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Comments on Michigan Mobility 2045 State Long Range Transportation Plan

Comments on Michigan Mobility 2045
State Long Range Transportation Plan

submitted by

Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers (MARP)

John Guidinger, Chair
February 4, 2021

The Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers (MARP) is pleased to have this opportunity to comment on the Michigan Mobility 2045 State Long Range Transportation Plan.

Our comments follow the order of the subjects addressed in Item 4 in the agenda for our meeting and interview on this date. They are limited to passenger intercity rail, commuter rail, and Thruway bus matters. We are not addressing the currently severe effect of the virus pandemic on rail passenger service, because we believe this issue will be resolved soon.

OVERALL VISION

MARP wants to see a system of intercity trains that are modern, fast, reliable, and operate on frequent, regular-interval schedules to meet the travel needs of all passengers. On the corridor between Chicago and Detroit/Pontiac departures should be hourly or bi-hourly. The trains should connect all significant population centers in Michigan with other population centers in Michigan and centers throughout the United States and Canada. The system must be closely integrated with other means of public passenger travel to allow seamless transfer from one mode to the other and to promote travel into Michigan. We believe that the reduced dependency on road travel will bring enormous economic benefit to Michigan through the rejuvenation of the downtown areas of our cities, increased tourism, expansion of rail-oriented industry, and a less hectic lifestyle. These important societal advantages will accrue over road travel even when travel times are similar. Other advantages include reducing conflicts with urban and rural land uses, improving human mobility and convenience, reducing road congestion, decreasing the need for costly road expansion, increasing travel safety, conserving energy resources, reduction of impacts to air and water resources, and improving space utilization. We believe Michigan is in a unique position to optimize the return on assets from its ownership and previous investments in rail service, both passenger and freight.

CRITICAL PASSENGER ISSUES

Track and Right-of Way

  1. Continue the development of the Michigan Line Infrastructure and Safety Improvements Program as defined by MDOT. This is essential to develop a reliable, high-speed corridor for rail passengers traveling between Chicago and Detroit/Pontiac and on routes connecting to and from the corridor. We cannot over emphasize the importance of this program.

 

  1. Make critically needed improvements in two specific problem areas in Michigan in order to prevent delays for passengers traveling on the Chicago-Detroit/Pontiac corridor.
    1. Separate passenger trains and freight trains on the 1.8 mile section of Canadian National railroad at Battle Creek.
    2. Work with host railroads Canadian National and Conrail Shared Assets to reduce freight train interference between Dearborn and Pontiac. Improving fluidity of train movements will benefit both passenger and freight.
  2. Continue to work with Indiana and Illinois, Norfolk Southern, Amtrak, and USDOT to develop the federally designated high-speed corridor between the Michigan border and Chicago. Congestion in this area results in continual, lengthy delays for Michigan passengers. Removing this congestion will not only help rail passengers, but will also help speed rail freight movements and potentially draw trucks and autos off roads.
  3. Install a track connection northeast of New Buffalo to allow trains to/from Grand Rapids access to the high speed corridor and allow these trains to serve New Buffalo.
  4. Continue the ongoing program to separate or protect road/rail grade crossings. This is an important safety issue, especially as passenger train speeds increase. Grade crossings should be closed, grade separated, or protected by devices such as four quadrant gates, skirting/center line barriers, pedestrian barriers, and advanced warning devices.
  5. Fencing and cautioning signage should be installed in appropriate areas to prohibit crossing between station tracks, and reduce trespassing near stations, in yards, and on portions of the right-of-way deemed prone to trespassing.

Stations

  1. Continue to improve, rebuild, or replace passenger stations in order to improve the total passenger experience, consistent with the preservation and adaptive reuse of the remaining historic depot buildings. Provide multimodal facilities that support the complete end-to end journey, including suitable waiting rooms, restrooms, platforms, parking, lighting, multilingual signage, handicapped accessibility, emerging mobility access, and micromobility solutions.
  2. Initiate a program to install level boarding facilities, consistent with FRA and ADA standards, at the busiest stations to enhance the comfort and safety of all passengers as well as help keep trains on time.

