by John Amrhein, Michigan State University Extension
Traveling by train in northern Michigan sounds like a romantic memory of days gone by, doesn’t it? Not too many years ago, that’s all it was, something from a history book, or grandma’s fond memories. Well, fast forward to 2017, and it makes more sense than many of us realize. Perhaps a way to travel and accomplish things other than just driving, maybe a way to save money, or simply transport people more efficiently.
Jim Lively, Program Director with the Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities, recently spoke to the Northern Michigan Counties Association about a feasibility study they are doing to look at the possibility of passenger rail service between Ann Arbor and Traverse City, known as A2TC. A total of $120,000 from both federal sources and communities along the route is funding the study.
Current passenger rail service is limited to Amtrak, which provides for travel between Port Huron and Chicago on the Bluewater Line, between Detroit and Chicago on the Wolverine Line, and between Grand Rapids and Chicago on the Pere Marquette Line. Other new projects under development include the M-1 rail along Woodward Ave. between downtown Detroit and the New Center area also known as QLINE, and the Washtenaw and Livingston Line between Ann Arbor and Howell, also known as Wally. There is also a study underway of a possible coast to coast rail link from Holland to Ann Arbor running through Grand Rapids, Lansing, and Howell.
The Groundwork study is looking at another possible route voted number 1 in a 2011 statewide rail planning process, Ann Arbor to Traverse City, with a possible spur to Petoskey. The track for this route is still in place, owned by the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), and leased and operated by the Great Lakes Central Railroad (GLC). Both MDOT and GLC support this passenger rail study. This rail is currently used for freight service. Lively shared that about 65% of it is capable of safely handling trains at 60 mph, and a daily passenger train could be added to the schedule without impacting the freight service.
In part two of this Michigan State University Extension article, we’ll learn more about the timing of the study and the potential benefits of rail travel in northern Michigan. To learn more about the Northern Michigan Counties Association, email John Amrhein at email@example.com.
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From The Ann Arbor News:
The stop would be part of Amtrak’s Wolverine line, which runs from Chicago to Pontiac with southeast Michigan stops in Ann Arbor, Dearborn, Detroit, Birmingham and Royal Oak.
In a letter to City Council, the city’s lobbyist, Kirk Profit, wrote that Amtrak is interested in having a train stop in Depot Town, and a letter expressing formal support for the idea is expected sometime in December.
Profit wrote that the state’s passage of a transportation package “clears one of the hurdles necessary for moving forward with the Amtrak stop in Ypsilanti.”
Several city officials also confirmed the plans.
“We’ve been meeting with Amtrak and MDOT on getting the train to stop here,” said Council Member Pete Murdock on Sunday. “We expect to get a response from them very soon.”
But the deal is far from done.
City officials have hesitated to release details. On Friday, City Manager Ralph Lange wrote in an email to the Ann Arbor News, “There is no announcement to be made at this time.” And on Saturday, Mayor Amanda Edmonds told The Ann Arbor News a Facebook post from The Depot Town Merchant’s Association stating that the “train is coming” wasn’t true.
On Sunday, Lange underscored in another email that there are no confirmed plans for a commuter rail line or Amtrak stop.
“At this time, the city of Ypsilanti does not have any confirmation of either rail stops,” Lange wrote.
Although the discussion is moving further along than it has at any point since the train quit stopping in Depot Town in the 1980s, a variety of issues still must be addressed.
It isn’t clear how much the project will cost. But the Ypsilanti Downtown Development Authority agreed to bond to cover a large portion of the expenses. That agreement is part of a larger deal in which the city will continue to fund the DDA in Depot Town. That deal, however, isn’t approved yet. Council will vote on it Tuesday at its meeting.
And the DDA”s bonding won’t cover all the costs.
“That’s one piece in the puzzle in putting together a partnership to get this done,” Murdock said.
The city would build a new platform for the train, though there aren’t any drawings or conceptual plans for it. And there are questions over parking, traffic, site plans and other infrastructure issues that need to be addressed.
In his letter to Council, Profit also stated that improvements need to be made to crossings in neighboring townships, and though that expense would be covered by the state.
A proposed commuter rail line that would run between Ann Arbor Detroit could potentially also use the stop, but the project has stalled. The newly formed Detroit-are Regional Transit Authority will ask voters in November 2016 to approve a new tax to fund the line’s operations, according to the A2D Rail Alliance website. Edmonds said the city is continuing to urge the RTA to make a commuter rail line with an Ypsilanti stop a priority.
“An Amtrak rail stop as well as passenger rail to Detroit have been city-wide goals for a very long time. City officials are working very hard with state officials to make this a reality,” Lange wrote.
From The Detroit News:
The official name of the M-1 Rail project under construction along Woodward Avenue will be decided by Quicken Loans Inc.
Project officials have confirmed the mortgage giant — founded by Detroit businessman Dan Gilbert — secured the naming rights to the 3.3-mile streetcar line “as part of its financial support during fundraising for the project.”
“M-1 Rail is also working on other branding items — including recognition of donors who have sponsored station stops,” said M-1 Rail Chief Operating Officer Paul Childs in a statement. “The process is a dynamic one and will be done in a way that reflects the pride we have in the project and its importance to Detroit.”
No additional information was available. Childs said officials “will provide further details in the future as work progresses.”
The M-1 Rail streetcar line will run from downtown to the New Center area. The $137 million publicly and privately funded line is expected to be operational by fall 2016. Construction on the light rail started in late July.
Quicken receiving the naming rights shouldn’t come as a surprise. The company has given millions to the project and Gilbert is vice chairman of M-1’s board of directors.
Quicken obtaining the naming rights was first reported over the weekend by Crain’s Detroit Business.