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South Shore Line not ruling out future extension to downtown South Bend

screenshot of NICTD board presentation captured via Zoom

The South Shore Line's commuter trains will not return to downtown South Bend right away, but it could still happen in the future.

The railroad is currently beginning environmental and engineering studies on a shorter route to South Bend International Airport. It's been the east end of the line for more than three decades.

Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District (NICTD) President Mike Noland says bringing the train back downtown would cost four times as much, and environmental studies would probably take four to five years — too long to get funding from the current federal infrastructure law. "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, and I can't guarantee — no one can — what transportation or what infrastructure dollars will be available, when this current bill runs out," Noland said during the May 22 NICTD board meeting.

The current plan would reroute trains to the west side of the airport — but keep the door open for a second phase that would extend the mainline downtown and convert the airport branch into a shuttle. "We would have an airport transfer station right there, where the mainline train would come in, stop at a platform. People who wanted to go into the airport would get off and then ride into the airport, and the mainline train would go into downtown South Bend," Noland explained.

Noland said the input during an April public meeting on the proposed reroute was similar to what NICTD has seen during its other projects. "You have folks that come out and say, 'I don't want you to do this. Not in my backyard.' You have other people come out and say, 'Why is it taking you so long to do this?' You have other people who say, 'Well, I have an idea. Why don't you do x, y or z?'" Noland noted.

He said he's been reaching out to elected officials, community leaders and other stakeholders. Noland said having consistent support throughout the community makes a big difference when applying for federal funding.