BY KEITH BENMAN, Times of Northwest Indiana
The South Shore Line carried 4.21 million passengers last year, a 10.7 percent jump over 2005 and the most carried by the commuter railroad since 1957.
The surge in ridership comes as the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, the railroad's operator, is finalizing financing for 14 new double-decker cars. Those cars will be used to add two trains at both the morning and evening rush hours.
"We believe the demand is there and that additional capacity is needed to attract key passengers," NICTD spokesman John Parsons said on Tuesday.
The railroad saw even more dramatic jumps in ridership in off-peak hours, with ridership increasing 32 percent in off-peak hours during the Taste of Chicago festival in July, Parsons said.
For the year, off-peak ridership during the week was up 15.7 percent and on weekends ridership was up a similar amount.
"What that says is more and more occasional passengers are opting for train service as opposed to driving into Chicago," Parsons said.
According to NICTD figures, the South Shore carried 3.8 million passengers in 2005 and it carried 3.54 million passengers in 2004.
On an average weekday last year, the railroad carried 14,301 passengers.
The South Shore runs trains from South Bend to Chicago's Millennium Station at Randolph Street, a distance of almost 90 miles. It operates 41 trains per day during the week and 21 per day on weekends.
NICTD is also awaiting a study which will show if a proposed extension of the commuter railroad to Lowell and Valparaiso is likely to receive federal funding.
That extension would have the potential to triple South Shore ridership, according to the railroad's studies.