The end of an era in Michigan City

On May 1, 2021, the 11th Street Station in Michigan City closed for reconstruction. The closure is expected to last about two and a half years, after which a new, more modern station will take its place. This is a bit of a bittersweet moment, as the new station and other associated improvements will provide a much better experience for riders (faster, fewer delays, easier boarding, etc.) but this is also the end of nearly 100 years of history.

The station as it existed prior to the closure was a fairly unique setup. It was in the middle of a street running segment on 11th Street in Michigan City, where the train runs in the middle of the street. The street is configured with one lane in each direction, with a third “lane” in the middle which carries the track.

In-street trackage at 10th Street and Willard Avenue
Street running track in Michigan City, with one lane in each direction plus a third “lane” in the middle to carry the track

Trains run down that track in the middle, and they also have to stop at red lights, just like cars. The crossings are generally unsignaled, with just a stoplight or stop sign.

Carlon Court grade crossing at 10th Street
Street crossing the street-running track
Inbound train approaching 11th Street Station
Train running in the middle of the street

The station is similar to a streetcar stop. The train stops in the middle of the street, and then passengers have to cross a lane of traffic to board or disembark. There is a stoplight to protect passengers from oncoming traffic while trains are stopped. The station just consists of a shelter, parking lot, and no platform. There used to be a station house adjacent to the current location of the station, but the building has since fallen into disuse.

11th Street Station shelter from across the street
Station shelter at 11th Street
Former 11th Street station building
Former station house at 11th Street
Railcar steps at 11th Street Station on the final day of service
Boarding a train from the street

This station design is a relic from the line’s interurban heritage. Interurbans basically operate like streetcars within cities but like regular trains between cities. The way the line was originally built, it had a number of street running segments, including this one in Michigan City, as well as segments in East Chicago and South Bend. The other ones were removed long ago: the East Chicago segment was rerouted to a new alignment adjacent to the Indiana Toll Road in 1956 and the South Bend segment was removed with the line first truncated before entering the street and then rerouted to a new station at the airport in 1992.

The Michigan City segment remained the last holdout on the line, continuing to operate street running tracks. Plans had existed for a long time to remove the tracks from the street, however due to the expense and property impact involved, it took a long time to come to fruition. Finally, as part of a larger project to double track the line from Gary to Michigan City (the line east of Gary is mostly a single track), they decided they would commence work on removing street running track in Michigan City. The new alignment will replace 10th and 11th Streets with one way streets and putting a second track where one of the lanes used to be.

While the South Shore Line initially announced that there would be no extended station closures during the double tracking project, they recently announced that the 11th Street Station would close starting May 1, 2021. I decided to seize the opportunity to photograph trains on the last day. I took the 5:58 train from Millennium Station out to Michigan City with plans to spend the night. I usually only get out to Indiana on weekends, where they only run single-level cars, but this time since it was a weekday they ran a bilevel railcar. I got to Michigan City right on schedule, and got off at 11th Street.

Outbound train at 11th Street Station on the final day of service
The train I took to Michigan City

I found out I was hardly the only person with the idea to photograph the station. There is a pretty large railfan community in the area, and a lot of them were also out there photographing, and I felt way outclassed since they definitely knew way more about this than I did and a lot of them had way fancier camera equipment. Still, I got to talk to some of them, and it was really cool to meet them.

While I didn’t stay for the last ever train to stop at the street-running 11th Street station (I didn’t particularly want to stay up until 2:18am), I did photograph a few more trains, including the last inbound train ever to stop there (there were several more outbound trains after it).

Last inbound train ever to stop at the street-running 11th Street Station
Last inbound train to ever stop at the street-running 11th Street Station

I quickly realized I was out of practice in terms of nighttime photography, as all of my recent photography expeditions have been during the daytime (and mostly during sunny weather). Still, I did my best.

One interesting detail is that the ticket machines were turned off, even though there were still trains running. I wonder if this means that passengers would have to pay the surcharge for buying a fare onboard the train.

