One of northwest Indiana’s largest public transit efforts is underway, marked by an Oct. 29 groundbreaking ceremony for the nearly $555-million West Lake Corridor commuter rail project.

Led by the joint venture of F.H. Paschen and Ragnar Benson Construction, the design-build project will provide an eight-mile dedicated southern branch extension of the Northern Indiana Commuter Transit District’s Chicago-South Bend South Shore Line to serve fast-growing communities in the state’s northwest region. Four new stations and a combined maintenance/storage facility will also be constructed.

By linking to the South Shore Line, trains on the West Lake Corridor will ultimately connect with the Metra Electric District line to Millennium Station in downtown Chicago—a total distance of approximately 30 miles.

The Paschen/Ragnar Benson team was selected for the project last year with an initial bid of $664.2 million, an amount that was reduced in the ensuing months with no significant changes to project scope, according to NICTD. Plans call for the West Lake line to begin revenue operation in early 2025.

A federal New Starts grant is funding about 38% of the project, which has a total estimated cost of $945 million. The remainder will be covered by the state of Indiana, the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority and the corridor’s served communities.

NICTD is also pursuing New Starts funding for a separate $491-million modernization of the South Shore Line between Gary and Michigan City, Ind. Currently in the design phase, the project would include nearly 17 miles of track to improve train speed and reliability, as well as four new bridges, new platforms at eight stations and closure of 21 at-grade rail crossings in Michigan City.

NICTD hopes to seek bids for the project early next year, with an eye toward beginning construction as soon as the federal grant is secured.