Chicago Union Station plan could bring relief for Metra, Amtrak passengers

September 12, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: News 

From The Chicago Tribune:

The escalators to Canal Street at Union Station. (Zbigniew Bzdak, Chicago Tribune)

The escalators to Canal Street at Union Station. (Zbigniew Bzdak, Chicago Tribune)

For many of the 120,000 rail passengers who pass through each day, Union Station is either a mystifying maze of ramps and escalators, or a perplexing funnel that forces them to navigate perilously narrow platforms.

Commuting challenges include dodging water from leaky roofs and trying not to breathe diesel fumes too deeply.

Officials from the Chicago Department of Transportation, Amtrak, Metra and other agencies have been working since 2010 on a master plan to improve the station and make commuting easier.

In an update Wednesday, officials provided a glimpse of both short-term fixes, mainly better access to CTA buses, and proposals for long-term enhancements. Planners are studying ways to reconfigure the building last remodeled in 1992 by its owner, Amtrak, to accommodate more trains and passengers and improve the flow of foot traffic.

The station is like a “warren of obscure passageways with no natural light,” said Marc Magliari, Amtrak’s manager of media relations.

Jeffrey Sriver, planning director for the Chicago Department of Transportation, said work will be underway in 2015 on two projects that will produce an immediate benefit for commuters.

The first is the addition of dedicated lanes on Canal St. to improve access to CTA buses.

The second will be the construction of an off-street bus terminal on Jackson Blvd. between Canal and Clinton streets. to provide direct, weather-protected connections between the station and CTA buses while also relieving congestion on nearby streets.

Longer-term improvements include converting unused platforms so they can be used by commuters and Amtrak. Tracks would be realigned to accommodate wider platforms and new stairways so passengers can exit without using the concourse.

No major changes are planned for the historic Great Hall, which dates to 1925 and is the site of the iconic stairway scene in the 1987 movie “The Untouchables.”

Amtrak predicts growth in ridership, most immediately from additional trips serving Downstate and the Rockford-Quad Cities area, and from the development of high-speed rail, said Joe Shacter, director of public and intermodal transportation for the Illinois Department of Transportation.

David Kralik, Metra’s head of long-range planning, acknowledged the congestion caused by service disruptions, particularly involving BNSF trains that use the station’s south concourse. The BNSF is the busiest of Metra’s 11 lines.

BNSF commuters experienced another jam-packed evening rush hour Tuesday when signal problems forced Metra to cancel two trains. Crowds extended up the escalators and into the station’s food court level.

To ease the pressure, Metra has tried to encourage passengers to wait in the Great Hall during delays. “There’s just not enough space for everyone,” Kralik said.

As he caught a BNSF train Wednesday afternoon, longtime rider Mark O’Brien, 62, said any changes that would mean wider platforms and eased congestion in the concourse would be a welcome relief.

“When they have train delays, it’s actually dangerous in there,” O’Brien said.

Source: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/chi-union-station-improvements-20140910-story.html

Grand Rapids bets $40 million on state’s first bus rapid transit system

September 12, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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From The Grand Rapids Press:

Drivers prepare get on a new Silver Line bus during a training exercise in Grand Rapids Monday, Aug. 18, 2014. (Cory Morse | MLive.com)

Drivers prepare get on a new Silver Line bus during a training exercise in Grand Rapids Monday, Aug. 18, 2014. (Cory Morse | MLive.com)

From the second-floor of The Rapid’s headquarters in downtown Grand Rapids, Conrad Venema looks out at U.S. 131 cutting through the heart of the city.

The view offers a stark contrast of travel of old — mammoth concrete corridors designed for personal vehicles — against what transportation planners like Venema see as the future with shared rides that reduce potential gridlock and speed movement.

And just as highways helped spur the region’s growth for years, West Michigan leaders are confident this week’s launch of the $40 million Silver Line Bus Rapid Transit system — the first of its kind in Michigan — will play a central role in the next wave of economic, housing and transportation development.

The 9.6-mile line that connects the center city and the Medical Mile with its southern suburbs of Wyoming and Kentwood, supporters say, offers an efficient alternative by cutting a typical 45-minute drive to a 27-minute commute.

“We’ve designed this to attract the choice rider,” Venema said of people who can select their method of moving around the area. “We finally have a transportation mode that’s competing with the car.

“This is part of Grand Rapids growing up. It’s a bigger city, and it’s a bigger project.”

Some aren’t as optimistic and say the route isn’t nearly as transformational as advocates claim.

In fact, Jeff Steinport from the Kent County Taxpayer’s Alliance alleges the Silver Line is a spending boondoggle that duplicates public transportation routes already available through The Rapid’s traditional bus system. He also claims it is unlikely to speed traffic for those on the bus or for those still driving, particularly along Division Avenue, the main corridor of the line.

“A quarter of existing routes are faster…it’s not really that big of an improvement,” Steinport said.