Schedules and Frequency

  1. Establish train schedules to provide departures on the corridor between Chicago and Detroit/Pontiac once every hour during prime hours and approximately once every two hours at other travel times.
  2. Ensure that every possible effort is made to adhere to scheduled times of arrival and departure. This is critical to attracting and retaining passengers, particularly business travelers.
  3. Develop the Chicago-Detroit/Pontiac corridor to at least 5-6 round trips before initiating any new routes in Michigan. Once the corridor is running well with large numbers of passengers, support for new routes will be strong.
  4. Schedule at least one train to arrive in Detroit before 11 AM and one train to depart from Detroit after 8 PM. This will require either an overnight train, or trains leaving/arriving at Chicago at inopportune hours, or trains that originate and terminate in Niles, Kalamazoo, or (via Kalamazoo) in Grand Rapids.
  5. Develop train schedules that facilitate connections with other trains, intercity buses, and local transit for maximum passenger convenience.

Equipment

  1. Provide modern, well maintained coaches and improved on-board food service to make for a comfortable travel experience for the passenger. There should be a business class seating option. Provisions must be made for regular maintenance and mid-life upgrades for the new coaches coming online today, as well as planning for replacement of this equipment about 2045.
  2. Provide fast, safe, and reliable Diesel locomotives that meet or exceed evolving emissions standards. Evaluate the use of electrification of the Michigan corridor or the use of emerging power systems, such as hydrogen powered locomotives and multiple units. Provisions must be made for regular maintenance and mid-life upgrades for the new locomotives coming online today, as well as planning for the replacement of this equipment about 2045.

New Services

  1. Initiate through trains between Southeast Michigan and Windsor and between Port Huron and Sarnia to allow convenient and efficient travel between Canada and the U.S.
  2. Initiate Thruway bus services, such as those proposed by MARP between Ann Arbor, Dearborn, Detroit, and Windsor, to provide corridor train connections for Amtrak and Via trains terminating in Detroit and Windsor.
  3. Add service between Chicago and Grand Rapids on a route that operates on the corridor via Kalamazoo.
  4. Add service to the Blue Water route. Terminate at least one new train on this route in Bay City instead of Port Huron.
  5. Complete the required environmental and engineering studies and implement new service connecting Detroit, Ann Arbor, Lansing and Grand Rapids/Holland/Muskegon. Extend this route to Toledo to provide vitally important connections to the rest of the Amtrak system.
  6. Complete studies of the proposed excursion service between Ann Arbor and Traverse City/Petoskey and implement service. Consider the use of a private operator similar to

the operation of the Grand Canyon Railroad in Arizona and the Cumbres and Toltec Railroad in Colorado and New Mexico.

  1. Implement the long sought commuter rail service in Southeast Michigan, including service in the Detroit area, service to Detroit Metro Airport, and service on the Ann Arbor-Howell-Brighton route. MDOT should take the lead in implementing this service by working with all parties involved. In the Detroit area, trains may serve both the existing Amtrak Station and the former Michigan Central Station (MCS), which is currently under restoration by the Ford Motor Company. We strongly encourage study of the idea advanced by Ford that MCS become a multimodal center, an interchange point with rail, bus, streetcar and micro-mobility services and thus a catalyst for rejuvenation of the entire area around MCS.

Northern Michigan

  1. Continue state support for Thruway bus service to points in Northern Michigan and across the Upper Peninsula that make connections to transportation networks in Wisconsin and Minnesota. This will serve the mobility needs of underserved populations in rural areas of the state.

SUGGESTED MM 2045 PLAN CONTENTS AND MARP ASSISTANCE

MARP would like to see Final MM 2045 Plan contain:

  1. Specific goals for expanding existing or initiating new intercity and commuter rail service by 2045. These goals should include completion of all improvement and expansion projects already underway or in the planning process. The goals should also include the new projects listed above or other projects identified by MDOT.
  2. A basic timeline for implementing these projects. The timeline must be based on reasonable assumptions. Regular progress reports should be made to the public.
  3. A list of governmental funding sources to provide funding for these projects. The plan should assume that funding will be provided over the years from existing Federal, State, and local sources. In addition, careful study is needed to identify funding opportunities from existing programs that may not be normally associated with rail transportation and from anticipated future, and as yet undefined, governmental sources.
  4. An assessment of the potential for private funding. Corporate funding providers should be especially attracted to the development of real estate and station facilities as shown by the very successful private development of the new station at New Buffalo, as well as by the interest of Ford Motor Company in developing Michigan Central Station, and by the reported profitability of Amtrak’s Real Estate Division. The potential for other private funding should be explored in areas such as joint operations with private bus operators, providing food services, advertising in stations and in Amtrak printed materials, and in the sale of naming rights. Once the expansion of passenger services causes ridership to increase into the millions, private interest in funding other aspects of rail operations should come willingly, and relieve passenger operators from complete reliance on government funding.

