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Passenger rail service in northern Michigan being studied: Part one

by John Amrhein, Michigan State University Extension

Traveling by train in northern Michigan sounds like a romantic memory of days gone by, doesn’t it? Not too many years ago, that’s all it was, something from a history book, or grandma’s fond memories. Well, fast forward to 2017, and it makes more sense than many of us realize. Perhaps a way to travel and accomplish things other than just driving, maybe a way to save money, or simply transport people more efficiently.

Jim Lively, Program Director with the Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities, recently spoke to the Northern Michigan Counties Association about a feasibility study they are doing to look at the possibility of passenger rail service between Ann Arbor and Traverse City, known as A2TC. A total of $120,000 from both federal sources and communities along the route is funding the study.

Current passenger rail service is limited to Amtrak, which provides for travel between Port Huron and Chicago on the Bluewater Line, between Detroit and Chicago on the Wolverine Line, and between Grand Rapids and Chicago on the Pere Marquette Line. Other new projects under development include the M-1 rail along Woodward Ave. between downtown Detroit and the New Center area also known as QLINE, and the Washtenaw and Livingston Line between Ann Arbor and Howell, also known as Wally. There is also a study underway of a possible coast to coast rail link from Holland to Ann Arbor running through Grand Rapids, Lansing, and Howell.

The Groundwork study is looking at another possible route voted number 1 in a 2011 statewide rail planning process, Ann Arbor to Traverse City, with a possible spur to Petoskey. The track for this route is still in place, owned by the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), and leased and operated by the Great Lakes Central Railroad (GLC). Both MDOT and GLC support this passenger rail study. This rail is currently used for freight service. Lively shared that about 65% of it is capable of safely handling trains at 60 mph, and a daily passenger train could be added to the schedule without impacting the freight service.

In part two of this Michigan State University Extension article, we’ll learn more about the timing of the study and the potential benefits of rail travel in northern Michigan. To learn more about the Northern Michigan Counties Association, email John Amrhein at

Passenger rail service in northern Michigan being studied: Part two

by John Amrhein, Michigan State University Extension

Part one of this Michigan State University Extension article introduced a feasibility study of passenger rail in northern Michigan being conducted by the Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities and discussed current passenger rail service in Michigan. The potential value of such a service becomes clear as we review some of the points made by Program Director Jim Lively in a presentation to the Northern Michigan Counties Association.

The State of Michigan developed its first statewide rail plan in 2011. The executive summary provides an overview of the current status of rail service in Michigan, cites the benefits of rail in Michigan, and makes recommendations for moving the state forward.

Lively also pointed out that there are over 100,000 college students at 6 colleges along the A2TC corridor being studied. Great potential exists for student travel from home to college and between colleges on the A2TC route.

Significant economic development is also anticipated along the A2TC corridor. As of December 13, 2016, 17 local government bodies and business associations have signed on as supporters and are listed on the Groundwork Center’s website. The website also cites a 2009 study by Grand Valley State University that “found that Michigan cities with once-a-day train service boosted their downtown economies by up to $45 million each year.

Additional benefits of passenger rail service would include increased tourism, providing business travel options and attracting talent to the state.

Plans are to complete the study by fall of 2017, and to also do outreach and community engagement during 2017. The study will include analysis of track status, and cost estimates for needed improvements, analysis of station status and support infrastructure at proposed stops, estimates of service demand and potential revenue, funding and finance options, estimates of economic benefit to the communities along the route, and proposals for a management and operating structure and potential public/private partnerships to operate the line.

Excursion trains are being planned for summer and fall of 2018 to demonstrate the potential. Rail improvements and funding would likely be addressed in 2018 and beyond.

Phase two of the A2TC effort would bring further engineering study between 2018 and 2021 with weekend service beginning in 2012. Securing equipment would occur in phase 3 in 2022-2024 with regular passenger service beginning in 2025.

If you are interested in learning more, or keeping up to date on A2TC progress, check out the A2TC page on the Groundwork Center website. To learn more about the Northern Michigan Counties Association, email John Amrhein at

MARP meets Jan. 14, 2017 in Lansing

MARP Member Meeting
Saturday, January 14, 2017
10 a.m.- Noon

REO Town Depot (the 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 update us on the progress made in 2016 on the Wolverine corridor upgrade as well as what to expect in 2017 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 a 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, we will adjourn to a nearby eatery for our usual no host lunch. We always look forward to this opportunity to get better acquainted.

If you would like to carpool to the meeting, please reply to this email. We’ll try to match you up with others in your area.