The experiment starts Monday, Aug. 25, with a week’s worth of free rides to entice people to give the Silver Line a try, but the test of the system’s necessity and its ability will be over years, not months.

According to the National Transit Database, The Rapid’s passenger trips for 2012 climbed to 11.9 million, up from 10.8 million rides in 2011 and 9.7 million in 2010. Venema sees those numbers growing with Silver Line serving as an addition and complement to current service, but he admits some of those riders might choose to move within the system.

Steinport doubts Silver Line will make the splash its supporters claim.

The Rapid’s busiest Route 1 already serves Division, and ridership numbers rose by about 5 percent from September 2011 to 2012 then fell by the same amount the following year. It’s unrealistic, at best, a new bus along an existing route would add development,” Steinport said.

“It seems they’re reaching the point of saturation. You’re going to run into the limit where the route covers.”

Rapid officials insist the service eventually can serve at least 5,000 riders each weekday. According to the agency’s latest figures, April 2014 saw about 2,900 daily passengers on Route 1.

A FUTURE INVESTMENT

Grand Rapids’ system hopes to replicate the success the BRT has in Cleveland, which served as a model and stimulated about $5.8 billion in development since 2008. Officials are certain there will be growth because of the Silver Line, but they note the size of the boon in West Michigan remains uncertain.

“It’s a well-informed bet based off of other bus rapid transit systems across the country and the economic development that has spurred,” said Suzanne Schultz, Grand Rapids’ planning director, pointing to Cleveland’s Euclid Avenue Health Line.

“Cleveland now is a poster child…you have a high concentration of employment and education,” said Schultz, referencing similarities between the cities medical schools and hospitals. “It really serves as the anchor to draw people into the transit system.”

The Silver Line equates to roughly $3.5 million to $4 million per mile of investment, Venema said. Grand Rapids’ Downtown Market, Van Andel Arena, DeVos Place, Grand Rapids Community College and many more housing developments and eateries lie on the route’s northern end and the hope is that the growth spreads southward.

Jerry DeGood, vice president of the Division Avenue Business Association admits there’s more to be desired along the route outside a scattering of fast food restaurants, car lots and thrift stores. He knows the area well, having been an owner of a used car dealership on that stretch for more than 25 years.

He sees the Silver Line as a worthwhile gamble, a bet the community can afford to take.

“The perception is that they’ve done this in other communities, and the positives have outweighed the negatives,” DeGood said. “Businesses have gone up; property values went up; apartment and condos go under construction.

“History has shown in the majority of other BRT projects across the country, it’s worked. We’re just hoping it falls in line, here, and we have our turn at it.”

About $32 million sourced from the federal government — the largest piece of Silver Line funding — in October 2012 turned the project from concept in 2003 to reality more than a decade later.

That amount rests atop about $7.9 million from the state and $15.3 million generated annually from a May 2011 millage, with one-third helping to pay for Silver Line operational costs, including driver salaries and diesel fuel when the buses’ electric motors begin to switch over past 25 mph. That millage was passed by a slim 136-vote margin. At the time, critics complained the tax would be collected from property owners in six cities, but the Silver Line would pass through only three municipalities.

The Rapid CEO Peter Varga said the project’s $40 million total cost is roughly 10 percent under budget, though final calculations still are being determined.

GET THERE FROM HERE

The route begins at the system’s Central Station along Grandville Avenue, weaves its way through downtown’s main corridors of Monroe Avenue and Michigan Street before intersecting Fulton and Wealthy streets. The line will pass down Division Avenue and turn around at 60th Street.

A bus rapid transit service boils down the time of the trip when compared with a traditional bus system and allows riders to be productive while on the go, Venema said. The buses have technology that keeps traffic lights green, enabling the driver and passengers to cruise through intersections. Riders can use Wi-Fi capability — a function that won’t be immediately available due to a vendor snafu — while moving.

Imagine a commute, Varga says, without the worry of being caught in traffic or having to find a parking space. The trip gets faster when rush hour bus-only lanes take traditional traffic out of bus drivers’ sight. The right lanes in some portions of the route will be only for buses, which will stop at each station every 10 minutes. Riders can monitor the system with real-time arrival and departure times.

“When you start putting all these layers on top, that totally separates it from your regular bus,” Venema said. “That’s when you start having that competitive edge.”

A ride on the Silver Line will cost $1.50, the same as a regular bus trip, with options to buy passes for two weeks or a month at a time. Rather than paying a driver or at the central station, passengers will be on an honor system and able to pay for fares at kiosks resembling an ATM at any of the stops.

While the Rapid will have spot fare checks, leaders are confident most will pay. Research by Transit Cooperative Research Program that found nine out of 10 passengers pay when bus drivers aren’t collecting fares upon boarding.

And fare-jumping won’t be cheap with $65 fines for the first offense and higher penalties for additional offenses that quickly climb above $200.

There also are consequences for vehicle drivers who don’t follow the bus-only lane regulations, with a ticket costing a minimum of $110 and adding two points on an operator’s license.