Assistance to the Mission of MARP

  1. Establish an advisory committee within the MDOT Office of Rail. MARP, who represents rail passengers in Michigan, will be happy to participate without compensation. Other members of the committee could represent rail unions, freight interests, shippers, transit, urban planners, equipment suppliers, Thruway bus operators, etc. The committee should meet once or twice a year and make recommendations to MDOT on a variety of rail matters. Face to face meetings such as this should promote understanding between all parties and help MDOT assess the effectiveness of rail office programs.
  2. Keep the public informed of MDOT Office of Rail actions. For example, the Michigan Line Infrastructure and Safety Improvements Program is a major, multi-year project involving hundreds of millions of dollars, and over a hundred miles of railroad. We commonly see Amtrak trucks, equipment, and workers working on the railroad, and we note the large construction office in Jackson. But we see no public statements about the goals of the project or its progress. Attempted conversations with workers indicate that they are not allowed to talk to the “press.” We think MDOT and Amtrak should be proud of their work on this important project. We do not understand why statements from management cannot be given out on a regular basis as to the goals, progress to date, and anticipated future work. MARP suspects that there are other similar projects where at least simple press releases could be issued periodically.

Again, we sincerely appreciate the opportunity to provide our comments and suggestions for the MM 2045 Transportation Plan. Thank you

VIDEO: Presentations by MDOT & Amtrak from MARP “virtual” meeting on July 9, 2020

MARP’s first ever “virtual” meeting on 09 July 2020 featured speakers from MDOT and Amtrak. Al Johnson, Acting Director of the MDOT Office of Rail, gave an update on the work in progress and planned on the Wolverine line to allow 110-mph speeds and, eventually to add up to 7 daily round trips. Derrick James, Amtrak Government Affairs, spoke about Amtrak’s plans for future growth, its digitization initiatives, and how advocates can make a difference.
Watch and listen to the video here:

Click here for a PDF of the presentation: MDOT Update for MARP Meeting 2020.07.09

Or click on the images below to enlarge them:

 

ROUTE ENHANCEMENT RECOMMENDATIONS FOR 2012

At the January 14, 2012, meeting at the Williamston Depot Museum in Williamston, the MARP Executive Committee approved the attached Route Enhancement Recommendations. We are asking all members to review these recommendations and help us keep abreast of the many wonderful projects underway in Michigan. We particularly need volunteers to help us track what is happening in Battle Creek, Troy and the proposed improvements between Porter, Indiana, and Chicago Union Station.

Please relay any information you have to: Hugh Gurney
2270 Hickory Circle Drive
Howell, MI 48855
(517) 545-2979
hgurney@hsmichigan.org

  1. Assure that Section 209 of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (PRIIA), does not adversely affect passenger service in Michigan. (Section 209 mandates routes less than 750 miles become solely state-supported.)

a)      Track status of implementation on a monthly basis.

b)      Determine funding needed if PRIAA is implemented.

c)      Establish communication links with MDOT, Amtrak, rail advocacy groups in affected states, & federal legislators to develop a unified position on actions needed, including rescinding of Section 209.

d)     Investigate options to offset costs of PRIIA including extension of trains to Canada, the Eastern United States or points beyond Chicago on the West.

  1. Initiate commuter rail service between Ann Arbor and Detroit and between Howell and Ann Arbor (WALLY). Consider extension of WALLY to Durand and Flint.

a)      Work with TRU and other advocacy groups for the establishment of a Southeast Michigan Transportation Authority.

b)      Find champions at the local, state and federal levels who will push for implementation of local commuter services.

c)      Facilitate a steering group including business, community, advocacy and political leaders to educate the public on the value of commuter service and market the service.

d)     Hold demonstration runs in 2012.

