MiTrain promotional video

August 20, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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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
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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.


Demolition underway for new East Lansing Amtrak station

August 13, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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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.


MLUI report examines potential for rail in Traverse City

August 12, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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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

August 2014 edition of On Track

August 10, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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ALL ABOARD! MARP’s 41st annual meeting is Sept. 13, 2014

August 9, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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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 or leave a message at 269-388-3777

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


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.








M-1 Rail releases specifics on Detroit streetcar construction

July 17, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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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.


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

July 17, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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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.


July 2014 edition of On Track

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

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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 

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
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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.


Wayne County panel OKs $3 million for M-1 Rail

July 2, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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From the Detroit Free Press:

The M-1 RAIL Streetcars will be ADA compliant, have Wi-Fi and storage space for bicycles. The rendering is an example of what the streetcars could look like in Detroit once the system is operating in 2016. M-1 RAIL officials are checking out streetcars among the manufacturers who submitted proposals. . / M-1 Rail

The M-1 RAIL Streetcars will be ADA compliant, have Wi-Fi and storage space for bicycles. The rendering is an example of what the streetcars could look like in Detroit once the system is operating in 2016. M-1 RAIL officials are checking out streetcars among the manufacturers who submitted proposals. . / M-1 Rail

A committee of Wayne County Commissioners approved $3 million in funding for the M-1 Rail project June 3, as construction of the $160-million project should begin within the next 60 days.

The funding, approved by the committee of the whole on a 10-5 vote and set to go before the full commission this week, will be split into $1.5 million coming during the current fiscal year, and $1.5 million during the 2015 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. County officials say the money has been earmarked for improvements to Woodward Avenue, where the rail system will run.

“We want it to be the foundation of a regional system,” said Matt Cullen, M-1 Rail’s CEO and president of Rock Ventures. “It’s going to be transformational.”

Project officials gave a little more insight on the specifics of the project today. The line will run on Woodward from downtown to New Center and will have six cars that will hold up to 100 people per car. During peak times, riders should be waiting only about seven to nine minutes for a car, said Sommer Woods, the director of external relations for M-1 Rail.

Officials expect ridership of about 6,000 daily; riders will be able to connect to DDOT and SMART buses, as well as the People Mover and the Amtrak station, which brings people to the city from throughout the region.

Some commissioners had trouble funding the county’s portion of the cost, saying conversations with constituents about road conditions show there are other more pressing transportation problems those dollars could help alleviate.

“They’re constantly being told there’s no money to fix our roads,” said Commissioner Shannon Price, R-Canton. “At the same time, you’re asking us for $3 million to fix a state road.”

Commissioner Martha Scott, D-Detroit, agreed, and said her district is rife with potholes that have not gotten any attention from county workers.

“I can’t support (funding M-1 Rail) … unless you guys get my roads fixed, too,” she said.

Commissioner Diane Webb, D-Dearborn Heights, said she’s received comments from her constituents about deplorable road conditions, but also sees the benefit of funding the M-1 Rail project.

“I think we have a responsibility to the greater good,” she said, adding that one year she would like to see the county address fixingthe worst roads in the townships, including Redford Township, which she represents. “This is going to be a great project for the region,” she said of the rail project.


3 sites under consideration for new Amtrak train station in Ann Arbor

July 1, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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From The Ann Arbor News:

The list of sites being considered for a new Amtrak train station in Ann Arbor has been narrowed from eight to three.

The three locations awaiting further review now include a stretch of track along North Main Street next to Argo Pond, the existing Amtrak site on Depot Street, and a parking lot on Fuller Road in front of the University of Michigan Hospital.

The sites were ranked based on the level of access they provide to downtown and other major activity centers such as the U-M Hospital and Central Campus, and the potential for connecting with other forms of public transit such as Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority and U-M buses, and Greyhound.

The project team also took into consideration environmental impacts, accessibility from existing roadways, and whether there’s enough land for station facilities.