THE FUTURE

The Silver Line, supporters say, is positioned to move people along its route and benefit the communities it serves, though only time will tell how successful it becomes.

While this project is Michigan’s first such BRT line, a 12-mile “Laker Line” between Grand Valley State University and downtown Grand Rapids on Lake Michigan Drive could be its second. Transit officials currently are conducting a $600,000 grant-funded study to determine how much the project would cost and what it ultimately might look like upon completion.

That project combined with the Silver Line could create additional opportunities for the region and help offset a potential traffic crunch, Schultz said.

“Given that Grand Rapids is a regional employer, we have about 50,000 people who are either employees or visitors within a square mile,” she said. “Having everyone drive their own vehicle is not going to be the answer if we’re going to have economic development.

“If we did not do some sort of improvement for transit, bikes and pedestrians, everything comes to a stop.”

Source: http://www.mlive.com/news/grand-rapids/index.ssf/2014/08/striking_gold_with_silver_line.html

More coverage in The Grand Rapids Press/M-Live.com:

http://topics.mlive.com/tag/silver-line/posts.html

September 2014 edition of On Track

September 11, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Newsletter 

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Amtrak Pere Marquette service to celebrate 30th anniversary on Sept. 16

September 11, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Announcements 

From an Michigan Department of Transportation press release:

The public is invited to celebrate 30 years of the Pere Marquette Amtrak service between Grand Rapids and Chicago, with stops in Holland, Bangor and St. Joseph/Benton Harbor. The Westrain coalition and Amtrak will promote the 30th anniversary event with a double-decker Superliner train, including a special “theater car” at the rear of the train for better viewing; an opportunity to win free round-trip tickets at stations; and commemorative gift bags and refreshments. The event is sponsored by the Westrain coalition, Amtrak and the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), which provides state support for the route.

Approximately one-half hour prior to regularly scheduled train departure, 30th anniversary ceremonies at each city are slated to include local mayors and other city leaders, as well as MDOT and Amtrak officials.

To commemorate the occasion, tickets will be discounted 30 percent for the month of September for all stops on the Pere Marquette route. Go to www.amtrak.com for ticket details.

WHEN:
Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014
Grand Rapids: 7:00 a.m. event (7:40 a.m. departure)
Holland: 7:50 a.m. event (8:26 a.m. departure)
Bangor: 8:30 a.m. event (9:07 a.m. departure)
St. Joseph/Benton Harbor: 9:10 a.m. event (9:44 a.m. departure)

WHERE:
Grand Rapids Amtrak Station
431 Wealthy St., SW
Grand Rapids

Holland Amtrak Station
1717 Lincoln Ave.
Holland

Bangor Amtrak Station
541 Railroad St.
Bangor

St. Joseph/Benton Harbor Amtrak Station
410 1/2 Vine St.
St. Joseph

BACKGROUND:
The Pere Marquette serves Grand Rapids, Holland, Bangor, and St. Joseph/Benton Harbor, with daily passenger service to and from Chicago. This is one of three state-sponsored routes. Michigan is among 15 states, including Illinois, Missouri and Wisconsin, that sponsors Amtrak for services. Improvements to the service include free Wi-Fi service added last year and a new station location scheduled to open in Grand Rapids next month.

Since 2006, annual ridership has been steady at more than 100,000 each year. Currently, ridership is expected to be about 3 percent below last year’s total of 104,491 due to the recent harsh winter and steady-to-lower gas prices.

Westrain coalition members include the Grand Valley Metropolitan Council, Macatawa Area Coordinating Council, the city of Bangor, Cornerstone Chamber of Commerce, and the Southwest Michigan Planning Commission, and are supported by the Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers.

Algoma Central, CN seek passenger service operators

September 11, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: News 

From Railway Age:

algomacentralsThe Algoma Central Railway Passenger Service Working Group is seeking a contract operator for ACR’s passenger service between Sault Ste. Marie and Hearst, Ontario, and has issued a request for Expressions of Interest (EOI). The purpose of this non-binding invitation is to pre-qualify companies to participate in an upcoming Request for Proposal (RFP) process that will identify one or more parties to be part of a stakeholder plan to have a third party operate the service.

The Sault Ste. Marie Economic Development Corp., on behalf of the ACR Passenger Service Working Group, issued the EOI on Sept. 3 with the endorsement of CN, which owns the rail line and Algoma Central Railway Inc. Proponents have until September 19 to make submissions. The EOI is available online at www.algomapassengerrail.com.

“Stakeholders, through their own efforts, were successful in working with CN and the Canadian federal government to keep the ACR passenger line operating in the short term, and we’re now focusing on long-term solutions,” said Working Group member Tom Dodds, CEO of the Sault Ste. Marie Economic Development Corp. “If there are any rail companies or other parties that are interested in operating the ACR passenger service, we’d like to hear from them. We encourage everyone to get the message out about this unique passenger service opportunity.”

