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January 2016 edition of OnTrack


This month’s ON TRACK features important information about the Surface Transportation Board’s proposed rulemaking on on-time performance. You are urged to submit your comments on this very important matter before 8 February 2016. You will find helpful information and instructions in the issue for filing electronically. Former MARP Chair John DeLora has offered to answer any questions you may have. Phone him at at 313-575-6608.

Also in this issue:

  • New Executive Committee Appointments
  • MARP’s 2016 Budget Approved
  • 20% off Michigan Train Travel through 31 March
  • Wolverine Corridor Coalition Meeting in Battle Creek
  • Time to Renew Your MARP Membership
  • Friends of Wally to Meet
  • 1225 Leads the North Pole Express on a Snowy Day

PDF version of this month’s issue: ontrack_52



MARP Member Meeting Saturday, January 16, 2016 is in Lansing

MARP Member Meeting

Saturday, Jan, 16, 2016
10am – Noon
REO Town Depot (former GTW Depot)
1203 S Washington Ave, Lansing MI 48910
Map & Directions

It is becoming somewhat of a tradition for MARP to have its first meeting of the New Year in Lansing’s former GTW station which has been reborn as the REO Town Depot. This classic Spier & Rohn-designed structure was built in 1902 for the Grand Trunk Western Railway, but has not seen service as a passenger station since 1971. The building has been painstakingly restored in conjunction with the development of the new Lansing Board of Water & Light co-generation plant with which it shares the 5.3 acre site in the area known as REO Town. The depot is listed on the State Register of Historic Sites and the National Register of Historic Places.

Tim Hoeffner, Director of MDOT’s Office of Rail, is our featured speaker. He will give us an update on the progress made in 2015 on the Wolverine corridor upgrade as well as what to expect in 2016 for Michigan passenger trains.

Plan to arrive a bit early so you can look around the building, The BWL spent more than $2.8 million to restore it as its home for board meetings and employee training. From the terra cotta roof to the dark wood ceiling, period light fixtures, windows, and wainscoting, the restoration has been described as “stunning”.

Of particular interest is the eye-catching terra cotta roof. The tiles were 110 years old and needed to be replaced. The original manufacturer — Ludowici Roof Tile Co. of New Lexington, Ohio, a 120-year-old company with roots in Renaissance Rome and still in business — had the original plans for the depot and produced 14,600 new tiles to the original specifications.

Following the meeting, please plan to socialize over lunch at Clara’s Lansing Station, another of Lansing’s historic railway stations, at 637 East Michigan.

If you would like to arrange car-sharing to the meeting, please reply to this email. We will put you in touch with others in your area.

Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers

REO Town , located just south of Downtown Lansing, is at the core of Lansing’s automotive history and is one of Lansing’s revitalized gems. The commercial corridor and three neighborhoods of Moore’s Park, Fabulous Acres and River Point make up Reo Town. These distinct neighbors surround the former R. E. Olds Motor plant which was the backbone of Capital region labor in the early 1900’s. 

History of REO Town

Automotive History in Lansing

Things to do in Lansing

Rail advocates want double tracking between Detroit and Chicago

From the South Bend Tribune

What’s the best way to achieve faster, more frequent Amtrak train trips between Chicago and Detroit — including stops in Niles, Dowagiac, Kalamazoo and Ann Arbor?

Leaders of two rail transportation advocacy groups say double-tracking the entire track along that approximately 300-mile route, called Wolverine Service, is the answer.

The groups, Midwest Association of Railroad Passengers and Midwest High Speed Rail Association, are seeking public support throughout Michigan for the proposal — starting with the groups’ community meeting held at the Niles Public Library on Wednesday.

The Michigan Department of Transportation, which did not have a representative at the meeting, is in the midst of a Passenger Rail Program to evaluate and identify areas of improvement for the Chicago to Detroit/Pontiac area.

At this point, MDOT is not looking at double-tracking all of the Wolverine route. Roughly 160 miles of track on this route would not be double-tracked, said Rick Harnish, executive director of Midwest High Speed Rail Association.

The two rail associations are asking Michigan Department of Transportation to include double-tracking in its plans for upgrades aimed at reducing travel times, boosting reliability, and adding daily roundtrips to the schedule.

“We think the state should be planning for a lot of growth on the corridor,” Harnish told a group of about 20 people at the meeting. “That means you have to have two tracks, an east track and a west track, the whole way.”

In fiscal year 2014, 477,157 Amtrak riders traveled the Wolverine corridor compared to 465,627 in fiscal year 2015, Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliara said in a separate interview. The fiscal year runs from October to September.

Niles resident Jan Personette agreed with Harnish and explained a key reason why faster and more frequent service along this route is important.

“You’ve got to think about how people are going to get to the large metropolises, like Ann Arbor and Chicago, for treatment of illnesses. As we age, more and more of us need this sort of transportation,” Personette said. “It’s got to happen.”

MDOT officials considered double-tracking all of the Wolverine route, but decided against it, according to Michael Frezell, an MDOT spokesperson.

“A capacity analysis concluded that double-tracking the entire corridor in Michigan was not necessary to accommodate full build-out service,” Frezell said in an interview prior to the community meeting.

Full build-out refers to the goal of having 10 daily roundtrips between Chicago and Detroit (of the 10, seven would go to Pontiac — a Detroit suburb), with trains traveling at an average speed of 58 miles per hour, and with travel time between Chicago and Pontiac at five hours and 16 minutes.