With those being the key considerations, the Fuller Road site ranked highest with a score of 8 on a scale from -10 to 10.

The Depot Street site had a score of 6, and the North Main site had a score of zero. All other sites had negative scores.

The city has hired consultant URS Corp. for $824,875 to lead the so-called Ann Arbor Station Environmental Review.

Robert Gorski, project manager from URS Corp., said during a public meeting Tuesday night the study is now entering Phase 2, which will include much more detailed analysis of the three sites, as well as conceptual designs. A final recommendation for a specific site, including a conceptual design, is expected by the end of this year.

The project team found that the North Main site is relatively close to downtown, but a station there would require displacement of some local businesses. And while Main Street is a major roadway, the only access to the tracks is Lakeshore Drive, a private road. There has been some talk of redeveloping the North Main corridor.

“There was a lot of discussion about the opportunity to redevelop this area,” Gorski told residents who attended Tuesday night’s meeting.

The existing Amtrak site on Depot Street also is close to downtown and key activity centers, but it might pose challenges in terms of available space, access to key features, and environmental impacts, the project team found.

It has been noted the area is flood-prone and parking is constrained, though the 14-acre former MichCon site next door remains vacant.

The project team found the Fuller Road site near the U-M Hospital is well positioned in the center of the community, but it has potential environmental concerns related to parks and open space impacts since it’s part of Fuller Park. Gorski said there also are some concerns about the topography, but it’s worth looking at it in greater detail.

The City Council voted unanimously in October to proceed with the current phase of work. A little less than $165,000 is coming from funds the city previously budgeted, with the rest covered by a federal rail grant the city accepted in 2012.

The $2.8 million federal rail planning grant also is expected to cover some additional future expenses if the project moves forward.

Final design of a new Amtrak station is identified as a $2.6 million expense in 2015-16 in the city’s Capital Improvement Plan. Construction of the new station is shown as a separate $44.5 million line item that same year.

Mayor John Hieftje has said he expects 80 percent of the funding to come from the federal government with other local partners potentially contributing funds. Ann Arbor residents get to vote on the project before any construction happens.

At the meeting Tuesday night, the city’s consultants talked about train ridership in Ann Arbor, noting there were roughly 155,000 boardings and deboardings at the Ann Arbor station last year, up about 70 percent from 2003.

According to projections shown at the meeting, that could increase to 969,000 by 2035-2040 if the three daily roundtrips are increased to 10 daily roundtrips. There also are projections showing 516,000 boardings and deboardings from future commuter rail service, potentially pushing total annual ridership up to 1.5 million.

The plan is to design a station with the capacity to handle growing ridership, plus allow dedicated space for buses to pick up and drop off passengers. There also are talks of including secure bicycle parking and maybe even a restaurant.



Group unveils design for new Ann Arbor train station on stilts above tracks

July 1, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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From The Ann Arbor News:

Depot_site_062414_RJS_03.jpg One of the renderings unveiled by Protect A2 Parks during a public meeting Tuesday night. It shows a new train station on stilts above the tracks along Depot Street.

One of the renderings unveiled by Protect A2 Parks during a public meeting. It shows a new train station on stilts above the tracks along Depot Street.

A conceptual design has emerged showing what a new Amtrak station could look like on stilts above the train tracks along Depot Street in Ann Arbor — on the same site as the existing station the city is considering replacing.

A citizens group called Protect A2 Parks, which has been lobbying against building a train station on city parkland on Fuller Road, unveiled a series of renderings during the public commentary portion of a meeting to discuss the project.

Ann Arbor resident Rita Mitchell, a member of Protect A2 Parks, presented the group’s drawings, identifying Mike Forgacs as the architect. The Sierra Club of Huron Valley has endorsed the group’s vision.

“Our goal really is to make sure that we use parks for parks,” Mitchell said, noting her group is opposed to building a train station on any city parkland.