In parallel, CN issued a separate EOI related to its Agawa Canyon Train Tour. The company is seeking a qualified third-party operator to run the regional tourist attraction. CN said its core business is running a freight railway, and it believes “a qualified third-party operator could capitalize on opportunities to grow the tour train service, leverage back office functions, and market the product effectively.” To receive the CN Agawa Canyon Tour Train EOI, contact CN Director of Passenger Services Terry O’Brien 514-399-6673 or CN Director of Corporate Development Fady Mansour at 514-399-4840.

The two EOIs are separate undertakings, though parties may consider submitting an EOI to both.

“This is a critical step in our efforts as key stakeholders to secure the future of the ACR passenger service,” said Working Group member Sylvie Fontaine, Executive Director of the Hearst Economic Development Corporation. “Stakeholders represent a broad range of people, tourists, businesses, communities, and First Nations who depend on the passenger service. There are significant opportunities to increase ridership and revenues while, at the same time, reducing costs. As a group of well-organized stakeholders who represent interests along the railway and throughout the region, we are keen on working with a private, third-party operator to enable it and the passenger service to be successful.”

The ACR Passenger Service Working Group, which represents a larger committee of interested stakeholders, consists of individuals from the City of Sault Ste. Marie (its CAO chairs the Working Group), Sault Ste. Marie Economic Development Corporation, Municipality of Wawa, Town of Hearst, area First Nations, Township of Dubreuilville, Tourism Sault Ste. Marie (representing local tourism operators), Algoma Kinniwabi Travel Association (representing regional tourism operators), Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains (CAPT), and land and cottage owners serviced by the ACR passenger line.

“This is another opportunity for First Nations in our area to work with our neighbors, fellow stakeholders, other governments and the private sector to develop a successful outcome for the mutual benefit of the region, province and country,” said Working Group member Jason Gauthier, Chief of the Missanabie Cree First Nation, which is part of the Northeast Superior Regional Chiefs’ Forum. “We see a number of opportunities to support the sustainability and growth of this important passenger rail service. The Northeast Superior Regional Chiefs Forum is pleased to be a partner in this initiative.”

Source: http://www.railwayage.com/index.php/news/algoma-central-cn-seek-passenger-service-operators.html?channel=00

Amtrak extends modified schedule through September

September 4, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Announcements, FYI, News 

Amtrak will continue to operate trains on a modified schedule for the Wolverine Service and Blue Water routes through the end of September as it completes infrastructure  improvements in West Michigan. The track and signal work will result in improved reliability, a smoother ride and the future extension of 110 mph Amtrak service between Battle Creek and
Kalamazoo.

The modified schedules first announced in the spring primarily affect the westbound schedule of  Train 365, the Blue Water, from Port Huron to Chicago, via East Lansing. Wolverine Service customers between West Michigan and Chicago will continue to benefit from an additional eastbound trip on Sundays and an additional westbound trip on Mondays during the period ending Sept. 30.

Please see the attached Amtrak Passenger Service Notice for details and other significant schedule  modifications.

These temporary schedules also allow Norfolk Southern Railway (NS) a greater opportunity to  continue their work to reduce freight train congestion that has been interfering with Amtrak trains in Northern Indiana. Both Amtrak and the Michigan Department of Transportation have asked NS to take action to improve the daily dispatching of ten state- sponsored Amtrak trains — and four more
Amtrak national network services — on NS tracks between Chicago and Porter, Ind.

Normal Wolverine Service and Blue Water schedules in Michigan are effective on Oct. 1.

The Amtrak Pere Marquette train schedules to and from Grand Rapids are unchanged.

CLICK TO ENLARGE SCHEDULE

CLICK TO ENLARGE SCHEDULE

Car stuck on tracks is cut in half by Amtrak train near Kalamazoo

September 3, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: News 

From The Kalamazoo Gazette:

carcutinhalf1Two individuals escaped injury on Aug. 28, 2014 in Oshtemo Township after their car was cut in half by a westbound Amtrak train.

At approximately 10 p.m., a Chevrolet Monte Carlo heading north on 4th Street near Stadium Drive became lodged on railroad tracks at a crossing closed for maintenance after the driver proceeded around closure barriers on the street, Deputy Ron Kelly from the Kalamazoo County Sheriff’s Department said.

“They tried to make a short cut over the railroad tracks,” he said. “The car got stuck on the tracks and then the train hit it.”

After getting out of their stuck vehicle, the two individuals watched as a westbound Amtrak train headed for Chicago carrying 188 passengers and traveling at approximately 60 miles per hour sliced their car in half, Kelly said.

carcutinhalf2The train was stopped a short distance from the crossing but later continued toward Chicago.

In addition to facing misdemeanor charges, the driver of the vehicle will also be liable for costs associated with damage to the Amtrak train, Kelly said.

“They’re going to have to pay for brake damage to the train,” he said.

