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A Snowy South Shore Line Round-trip to Gary to try and listen to the Rail Rangers

This New Years Weekend, I’m spending alone in cold and snowy South Bend. Louise is still in warm Southern California (I have in my queue a post about this trip with a visit to a unique Amtrak Station) where I was last weekend and will be returning to next weekend. The weather right now has been frigid in South Bend with the highs not getting above the teens all week, along with some super cold snow virtually every day.

Today I decide it is time for a little train therapy. The goal, to see what the APHRF Rail Rangers Trails and Rails-like program on the South Shore Line is like. This program has been operating Saturdays out of  Chicago (on the 8:40AM outbound train, returning on the 1:05pm train) for the past six months. I examine the schedules and realize that turning around in Gary aligned with the South Shore schedule perfectly, and I can even ride the Gary PTC Route 12 and get both Gary Metro Center and Gary/Chicago Airport, Clark Road Stations on the same trip with short enough layovers that catching hypothermia seems unlikely.

The trip starts by brushing off and driving Louse’s car (which I’m borrowing while she’s away) to the South Bend Airport(4 Photos). There I parked in the snowy $1 Daily parking lot and pay my $1 fee with a $1 bill to the pay box.


I then head inside to purchase my very expensive (relatively speaking) ticket to Gary Metro Center for $10.50 (a ticket all the way to Downtown Chicago is $13.50), since the South Shore Line makes stopovers expensive (Chicago to Gary is $7.00, although only covering about a third of the distance as from Chicago to South Bend). From there I board the train.

I find a very crowded Rail Rangers Car where I can’t conveniently sit near the two Ranges in black uniforms.

As the train leaves South Bend the rangers begin their program. Just one set of folks, a group moved from the set of four seats across the lavatory from the Rangers, to a different car. I sit down there. No one else moves and throughout the journey people were speaking loudly and not giving the presenters the respect I feel they deserved. I think this is the downside to a crowded New Years Eve-weekend train. The Rangers have a wireless microphone using what is clearly a portable speaker system. The audio cuts in and out, so I don’t fully get to enjoy their commentary. The program starts with them handing out a one-page handout (I think I’m going to purchase their detailed book next time I ride a train with them aboard) about the South Shore Line. What I could hear of the program I found similar to other volunteer ranger programs I’ve attended on Amtrak trains. Unfortunately the crowds on the train made it hard to enjoy. The script they have seems informative and well-written.

By Dune Park the train has gotten so crowded that I’m doubling-up at my set of four seats. I also noticed the Rangers doubling up (they were originally sitting across from each other at a set of four seats). As we get further west the train stopped blowing snow (for awhile after departing South Bend there was virtually no visibility because of blowing snow) and the amount of snow on the ground clearly is less.

I am happy to get off the very crowded train at Gary Metro Center(54 Photos) where I do a full photo essay. The station feels fairly overbuilt with a long ramp providing fully enclosed albeit inconvenient access to the Gary Metro Center Transit Center, which is Gary PTCs hub. The signage in the station is extremely poor for Gary PTC bus bays which is not unexpected since Gary PTC has one of the oldest looking websites imaginable.


I do enjoy views across the Indiana Toll Road to the top of the ex-New York Central station which I’ve passed on the Lake Shore Limited.

I also go for a little walk across to Gateway Park to see steam Locomotive #765, and the Gary Land Company Building, the first permanent structure in the City of Gary.


I took my time, deciding a full photo essay of the Gary Metro Center Station was more important than catching the 2:04pm Route 12 Lakeshore Connector Bus. On my walk I photograph the bus pull into the Metro Center for it’s layover. There is no signage on which bus bay to board the bus at but I luckily find the bus at 2:03 , board, paying my $1.60 fare, since I’m traveling locally in Gary, (the fare to East Chicago is $2.25). All the other passengers have already boarded (I motion to the driver to open the doors) and the bus soon leaves.


I get off the bus about a block away from the station on Clark Road since another rider is getting on the bus there and I have plenty of time.

I walk down to the Gary/Chicago Airport (at Clark Road) Station(40 Photos) where the platform is nicely plowed and salted.


I try to buy a ticket at the TVMs but they don’t seem to like my credit card so I use the mobile app instead.

My train return train arrives basically on time, on the outside track. There is a bit of commotion as the train pulls into the station with the engineer overshooting the short boarding platform. The train backs up surprisingly quickly and a few people get off as I get on.


I board a nice empty train and am happy to see that the seat with an electrical outlet is free so I snag that to start typing up summaries of the two new stations I’ve just visited. The ride is largely uneventful until we get just beyond Beverly Shores. There they announce another passenger train is having air hose problems as we come to a stop. Eventually we cross the Amtrak line and begin street running in Michigan City.


We stop at 11th Street 5 minutes late at 3:30, where I notice a new overflow parking lot (with a new sign) on the north side of the tracks.

We finally get to Carroll Avenue at 3:43 and take another time hit, with the station work taking longer than it should. There is a large crowd waiting for the 3:40 inbound train on the platform which we seem to delay.

As we continue towards Hudson Lake we lose some more time I think primarily due to the snow, which picks up the further east towards South Bend we go.

The train crew distributes a survey the South Bend Airport is doing of train riders to see if anyone is takes the South Shore to take flights from the Airport (or is spending money at the airport). The reason is because NIMBY-ism has prevailed on the Airport Relocation project (relocating the South Shore Line to the opposite side of the airport, saving 10 to 15 minutes in travel time on the current airport merry-go-round slow tracks) because it will take away a few homes in the unincorporated community of Ardmore. So the project is delayed again with further studies.

We finally arrive in South Bend(12 Photos) at 5:26, 20 minutes late. Getting off the train is a bit chaotic primarily because of passengers already trying to get on for the 5:45pm trip back to Chicago (Train #508). I get some nice dusk in the snow photos as I get off.


I get to the car and see it hasn’t snowed anymore, the long term parking lot is behind me so those cars might have been parked for days.

I drive home and find these service advisories on the South Shore Website. It looks like there busing everyone from South Bend to Carroll Avenue on New Years Day 2018 because of the cold and forecasted snow. The delay of my train has also caused cascading delays further this evening.