“We want people to use transit, so we’re doing this in support of transit and trains, but we also want to use our parks as parks,” she reiterated.

As city officials have discussed the possibility of building a new Amtrak station for the last five years, a site on Fuller Road in front of the University of Michigan Hospital has been a continual front-runner. If the station goes there, it would take the place of what’s been a surface parking lot leased to the University of Michigan since 1993, though it’s also part of the city’s Fuller Park, and that’s caused some controversy.

“The place that looks like a parking lot right now — and is functioning as a parking lot — was one of the original parks in Ann Arbor,” Mitchell said. “It was actually also some original farmland in Ann Arbor, and it could be repurposed back to park use. You could expand the soccer fields right there. So we see that as a better option.”

City officials didn’t have a formal response to the group’s idea Tuesday night, but all comments that were made are being included in the public record and will be taken into consideration as the city and its consultants continue to evaluate possible sites.

“That is an idea, like many of the great ideas we heard tonight, that we will take with us as we move forward,” said city spokesman Robert Kellar.

In the coming months, the city and its consultants are planning to do further review of the Depot Street site, the Fuller Road site and another site on North Main street.

The conceptual design from Protect A2 Parks includes a new parking lot that also sits on stilts. Mitchell said it’s possible that a portion of the adjacent MichCon site could be purchased from DTE Energy if more land is needed for parking.

She said the renderings aren’t intended to be a fully fleshed-out plan, but rather a rough idea of what might be possible.

“The concept really is to go up and use the footprint that you can, and address some of the problems,” she said, suggesting the raised design offers a solution to concerns about flooding and some of the limits of the site.

The drawings show a building with a lot of glass that would include a ticket office, passenger lobby, restrooms and other amenities.

Regardless of what kind of station gets built or where, if there are going to be double tracks, it’s going to have to go up and over the tracks, Mitchell said.

“The idea of this is to use the existing site to its fullest extent for service of the rail and for some parking that is possibly a little more than is available right now,” she said, “and to incorporate aspects of transit that would allow them to access this site, allow some parking immediately adjacent, and some drop-off service for people.”


MDOT to study rail line that would connect Grand Rapids, Lansing, Detroit

July 1, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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From the Lansing State Journal:

8245480090_bbeb9f28cdThe Michigan Department of Transportation will study the viability of a passenger railroad line that would connect Holland to Detroit by way of Grand Rapids and Lansing.

The rail line may never materialize, but the study is the first official step by the state to create a new rail line connecting Grand Rapids, Lansing and Detroit. Those cities are currently not directly connected by passenger railroads.

“I would characterize this as the first step to even determine the viability/feasibility of such a service, and by no mean does this mean that we’re going to see rail passenger service running between these communities in any time frame,” said Tim Hoeffner, director of MDOT’s Office of Rail.

The study was mandated in the fiscal 2015 budget approved by lawmakers. The budget requires MDOT to submit a report to lawmakers by May 1, 2015.

Hoeffner said MDOT would likely hire a consultant to study socioeconomics in the communities along the proposed route and how people move between the cities to help determine potential ridership. If the study finds interest, Hoeffner said it would take “many, many years” and an allocation from the Legislature to build the line.

But Dan Sommerville, policy associate at the Michigan Environmental Council, said the route could be a natural choice for people looking for alternatives to road travel.

“Essentially, Detroit and Grand Rapids are the two largest metropolitan areas in the state, and right in the middle of that is our state capitol, and the only mode of transportation between those is a highway,” Sommerville said.

Rail ridership is on the rise. According to MDOT statistics, ridership on Amtrak lines in Michigan had climbed from 589,142 passengers in 1994 to 795,996 passengers last year. So far in 2014, 297,450 passengers have traveled Michigan railways.

The 2014 figures include 74,409 paseengers on the Blue Water line that connects Port Huron to Chicago, with a stop in East Lansing; 37,640 on the The Pere Marquette line that connects Grand Rapids to Chicago; and 185,401 passengers on the Wolverine, which connects to Detroit to Chicago.