Source: http://www.mlive.com/news/kalamazoo/index.ssf/2014/08/car_cut_in_half_after_driver_a.html

Capitol Limited in Jackson

September 3, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: FYI 

Amtrak’s Capitol Limited #29 charges west, passing the Michigan Central Station in Jackson, Michigan because it was rerouted from its normal route on Sept. 1, 2014. It was the station’s 141st birthday, making it the oldest, continuously operated passenger rail station in America. Wouldn’t it be nice if the Capitol Limited had regular service with stops through southern Michigan?

MiTrain promotional video

August 20, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: FYI 

Here’s a link to a video promoting MiTrain, rail cars for a proposed commuter train service between Ann Arbor and Howell. The proposal is also know as the Washtenaw and Livingston Line or WALLY.

Troy Transit Center opening back on track after judge’s ruling

August 16, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: News 

From the Detroit Free Press:

Photo by Larry Sobczak

Photo by Larry Sobczak

Officials in Troy were optimistic today that the city’s controversial Multi-Modal Transit Center would finally be able to open now that a judge has granted the city the title for the land.

Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Leo Bowman’s order transferring the title is contingent upon the city paying the owner of the land — developer Gary Sakwa and his Farmington Hills company Grand/Sakwa Properties — $1.05 million for the 2.7-acre parcel.

Though the land owners are expected to challenge the purchase price, that shouldn’t stop the center from opening soon.

“The transit center can open even though the purchase has not been complete,” said Lori Bluhm, Troy city attorney. “The critical step is to have the title, which we now have. We’re optimistic we’re going to be able to get the transit center open as soon as possible.”

The $6.4-million transit center, at the southwest corner of Maple and Coolidge on the city’s border with Birmingham, was finished last fall. But Amtrak train passengers have continued using a bus shelter on the Birmingham side of the tracks because Amtrak officials would not allow the center to open before the city attained the title.

City officials have claimed since 2000 that Troy owned the land. But last May, an appeals court unanimously ruled the city did not abide by a court agreement signed in June 2000 that let Grand/Sakwa Properties build a $100-million shopping and condo complex while giving Troy exactly 10 years to fund its transit project. Troy missed its deadline, the court ruled.

Now, the city can proceed with the next step, Bluhm said, and finalize a lease agreement with Amtrak officials. The transit center is expected to serve as a regional base of rail-transit customers arriving by car, SMART bus, taxi and bicycle. It was endorsed by Gov. Rick Snyder and Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson.

“Obviously we’re feeling pretty good,” Troy Mayor Dane Slater said. “I think we’re looking at it from a positive standpoint and a necessary step we need to take to get it open.”

The facility was made possible through federal grant money administered by the Michigan Department of Transportation.

While the center may soon opening, the legal battles may go on.

In addition to compensation for the land, Grand/Sakwa Properties has sought money to cover the shopping center’s anticipated costs of wear by transit riders on the access drives through the center’s property, use of its parking spaces by travelers and the added need for security.

Sakwa said today’s ruling is a small part of the process.

“It’s not even close to over,” he said. “This is the very beginning. This is far from the end.

“They can get it open, but they still have to pay for it.”

Sakwa’s attorney, Allen Green, said they did not challenge the condemnation action, which allowed the city to get the title for the property. They are challenging the $1.05-million price tag.

“We don’t think it’s fair market value,” he said.

“There have been a lot of different moving pieces to this project,” said Bluhm. “We’re anxious to have this part of it resolved and moving forward.”

The project has invited its share of controversy. It was strongly opposed by former Mayor Janice Daniels. She maintained that it was wrong for a community to accept money “from a federal government that is trillions of dollars in debt” and that it was unneeded in an auto-centric town.

Daniels was recalled in 2012 in part — according to recall language on city ballots — because of her opposition to the project.

Source: http://www.freep.com/article/20140815/NEWS03/308150194/troy-transit-center-michigan

Demolition underway for new East Lansing Amtrak station

August 13, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: News 

From the Lansing State Journal:

Work taking down buildings on the site of the site of the renovation of the East Lansing Amtrak train station Tuesday August 12, 2014 . (Rod Sanford | Lansing State Journal)

Work taking down buildings on the site of the site of the renovation of the East Lansing Amtrak train station Tuesday August 12, 2014 . (Rod Sanford | Lansing State Journal)

Demolition of the old Michigan State University Surplus Store and Printing Services buildings has begun, the first step in a remodel of the East Lansing Amtrak station that will create a new Capital Area Multi-Modal Station.

The demolition launches construction of a multimillion-dollar project that will create a Capital Area Transportation Authority-run hub for Amtrak trains and Greyhound, Megabus and Indian Trails buses. The project, which will replace the 40-year-old train station near Harrison and Trowbridge roads, is expected to wrap up by next summer.

The Amtrak station will remain open during construction, CATA said in a news release, though parking will be limited.

The project is funded by a $6.3 million U.S. Department of Transportation grant, plus $500,000 from the Michigan Department of Transportation. MSU owns the site and leases it to CATA to manage the station.

