CHESTERTON — Because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and a related drop in ridership, the South Shore Line will be implementing a temporary modified train schedule starting Monday.
The new schedule, to take effect March 23 until further notice, is essentially a modified weekend/holiday schedule with the addition of two morning and two afternoon rush hour trains, according to Amber Kettring, South Shore customer service manager.
Weekend train schedules will not be affected.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a substantial reduction in the daily ridership on the South Shore Line,” she said.
“Given the significant drop in ridership, the South Shore believes that temporarily reducing train service is an effective way to balance service with the reduced demand occurring during the COVID-19 pandemic. By reducing the number of cars in operation, we also improve our opportunities to do a deeper clean on out-of-service equipment.”
The reduction will also help keep crew members safer, she said.
“There is always the risk of exposure to our on-board crews,” Kettring said. “Fewer trains in service means that we will have extra crews available to operate trains in the event that a larger number of employees are unavailable for service.
“Further, we ask that our passengers purchase tickets in advance through the South Shore mobile app, ticket vending machines, or ticket agents. Reducing or eliminating cash transactions with our train crews will help reduce our employees’ exposures relating to cash fare collections.”
With federal government guidance to restrict events and close schools and offices, the modified schedule will operate with trains consisting of as many cars as possible, according to Michael Noland, South Shore Line president.
“The unprecedented impact of the COVID-19 virus is impacting all elements of our society,” he said. “Each of us needs to do our part to minimize the spread of this disease.
“The SSL provides a vital and essential service that our riders, many of whom are transit-dependent, rely upon. We will continue to follow guidance provided by the CDC and other State of Indiana healthcare professionals, as well as directives given from our elected officials,” Noland said.
Longer trains will help allow social distancing, another federal government recommendation, he said.
“Though normal ridership would not dictate full trains, we will run the largest number of cars we have available on all trains to encourage social distancing,” Noland said.
“Finally, we are taking additional steps to disinfect our cars and are bringing in external support to supplement the tremendous job our cleaning crews are currently doing.”
The South Shore has implemented a heightened maintenance protocol, including increasing the frequency and intensity of sanitizing procedures on trains and in stations, according to Kettring.
CDC-approved sanitizers and disinfectants with 24-hour effectiveness in killing COVID-19 are used every day on all frequently used surfaces, including station and on-board train seats, arm rests, floors, door frames, interior hand holds, bathroom sinks, toilets and door knobs.
In addition, basic methods of protection are being reinforced with all train personnel, and passengers are encouraged to use soap and water onboard the trains, she said.
“Together, we can further reduce the potential spread of this disease. We know that we can get through this difficult time, and the SSL is committed to doing its part,” Noland said.
Although ridership has been impacted by COVID-19-required closures, the trains provide an essential public service, he said.
“This service is relied upon by healthcare professionals for travel to their essential assignments, and by citizens with previously scheduled medical appointments. The SSL intends to operate unless our public health officials or the government ask us to cease operations.”
The new schedules, and any future changes in service, will be posted to my southshoreline.com, the South Shore Line Facebook and Twitter pages, mobile app, and via email notifications, she said.