Highlights of the South Shore Line
The NICTD South Shore Line is a busy commuter rail line with 41 trains per weekday and 21 trains on the weekend schedule. NICTD operates a roster of 82 modern rail cars. 48 cars are self propelled single level with cabs at each end. 10 cars are self propelled single level cars with a cab at one end. 10 more cars are trailers with no propulsion. In 2009 NICTD added 14 bi-level gallery cars to the fleet bringing the total to 82.
On weekdays there are 18 westbound passenger trains to Chicago, with five originating in Gary, eight in Michigan City and five in South Bend. The first eight westbound trains are considered peak trains. 19 trains return from Chicago, five ending in Gary, nine in Michigan City and five in South Bend. Seven of the afternoon eastbound trains are considered peak trains. Four other trains position cars between Michigan City and South Bend. This busy schedule keeps at least one South Shore train in motion from 4:03am to 10:41pm (CT) with the last returns from Chicago at 11:00pm and 12:45pm. The passenger service finally fall silent at 2:24am. On weekends the South Shore runs a reduced schedule of nine trains to Chicago and nine trains returning with at least one in service train in motion from 5:05am until 2:24am.
Weekdays are the best times to catch passenger action along the South Shore, however there is enough weekend action to make a visit worthwhile. SouthShore Freight trains also operate over the NICTD owned lines. With the reduced passenger service on weekends more time is available for freight.
METRA Electric District
The core downtown stations are within walking distance of each other (given enough time and the desire and ability to walk). Millennium Station on the north end of the line is now underground but the "below ground level" section south of there to 27th St can be viewed from bridges. There are many bridges in the downtown area with a view of the tracks.
Kensington / 115th St station has street parking next to the station as well as a small commuter parking lot. The neighborhood has a crime problem so only daylight visits are recommended. NICTD South Shore trains no longer stop at Kensington (effective February 15th, 2012) but they can be seen passing the platform and passing through the interlocking.
The main station in Gary is the Metro Center. Paid parking is available. Cars are occasionally parked on Broadway for free and there is a small parking area next to a static display steam engine that is usually empty. The Metro Center station is run down and some people may feel unsafe. As far as train action, Gary is built on an embankment which makes it harder to see the line except from the platform or at odd angles. This is a station where trains terminate and originate on weekdays and there is a storage track that is used (on weekdays). You will see trains use the storage track, change directions and cut and add at this location on weekdays - if you are there at the right time.
Gary's eastern station is Miller. Parking is available track side as well as across the street in a fenced lot. The line can also be seen from other parking lots nearby. Other than near the station it may be hard to find a comfortable place to park or stop to see the trains move. Miller is the site of the interchange with the CSX Toledo Line. If you like freight you may be fortunate enough to see some interchange action here.
Portage / Ogden Dunes
Dune Park - Calumet Trail
Dune Park station is headquarters for NICTD. There is plenty of parking although the largest lot is at the east end of the station platform. The station building is open 24/7 with restrooms and vending. Here you can buy a 12 oz can of pop for under a dollar (the more reasonable 50c price offered here is only a memory). Further down the trail at Tremont is a state operated picnic/rest area that (when open) closes at dusk. The next station is the historic building at Beverly Shores which has a small but useful parking lot and a local history museum. A short drive (or walk, if you are able) north of the station will take you to Lake Michigan and probably the best free access to the beach.
The Calumet Trail ends at the county line on US 12 just west of Michigan City. This trail runs north of the South Shore Line through the dunes area. While there are places along the trail where the South Shore is visible there is enough separation that you may not be able to see the trains through the plant growth. Plans are to extend the Calumet Trail along US 12 to Mount Baldy and provide a parking area near the west entrance to the NIPSCO plant.
The South Shore leaves the middle of 10th St and curves to the middle of 11th St at Chicago Rd. This is also where the South Shore crosses Amtrak's Michigan Line (four trains per day each direction plus an occasional freight). On 11th St South Shore trains stop between Franklin and Pine with a small parking lot with a shelter on the corner with Pine. This is the classic photo location for street running in Michigan City. The former South Shore station sits boarded up on this block.
East of downtown street running ends at Michigan St (US 35). The line continues to another popular location, "Shops". The station on Carroll Ave is the end of the line for most trains. Parking fills up quickly and there is overflow parking northwest of the station in a well lit gravel lot. During off hours a parking space can usually be found. Shops is the home for all of the mechanical departments that keep the SouthShore Freight and NICTD electric trains running. Every engine and passenger car returns here at night. SouthShore Freight's operations are run out of a building on this property. A new dispatching and training center was built here by NICTD.
The Roeske Ave bridge provides a nice overlook over the yard although there is only a walkway on one side (the west side). To the east, Karwick Rd offers a telephoto view of the shops as well as seeing trains entering and leaving the South Bend section of the line. Just east of Karwick Rd is the CSX Grand Rapids line that carries one Amtrak per day to and from Grand Rapids.
South Bend Section
Hudson Lake is one of the few places where the line parallels a road east of Michigan City, you can follow the South Shore for 7/10ths of a mile west of the St Joseph Co Line. In New Carlisle the Norfolk Southern Chicago Line returns to a parallel alignment just south of the South Shore. At this point along with heavy freight traffic the NS line carries two Amtrak trains each way per day.
The South Shore Line comes to an end in South Bend, leaving the parallel running with NS at Grandview and spending the last 3.2 miles traveling slowly along the edge of city streets to reach the airport. A new connection to the airport is planned that will end this slow connection and reach the airport via a new connection on the west side. The former main line to Bendix (which remains an Amtrak station) still exists with the catenary removed. Street running to downtown South Bend from Bendix ended in 1970. There is a new "Bendix" station along the north side of Westmoor Ave where up to three eight car trains can stop at low level boarding points. This stop is used for charter trips to South Bend for Notre Dame games.