CATA awarded a contract for the project to Holt-based Laux Construction earlier this summer.

Source: http://www.lansingstatejournal.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/201408121815/NEWS01/308120035&nclick_check=1

MLUI report examines potential for rail in Traverse City

August 12, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: News 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA new report by the Michigan Land Use Institute describes the potential for running a train on an 11-mile stretch of railroad tracks between Traverse City and Williamsburg, Michigan.

Getting Back on Track: Uncovering the Potential for Trains in Traverse City describes how rail travel could boost tourism and development in the area; the upgrades needed to run passenger trains along the tracks; and how comparable towns around the country restored old train lines.

“It’s a low-cost way to add capacity to our existing transportation network while supporting development along the track at the same time,” said James Bruckbauer, MLUI transportation policy specialist and author of the report.

Some key findings from the report:

·      The estimated cost to improve the tracks—less than $2 million—is modest when compared to the $9 million cost to reconstruct just 1.5 miles of U.S.-31.

·      While year-round daily commuter trains might be too expensive for now, a seasonal tourist-shuttle could be a low-cost, achievable first step.

·      A Traverse City train could spur interest in reviving the rest of the line, which connects Traverse City to the southern part of state.

The National Association of REALTORS® and the Traverse Area Association of REALTORS® provided funding for the report.

“We’ve got plenty of evidence that rail projects can have a very positive impact on neighborhood development,” said Kim Pontius, Executive Director of the Traverse Area Association of REALTORS® “In our region the Grand Vision identified that we need to think of transportation solutions other than the automobile. This project, if realized, may prove to be a great way to test the thesis.”

MLUI will present the report at the Traverse Area District Library on Saturday, July 19, at 11 a.m. during a monthly meeting of the Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers. MLUI will also present the findings at community events in the coming months.

To read the full report, check out www.mlui.org/backontrack

August 2014 edition of On Track

August 10, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Newsletter 

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ALL ABOARD! MARP’s 41st annual meeting is Sept. 13, 2014

August 9, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Announcements, Meetings 

allaboardguyMichigan Association of Railroad Passengers
41st Annual Meeting
Saturday, September 13, 2014
10:30 am – 2:30 pm
Durand Union Station
200 Railroad Street, Durand MI 48429
(former Grand Trunk Western and Ann Arbor RR Depot)

Keynote Speaker
Thomas C. Carper
Member, Amtrak Board of Directors

Other invited speakers will discuss Detroit’s M-1 Rail Project, prospects for expansion of Michigan passenger train service, and regulatory issues affecting rail.

Registration forms will be mailed to members in August.
The public is welcome to attend.

Lunch will be served to preregistered attendees.

Questions? Email marprail@yahoo.com or leave a message at 269-388-3777

Click on the registration form below for a printable version to mail to MARP.

annualmeeting41

Ride the “WALLY” cars at the Howell Melon Festival Aug. 15-17

August 6, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Announcements, FYI 

Visitors to the Howell Melon Festival Aug. 15-17 will have the opportunity to see and to ride the bi-level “Mi-Train” passenger cars that could either be used for commuter service between Ann Arbor and Howell (known as the WALLY line) or Ann Arbor to Detroit.

The cars will be available for free public tours on Friday, Aug. 15 after 4 p.m.

Hour-long rides will be given on the cars from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 16 and Sunday, Aug. 17. The cost is $20 per adult and $15 per child.

Motive power for the train rides is provided by the Steam Railroading Institute and the Great Lakes Central Railroad.

The rides are given at the Howell Historic Train Museum at 128 Wetmore St, Howell, MI 48843.

 

 

 

 

 

 

MelonFest2014

M-1 Rail releases specifics on Detroit streetcar construction

July 17, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: News 

From Progressive Railroading:

Here's an artist's rendition of the proposed streetcar line on Woodward Avenue in Detroit. (From M-! Rail.)

Here’s an artist’s rendition of the proposed streetcar line on Woodward Avenue in Detroit.
(From M-! Rail.)

M-1 Rail officials yesterday unveiled details of their construction plans for the Detroit streetcar project, which is set to begin on July 28.

Construction activities, poised to start between Adams Street and Campus Martius, will include the closure of Woodward Avenue for the next 120 days, officials said in a press release. Work will include concrete removal, drainage and track installation, repaving and utility relocation.

“Our goal is to ensure construction activities are completed safely and expeditiously with as little disruption as possible to businesses, residents and visitors,” said M-1 Rail Chief Operating Officer Paul Childs.

M-1 Rail external relations team members will distribute “Streetcar Construction Overview” during regular project update meetings with business and community members. Additional information is available on the streetcar website.

Expected to be completed in 2016, the streetcar will travel north-south on both sides of Woodward Avenue for 3.3 miles between Larned Street and West Grand Boulevard.