Sommerville also said more than a dozen colleges and universities are within walking distance along the proposed route. That’s a potential gold mine of ridership as students travel home from college or travel among schools.

“This could be something that helps stem that brain drain and keep young people here,” along with other economic benefits and the aid to environment by having fewer cars on the highway, Sommerville said.

Hoeffner and Sommerville said residents had shown interest in a Grand Rapids-to-Lansing-to-Detroit line when MDOT sought public comment on its rail plan in 2010 and 2011. The Environmental Council, in partnership with the Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers, helped MDOT gather input through public forums held around the state.

Sommerville said a passenger line operated between Grand Rapids and Detroit, through Lansing, until 1971. He said tracks exist along that route that are currently used by freight trains and those tracks could be upgraded to handle the faster passenger cars.

Sommerville said he’s optimistic the route could be built because “MDOT’s taking an increased interested in passenger rail.” He pointed, for example, to the department’s recent purchase of and upgrades to rail line between Kalamazoo and Dearborn.

Amtrak, which runs passenger rail lines for the state, would be interested in taking on the new line “if it made sense for both of us,” spokesman Marc Magliari said.


2nd Annual Michigan Rail Conference

June 29, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Announcements, FYI 

Aug. 26-27, 2014
John Lewis Center,

Macomb Community College
14500 E. 12 Mile Road

Warren, MI 48088.
(The Center is designated as
K-Building on the South Campus Map.)

Conference Registration Fee: $75.00,

Field Trip Fee:$25.00

More information at:





Column: Railroads need funding, too

June 29, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: News 

From The Detroit News:

From The Detroit News

From The Detroit News

We commend Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville for introducing a plan to increase transportation funds across all platforms in Michigan, including infrastructure repairs to roads and bridges, investment in public transit, and vital improvements to our railroads.

Rail transportation is vital to Michigan’s agricultural economy, which generates more than $96 billion in annual economic activity, and supports one in four jobs.

Farmers need a reliable transportation network for moving their crops to market in a timely and cost-efficient manner. Without rail access, towns aren’t likely to attract major new agricultural facilities — and the jobs associated with them. State support for rail lines and crossings is vital to achieving that goal.

The Michigan Farm Bureau and the Michigan Railroads Association are joining with major business groups — including the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, Business Leaders for Michigan, and regional chambers of commerce including those in Detroit and Lansing — to add our voices to Gov. Rick Snyder’s call for major investment in transportation infrastructure, and to ensure that all aspects of that infrastructure are included.

This type of forward thinking is what we need to compete in an increasingly global economy. Such a plan would meet the needs of our state for years to come; that’s why it’s backed by business groups and environmental and transit organizations that recognize the time is now for funding long overdue structural repairs.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Michigan ranks 14th nationally in grain and oilseed production, and from 2006-2010 averaged 424 million bushels of crops, primarily corn, soybeans and wheat. Our state ships millions of tons of these crops by rail, saving on transport costs and reducing wear and tear on roads on our crumbling roads.

The math is simple: Failing to invest in our state’s entire transportation infrastructure hurts our ability to be competitive and keep agricultural jobs in Michigan.

We encourage lawmakers to work diligently in the coming days to create a legislative package that will meet our state’s long-term needs. That means major increases in transportation spending — and ensuring that the investment goes toward all of our transportation infrastructure. Such a move has the support of Michigan voters — including the agricultural community, which relies heavily on rail to get products to market.

Andrew Vermeesch is associate legislative council for the Michigan Farm Bureau.
Jon Cool is president of the Michigan Railroads Association.

From The Detroit News:

WALLY group eyes diesel option

June 27, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: News 

From The Livingston Daily Press & Argus:

usrailcarrenderingDiesel multiple-unit rail cars, or DMUs, have been suggested as an alternative to Washtenaw and Livingston Line rail cars, said Michael Benham, strategic planner for the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, which oversees the WALLY commuter train project.