Currently, there are three daily roundtrips of trains traveling at an average speed of about 46 miles per hour, with travel time between Chicago and Pontiac at approximately six hours and 40 minutes.

Frezell said efficiencies in the use of in-locomotive train signaling, GPS, and other technological improvements can help coordinate trains, thereby reducing the need for continuous double track.

“MDOT is being fiscally responsible by not double-tracking the entire railroad now,” Frezell added. “If conditions change in the future there is always the opportunity to expand capacity in the existing right of way because the railroad was once double-tracked and the rail bed remains.”

Harnish said he thinks the analysis information models used by the consultants in developing the draft plan are conservative.


Mt. Pleasant could be a stop on railway to Traverse City, Ann Arbor

From the Mount Pleasant Morning Sun:

There are almost 300 miles between Ann Arbor to Traverse City.

With a potential railway reconnecting some of Michigan’s largest cities and regions, Mt. Pleasant could be stop on that journey.

Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities, a Traverse City based non-profit organization, presented the project at Monday’s city commission meeting to connect southeast Michigan via train to northern regions of the state.

Groundwork policy specialist Jim Bruckbauer said the project could revitalize parts of Michigan by connecting them to the rest of the state.

“This is an exciting time for trains in Michigan,” he said. “Right now, the state is looking at how to connect Detroit, Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor and other big cities in the state. Our job now is to connect Ann Arbor to Traverse City.”

Bruckbauer explained the project, which would use existing train tracks owned by the state, would create a connection between Michigan’s major cities to the south, and its more northern municipalities such as Traverse City and Mt. Pleasant.

He presented a map of potential towns to be included in the train routes

Along the way, the rail could connect with Alma, Cadillac and Owosso. Port Huron to the east, and as far west as Holland and Kalamazoo could be included as well.

While a “feasibility study” is planned for 2016, Groundwork also expects to conduct an engineering study through 2020, adding summer weekend service in 2021, with full passenger service expected in 2025.

Along with the feasibility study will come summer and fall “excursion” trains in following years. The rides are typically intended for specific events, but Bruckbauer said Groundwork intends to expand the excursion rides to allow for more information gathering, and engage the communities from the beginning.

“That’s so we can start building interest in the service,” he said. “Eventually, we want them to become full-blown passenger services.”

Citing a 2012 survey from the Michigan Department of Transportation, Bruckbauer said the “number one priority” for residents state-wide was a rail connection to Traverse City.

“It would be another option for Michiganders to get across the state,” he said. “There’s a lot of connection between the southern and northern parts of the state.”

He said many of those needing transportation are young professionals, who he said the project could attract to stay in Michigan.

“It will make Michigan more attractive to young people and talent,” Bruckbauer said. “(The State) is seeing this project as a way for the next generation of workers to have the transportation they need without having to rely on non-public transportation.”

Along with riders, Bruckbauer said the train would bring significant economic growth to cities on the rail. Citing a 2009 study from Grand Valley State University, he said once-a-day train service could add $45 million per year to downtown economies.

Following his presentation, Bruckbauer fielded questions from a nearly-full commission chamber at city hall. Attendees were offered to sign a petition in support, and received informative materials about the project.

City Commissioner Matt Sous asked about funding, specifically how much the city of Mt. Pleasant would have to pay to be involved in the project.

“After the first study, what kind of commitment will you need?” Sous asked. “We don’t even have a train station in Mt. Pleasant.”

The feasibility study would cost about $100,000 to $120,000, Bruckbauer said, with a federal grant potentially paying for 80 percent of the study. Local communities will be asked to pay 20 percent of the initial study, but Bruckbauer said it was “too soon” to attach a dollar value to the full project.

The federal grant request is due in February. Bruckbauer said he is seeking letters of support to add to the application.

“The study is meant to figure out things like costs, volume,” he said. “Right now, it’s too early to tell.”

Many attendees asked if the project would create jobs for their city. Bruckbauer said several jobs will be generated locally for the project.

“I hesitate to estimate the actual amount of jobs, but it absolutely would create jobs,” he said. “Construction, whatever operating structure would add to what is already there, so it would be more jobs.”

In attendance, Alma Mayor Mel Nyman commended the project for including his city and its potential benefits for Alma’s college student population.

“I’m very pleased to be here to support his project,” Nyman said. “That track goes right through the campus of Alma College. We could pack students up and easily send them in any direction. It would be a lot easier than them having to drive.”

Local attorney Damian Fisher said he was concerned about connecting the transportation authorities of every region on the rail. He said creating those relationships between authorities should be the first priority of the project.

“At the end of the day, this service won’t work without integrating all of the communities,” Fisher said. “It’s going to go across jurisdictions. That needs to happen now.”

Fisher also mentioned multiple Native American tribes that live along the rail. He said Native American communities could create financial partnerships to help pay for the project.

“You have at least three tribes on this line,” Fisher said. “All those are conduits to federal dollars independent of any state or federal restrictions. They’re very good collaborators to be at the table.”


December 2015 edition of OnTrack

Your December issue of ON TRACK: The E-Bulletin of the Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers is here.
The MARP Executive Committee wishes all of you a safe and joyous Holiday Season.

This issue includes notes from the recent member meeting in Okemos and a welcome to the 43 new members who have joined us in 2015.


PDF of this month’s issue: ontrack_51