Source: http://www.progressiverailroading.com/passenger_rail/news/M1-Rail-releases-specifics-on-Detroit-streetcar-construction–41100

Latest delay bogs Grand Rapids’ new Amtrak station’s opening

July 17, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: News 

From The Grand Rapids Press:

-bafbf27417892a3cThe city’s largely completed Amtrak station named after a former West Michigan congressman now isn’t expected to open for passengers until early fall.

Officials blame an underground sewer line below Buchanan Avenue SW for the latest holdup. The Vernon J. Ehlers Amtrak Station already has suffered more than a year of delays since its ceremonial groundbreaking in 2011, and this most recent setback pushes the station’s opening to the end of September, officials say.

The station originally was to open in 2013, then spring or summer 2014.

Rapid spokeswoman Jennifer Kalczuk explained the sewer line running underneath the street and existing railroad has to be relocated before CSX Corp. can connect its tracks to the station.

“(CSX) can’t finish their portion until the sewer is moved,” Kalczuk said.

It appears, though, city officials knew about a problem with this line in mid-2012. An analysis of the sewer determined the system would not be strong enough to withstand the weight of a new rail spur atop it, and the city shored up funding for a sewer improvement and street reconstruction project on Buchanan and its immediate area.

Brandy Moeller, a manager with the Grand Rapids City Engineer’s office, said all associated costs of the project are not to exceed $826,000. After “administrative delays,” the project finally is set to begin in mid-August and end no more than six weeks later — two years after it was approved by city commissioners.

Discussions between the Michigan Department of Transportation and CSX Corp. involving track switching and signaling eventually were resolved in May 2013, with construction of the passenger terminal beginning the following month.

“As I understand it, we are doing our work in coordination with Amtrak’s completion items from (its construction) contract,” Moeller said.

Kalczuk said the station’s project cost remains at about $5.2 million but The Rapid can spend up to $5.8 million, according to guidelines set by the Interurban Transit Partnership, which owns The Rapid.

Amtrak’s Pere Marquette route currently serves passengers to and from Grand Rapids and Chicago, with three stops, once a day. The new station could allow an additional daily trip between the two cities upon completion.

West Michigan leaders recently expressed optimism that, one day, a train could run between Holland and Detroit.

Source: http://www.mlive.com/news/grand-rapids/index.ssf/2014/07/all_aboard_latest_delay_bogs_g.html#incart_m-rpt-2

July 2014 edition of On Track

July 8, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Newsletter 

Click here to save this file or to view it as a PDF in full screen.

We hope you enjoy the issue and that you will let us hear your comments and suggestions. If you would like to write a story or suggest an item to be covered, email us at marprail@yahoo.com

For those without a PDF reader, click on the images below to view them full screen.

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July 19, 2014 MARP meeting in Traverse City includes a special announcement

July 6, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Announcements, Meetings 

MARP MEMBER MEETING
Sat., July 19, 2014
10:a.m. – 1 p.m.

Traverse Area District Library
610 Woodmere Avenue
Traverse City MI 49686

Map & Directions

This joint meeting with the Michigan Land Use Institute will feature a roll-out of “Getting Back on Track: Uncovering the Potential for Trains in Traverse City”, a report analyzing the potential for restarting rail travel along an 11-mile stretch of track between Traverse City and Acme/Williamsburg. The report was authored by James Bruckbauer, MLUI transportation specialist, with the generous support of The National Association of Realtors and other local sponsors.

MARP will hold a brief business meeting starting promptly at 10:00 a.m.  James will give a formal presentation of his report “Getting Back on Track” at 11:00 a.m. Following the presentation, we will have the opportunity for further discussion over lunch (no host) at The Filling Station Microbrewery which occupies the former Pere Marquette Depot, 642 Railroad Place, just a few steps north of the Library.

We hope you have made plans to bring the family/friends and make a weekend of it. If you have not already reserved your lodging, you may have to look for something in the Cadillac area or another location along the way.

Our friends at MLUI have sent these suggestions:
The Park Place is the historic downtown hotel
Sleep Inn and Suites in Acme is very supportive of the rail project
Boarders Inn and Suites
Econo Lodge is modestly priced, but entirely acceptable

If you are into camping, you might enjoy spending an evening at the Dulcimer Funfest on the Osceola County Fairgrounds in Evart MI on July 17-20. The annual festival is sponsored by the Original Dulcimer Players Club, aka O.D.P.C., which bills itself as the largest and oldest hammered dulcimer club in the world. Visit the Osceola County Fairgrounds website for information about camping on site.

For the railroad historians among us, a “must see” stop as you pass through the Cadillac area, is the After 26 Depot Cafe & Gifts. Housed in the former Ann Arbor Railroad Depot at 127 West Cass Street in Cadillac, the After 26 Project recently celebrated its first anniversary in the refurbished depot. Dedicated to employing adults with developmental disabilities and cognitive impairments, the project has enjoyed huge success in its first year of operation. Live piano music is featured on Friday evenings and for Sunday brunch. Stop by on Friday or Saturday for dinner on your way to or from Traverse City. The cafe is also open for breakfast and lunch seven days a week. Visit the Facebook page for a sampling of the enthusiastic response this project is getting.