Benham said DMUs can be less costly to operate, although the cost of having personnel to run them could dash any savings. Only a few diesel rail cars have been approved for use by the Federal Railroad Administration.

The self-propelled, diesel-fueled cars are most common in Europe, Benham said.

“It’s out there as a possibility,” he said, but, “you can’t just put anything on the tracks.”

“As a planner, we need to know about these things. We need to be aware these technologies are out there,” Benham added.

DMUs produce 72 percent less pollution and 75 percent less noise than traditional rail cars and save on purchase and operating costs, according to the FRA’s website.

WALLY, first proposed in 2006, would create a commuter rail line between Howell and Ann Arbor on existing rail.


Columnist: Gov. Walker’s train gaffe costing Wisconsin big time

June 27, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: News 

From The Capital Times:

In this 2009 file photo, a model of a high-speed train is seen outside of a press conference where Gov. Jim Doyle announced Wisconsin's partnership with the Spanish train manufacturer Talgo. But after he was elected governor, Scott Walker nixed the plan.

In this 2009 file photo, a model of a high-speed train is seen outside of a press conference where Gov. Jim Doyle announced Wisconsin’s partnership with the Spanish train manufacturer Talgo. But after he was elected governor, Scott Walker nixed the plan.

It didn’t get a lot of press — two Milwaukee bloggers noted it — but Talgo, the Spain- and U.S.-based train manufacturer, closed its factory on Milwaukee’s north side last week and moved the last of its train sets out of town. They will probably be sold to Michigan.

The irony is that here was a manufacturing company that was enticed to Wisconsin thanks to a bundle of federal dollars but was chased away by a new governor who professed his main interest was creating jobs and making Wisconsin friendly to business. Yes, go figure.

Instead, he kissed goodbye several hundred jobs that would have been created in one of Milwaukee’s poorer neighborhoods and gave the federal government back $810 million that was to pay for expanding passenger rail service from Milwaukee to Madison and create roughly 4,000 construction jobs to boot.

It is not only one of the biggest financial blunders in the state’s history, but ranks high for its utter cluelessness. And its says volumes about the governor’s judgment.

Talgo is now suing the state for $65 million for the state’s reneging on its Talgo contract, and Wisconsin has to foot the bill for a multimillion-dollar maintenance facility and handicap accessibility upgrade at the Milwaukee station, all of which would have been covered by the $810 million federal grant.

These expenditures would have covered dozens of years of the supposed $6 million annual maintenance cost Gov. Scott Walker used as an excuse to scuttle the rail upgrade. As is the case for so many of his claims, that $6 million was inflated by a factor of 10. The actual cost to the state would have been more like $600,000. But there’s a reason Walker routinely gets “pants on fire” ratings from the fact-checking PolitiFact.

So here we are with a robust passenger rail service restricted between Milwaukee and Chicago and a one-train-a-day Amtrak whose only big-city stops in Wisconsin are in Milwaukee and La Crosse.

Perhaps that wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the trends that are taking hold in the country, apparently unbeknown to those who run our state.

Newspapers around the country devoted nearly a full page to the topic last Sunday under a headline that read: “A love affair on fumes?” The Associated Press story was referring to the fact that America is driving a lot less these days, and where once 16-year-olds couldn’t wait to get their hands on the family car, less than 70 percent of 19-year-olds now have a driver’s license.

Some of the decline — 10 percent since 2004 — is attributed to greater reliance on bicycles, but there’s been an enormous increase in the use of commuter and passenger rail as an alternative to owning cars.

Further, according to the research group WISPIRG, many young people are opting to find jobs where they can get to work without owning a car.

But, no, we’d rather build more highways, spend a billion bucks on Milwaukee’s zoo interchange, and borrow money to pay for it.

That, folks, is a pretty poor plan.

Written by Dave Zweifel who is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. and @DaveZweifel

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