the County’s existing transportation assets and economic base, identifies opportunity areas for rail-served development, and recommends policy options to translate those opportunities into investment. The plan examines existing conditions for rail-served sites and development opportunities throughout the County. A series of site tours and meetings were conducted with a Steering Committee comprised of St. Joseph County economic development professionals, Class I and shortline rail operators, other planning and real estate professionals, and the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT), the entity responsible for updating the Indiana State Rail Plan. Available data was used to complete the Countywide picture of existing freight assets and potential site opportunities.
Passenger Rail Plan
The Chicago South Shore and South Bend Railroad, also known as the South Shore Line, is a Class III freight railroad operating between Chicago, Illinois, and South Bend, Indiana. The railroad serves as a link between Class I railroads and local industries in northeast Illinois and northwest Indiana. It built the South Shore Line electric interurban in 1908, and operated it until 1990, when it transferred it to the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District (NICTD). The railroad is owned by the Anacostia Rail Holdings Company. The South Shore Line provides a vital transportation link that connects Northwest Indiana to Chicago. The South Shore Line proposes to expand the South Shore Line from single track to double track between Gary and Michigan City and construct, signal, power, and platform improvements at five passenger stations.
In May 2014, the South Shore Line (as the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District) adopted a 20-y strategic business plan. This Plan details proposed improvements to the South Shore Line traveling approximately 25 miles through Lake, Porter and La Porte Counties, and the communities of Gary, Portage, Ogden Dunes, Dune Acres, Beverly Shores, Pines and Michigan City, Indiana. The project’s main component is to add a second track to the single track route, and move the street-running tracks along 10th and 11th Streets in Michigan City. This will allow the SSL to add trains for more frequent service, reduce delays and improve travel times.
In St. Joseph County, local officials are working with NICTD and the South Bend Regional Airport to consider options to relocate the existing rail station located on the east side of the airport terminal building to the west side of the terminal building. This relocation could reduce travel time to 90 minutes from South Bend to Chicago and to as low as 75 minutes with express schedules.