Out of service ticket machines at 11th Street Station on the last day of service to the street running station
The ticket machines have been turned off

I spent the next few hours chatting with other railfans, photographing trains as they went by, including another passenger train and a freight train:

Outbound train at 11th Street station on the last day of service to the street running station
Passenger train at 11th Street
Freight train passing 11th Street station
Freight train passing 11th Street

From there, I caught a ride to the hotel where I was staying.

The next day, after getting my second COVID vaccine dose (I got it in Michigan City since at the time of my first dose, it was still pretty hard to get one in Chicago), I went back to the station to see if any demolition or construction had started yet. None had, but I got a few photos of the station from angles I hadn’t before. One other person was out photographing at this time. A train also passed by during this time, not stopping at the station. I realized I hadn’t gotten a good photo of a train including the shelter (to make it clearer how it looks when passengers actually board), so I took such a photo with this train, even if it wasn’t actually stopping.

Outbound train bypassing 11th Street on the first day it is closed
Outbound train bypassing 11th Street

Then, I got to work photographing various points along the line as well as the buildings that were slated for demolition (or at least the ones that had notices on them at the time).

Condemned building at 1712 W 10th Street
Building slated for demolition
Condemnation notice on Firme in Michigan City
Firme office slated for demolition – the only commercial building I saw slated for demolition, probably because the land will be needed for building the new station
Grade crossing at Willard Avenue in Michigan City
Willard Avenue grade crossing, one of two crossings with lights

I also got some photos of some very old interurban cars used on the line.

Old Chicago South Shore and South Bend interurban car
Old Chicago South Shore and South Bend cars formerly used on the South Shore Line

I also got a photo of the Indiana State Prison (from across the street):

Indiana State Prison from Sheridan Avenue
Indiana State Prison

Then I headed back to downtown Michigan City for lunch, and went to a burger place called Royale. The food was excellent, even if service was kinda slow. From there, I explored Downtown Michigan City a bit more, heading to the waterfront. Due to the blowing sand, I didn’t get many photos since I didn’t want to damage my camera. I did get a photo of the lighthouse though:

Michigan City lighthouse
Michigan City lighthouse

Then I walked over to Carroll Avenue (the other train station in Michigan City) since I could no longer board at 11th Street to get home. Along the way I photographed the eastern street running portion in Michigan City a bit more, as well as a few more condemned buildings.

Condemned building at the NW corner of 11th Street and Lafayette St
Another condemned building

Along the way, another train passed by.

Outbound train passing Lafayette Street
Outbound train passing Lafayette Street

Then, I got to the end of the street running.

East end of street running tracks in Michigan City
The eastern end of the tracks in 11th Street
Tracks entering 11th Street at the east end in Michigan City
Tracks entering the street

From there, I walked over to Carroll Avenue.

Carroll Avenue entrance sign
Entrance sign at Carroll Avenue

I also took some photos of the rail yard and shops.

Trains waiting at the Michigan City Shops
Railcars at the yard

Then, I went to the station to wait for my train home. An outbound train passed by while I was waiting:

Outbound train leaving Carroll Avenue
Outbound train leaving Carroll Avenue

Finally, my train entered from the yard.

Inbound South Shore Line waiting on the yard lead to enter service
Inbound train waiting on the yard lead at Carroll Avenue

From there, I caught the train back to Chicago.

I look forward to seeing the progress in upgrading the line. It will be cool to see a new modern station in Michigan City (as well as Miller, and some improvements at other stations as well). The new station will have a full parking garage, two tracks, and high platforms, which will significantly improve the experience for passengers. The double track work will allow them to run more trains and improve reliability, while removing the tracks from the street in Michigan City will significantly improve speed and safety. Still, it is a bit sad to see a piece of history be lost.

With that, the last street-running station on the South Shore Line is no more, and all that’s left are the memories.

Last inbound train ever to serve the street-running 11th Street Station departing
All that’s left are the memories