M-1 Rail construction to start July 28

July 3, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Uncategorized 

From the Detroit Free Press:

m1constructionmapDowntown business owners and commuters are in for a four-month adjustment to their routines once construction begins late next month on M-1 Rail, the 3.3-mile streetcar line that will stretch from downtown to New Center.

M-1 officials announced that construction will begin on July 28, 2014 and will require the closure of Woodward between Adams Street and Campus Martius for about 120 days. Crews will be reconstructing the roadway and laying rail for the streetcar line.

It will mean detours for commuters who take Woodward north, but will also likely mean less foot traffic along that segment of Woodward, where pop-up shops, party stores, retailers, apartments, lofts, restaurants and bars have gone up in renovated buildings in anticipation of downtown’s rebirth between Campus Martius and Midtown.

Several downtown business operators were keeping the long view in mind Friday, saying that while they know the shutdown will hurt for a bit, what’s more important is the specter of a revived downtown served by streetcars that attract more visitors and business redevelopment.

Stan Nelson, owner of Red Rose Florist at 1425 Woodward, said it’s been a struggle to make a go of it since he opened his shop downtown a decade ago in a storefront on Washington Boulevard. He moved to Woodward five years ago and said he’s looking forward to a wave of growth once the streetcars are running.

“The M-1 Rail can only help,” he said Friday afternoon at the flower shop. “This is an exciting time. But it’s been a struggle. It’s just good to see that things are steadily growing, and we’re glad we had the vision to be a part of it.”

He said the store already does marketing through churches and other organizations to let potential customers know about services there because foot traffic on Woodward isn’t sufficient now to keep the store going. The shop has also focused more on online sales.

Cross streets such as Grand River and Clifford will remain open as much as possible, expect when crews have to build roadway or lay tracks and the like, M-1 organizers said. Sidewalks along Woodward will remain open throughout.

M-1 organizers said detours will follow parallel downtown streets such as Washington Boulevard to the west and John R to the east. Many city and suburban bus detours around the project also will follow Washington, putting the routes a bit closer to the Rosa Parks Transit Center, the downtown bus hub. DDOT already has changed its routes by removing bus stops that once were on Woodward between Adams and Campus Martius.

The $140-million rail line is scheduled to be up and running by late 2016, with 16 curbside stops and four in medians on the route between Congress and West Grand Boulevard in the area anchored by the old General Motors headquarters and the Fisher Building. It’s being funded largely with corporate and philanthropic donations, although the federal government has granted some money to the project.

The work will be the most visible sign of progress yet for a project that backers say will help lay the groundwork for future investment in mass transit in metro Detroit and spur redevelopment along Woodward. The project has been hampered by scheduling delays and, most recently, a $12 million funding shortfall that M-1 says it will not let delay construction.

“Over the next thirty days our team will be pounding the pavement to make everyone who lives, works and visits the Woodward corridor aware of what they should expect from track construction and how to navigate around it once we begin on July 28,” Paul Childs, M-1 Rail’s chief operating officer, said in a statement. “We are moving quickly to provide information and resources to businesses and residents along the corridor. There will be a business support program that we will introduce in the coming weeks along with more details about construction activities and timelines as they are finalized.”

That will include two upcoming public meetings with businesses and others impacted by the construction: July 1 for Midtown companies at the Max M. Fisher Music Theater, 3711 Woodward, 8–9:30 a.m; and for the Central Business District at The Madison, 1555 Broadway , 6–8 p.m. July 2.

At D:Hive, a Woodward storefront that offers a downtown welcome center, resources for visitors and assistance to those looking to start businesses in the city, Jeanette Pierce said she’s hoping that the shutdown will have a side effect of getting people to take note of other parts of downtown they may not see if they stick to Woodward most of the time.

“Sure, it’s going to be inconvenient, but I think that the staff at M-1 has done a great job of reaching out,” said Pierce, D:Hive’s director of community relations, crediting M-1 with working for more than a year to prepare businesses along and near Woodward for the construction project.

Pierce said many businesses along that segment of Woodward are focusing on the long-term positive effect of expanded mass transit making it easier to get around two areas of the city rebounding after decades of disinvestment.

“With any construction project, whether it’s road repair or something like this, it is slightly annoying, but it’s exciting,” she said. “At D:Hive, we’re going to be working on encouraging people to explore the detour and visit businesses. … I think this might actually give people an opportunity to get out of their car and walk a little bit, and when you walk you notice a lot more stuff, and actually fall more in love with the city.”

More information on M-1 and its construction schedule is available at 800-511-3931, M-1 Rail’s Facebook and Twitter accounts and at M-1 Rail’s office at 1426 Woodward, Monday–Friday, 9 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Source: http://www.freep.com/article/20140627/NEWS01/306270105/Detroit-M-1-light-rail-Woodward

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