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Michigan Auditor General praises commuter car deal

MDOT’s handling of the controversial commuter rail cars was correct, and will potentially save up to $1,680,000 a year.

BY LARRY KRIEG

Remember the dust-up about how Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) was “wasting public funds” by leasing and refurbishing rail cars? These were the cars purchased by Great Lakes Central Railroad (GLC) from Chicago’s Metra commuter service. In 2010 MDOT’s Office of Rail leased 23 of these cars and commissioned GLC to refurbish them for anticipated commuter service in Michigan. (See the detailed article in The Michigan Passenger, Spring 2015 p.1)

As a result of an official state audit and media criticism, a legislative hearing was conducted in March of 2015. MARP submitted written testimony to the legislative committees, supporting the lease and refurbishment as foresighted and cost-saving. The result and the audit and hearing was a requirement that MDOT renegotiate the terms of the lease, terminating payments by the end of 2015 while retaining the right to lease the cars later, when and if commuter service is started.

The Southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority (RTA) recently released their study [http://www.rtamichigan.org/wp-content/uploads/Draft-Detailed-Definition-of-Alternatives-v16.pdf] of the Michigan Avenue Corridor (Detroit-Ann Arbor), recommending at least eight round-trip trains every day. The announcement was greeted with enthusiasm by local officials and business leaders along the line. If citizens pass the RTA millage in November this year, we could see these commuter cars rolling in Southeast Michigan as early as 2019.

On April 29 this year, Michigan’s Auditor General released a report [http://audgen.michigan.gov/~audgenmi/finalpdfs/15_16/r591019514F.pdf] certifying that MDOT did in fact comply with the requirement. In addition, they estimate Office of Rail’s new contracts with GLC brought about potential savings of $60,000-140,000 per month, or $720,000-1,680,000 per year.

That’s in addition to the money saved by refurbishing used cars in the first place. MARP estimates each refurbished, restroom-equipped car to cost $2.5 million less than the cost of new double-deck commuter cars. It even saved half a million dollars per car under what California recently paid to purchase and refurbish single-level used commuter cars, according to an investigation by Clark Charnetski. And about 3/4 of the money spent by MDOT stayed in Michigan, providing jobs for skilled Michigan technicians during the depths of the Great Recession.

MARP meets in Jackson May 21

MARP Membership Meeting
Carnegie Library
244 W Michigan, Jackson MI 49201
Saturday, May 21, 2016
10 a.m. – Noon

Map & Directions

Please plan to attend the May 21 MARP meeting at the Carnegie Library in downtown Jackson. MARP member Gerald Callison will be on hand to demonstrate the Google map that he has created of Michigan Amtrak routes. Also on the agenda will be an in-depth discussion of the work of the Route Enhancement Committee chaired by Hugh Gurney. The membership discussion will center around recent rail developments with an eye toward having input in the pending updates of Michigan’s 2040 State Long Range Transportation Plan and the Michigan State Rail Plan. See this month’s issue of  ON TRACK for links to information on these state plans.

April 2016 edition of OnTrack

We hope you enjoy our new issue. And don’t forget that we like to hear from you. Do you have story ideas? Would you like to write one of your own? Let us know!

Here’s a PDF version of the newsletter: ontrack_55

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South Shore Line to Allow Bikes on Board Starting April 2nd

From Curbed Chicago:

The South Shore Line’s long prohibition against bicycles will come to an official end in less than two weeks. Starting April 2, up to 40 bikes per train will be allowed on weekend days through the end of October as part of a one year pilot program.

The Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District (NICTD) has modified seven of the single level cars within its South Shore fleet to accommodate a total of 134 bike racks. The installation required the removal of seats from one side of the center aisle. The new interior setup is intended to allow cyclists to dock their bike and then sit right next to it on the opposite side of the car. The bicycle cars will be marked with yellow decals affixed to windows and will be placed into 14 of the 18 weekend trains linking downtown Chicago to Northwest Indiana.

Due to the configuration of the doorways, boarding with bicycles will only be allowed at existing high-level platforms, where stairs are not needed to enter and exit the train. High level platforms are available at South Bend, Dune Park, East Chicago, Hammond and all Chicago stations except 63rd Street.

Read more: http://chicago.curbed.com/2016/3/23/11290830/south-shore-line-bikes-bicycles-train