    

  1. Initiate Community Benefit Studies to determine the possibilities of additional service on the Pere Marquette and Blue Water routes including the possibility of combining the two routesInclude in these studies additional Wolverine service between Battle Creek and Chicago.

a)      Work with MEC and TRANS4M to identify a funding source for these studies.

b)      Create an RFP

c)      Select a consulting firm to conduct the studies, possibly the one that did the Grand Valley study.

d)     Review and approve findings.

e)      Communicate findings to affected communities, MDOT and the Michigan legislature.

  1. Assure an adequate level of funding for replacement of intercity motor coaches.

a)      Meet with Indian Trails and other intercity carriers to identify needs.

b)      Involve other advocacy groups including TRANS4M, MDOT and members of the Michigan legislature to secure an adequate level of funding.

c)      Track expenditures once funding is secured.

  1. Ensure progress on all approved projects including MDOT acquisition of the Dearborn-Kalamazoo line and its upgrade to 110 mph speed, Amtrak upgrades Kalamazoo-Porter, the West Detroit Connector, CREATE, Indiana Gateway, purchase of new rolling stock, and station projects in Grand Rapids, Battle Creek, Jackson, Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Troy.

a)      Report quarterly to the Executive Committee.

b)      Demand explanations and corrective actions if projects fall behind schedule.

  1. Push for genuine connectivity between intercity bus and rail service in Michigan.

a)      Work with Indian Trails, MDOT, and Amtrak to identify and overcome obstacles to having all Indian Trails routes in Michigan identified as Amtrak Thruway Routes.

b)      Identify funding required to institute new intercity motor coach routes including north from New Buffalo along the Lake Michigan shoreline and daytime service Marquette-Milwaukee.

c)      Create website page with information about how to get around Michigan by train and bus.

  1. Assure dedicated funding for passenger rail in Michigan

a)      Determine the level of funding needed for an adequate passenger rail system in Michigan.

b)      Support TRANS4M in its efforts to secure adequate funding for all transportation modes.

c)      Enlist all transportation and environmental groups in advocating for a balanced transportation system in Michigan.

d)     Insist that a full 10% of transportation funding be dedicated to public transportation including rail as specified by the Michigan Constitution.

e)      If passenger rail funding remains inadequate even with 10% of the state transportation funding dedicated to public transportation, identify additional funding possibilities.

 

Passenger Rail Myths & Facts

Courtesy the National Association of Railroad Passengers:

There are a lot of conflicting statistics being thrown around in the debate taking place over what direction the U.S. transportation should take. NARP has done the work to defend passenger trains against the half-truths and flat-out inaccuracies being used by anti-rail groups.

[Special thanks to the OneRail coalition for contributing to this document.]

Any myths you’d like to see debunked? Any facts that sound fishy to you that you’d like NARP staff to investigate? If there are any additions or alterations you’d like to see to this document, simply email [narp]@[narprail.org] with your suggestions (Subject: Myths & Facts).


Myth: Unlike Europe, the US doesn’t have the population density to support high-speed rail, and can’t support passenger trains outside the Northeast Corridor.

Fact: The US population is actually clustered within megaregions: the Northeast, Midwest, Southeast, and California—precisely the areas where most high-speed and intercity passenger rail projects are advancing. It’s treated as a given that the Midwest is too sparsely populated to consider passenger train investment. However, the Midwest Megaregion (a region roughly bounded by Ohio, Missouri, Minnesota, and Michigan) encompasses a $2.6 trillion economy—the fifth largest in the world, behind only the U.S. itself, China, Japan, and Germany. California—currently designing and engineering a statewide high-speed rail network—compares favorably to Spain in terms of density with 88.1 people per square mile to Spain’s 89.6. And California beats Spain’s economic output with a per capita GDP of $49,894 to Spain’s $36,451.

Image: Per Square Mile compares U.S. and European density.

With 130 million additional Americans expected by the year 2050, investing in rail lines to accommodate this growth will determine whether we are faced almost exclusively with sprawling, road-dependant suburbs or will the universe of livable, navigable communities grow substantially.
[The Economic Impacts of High-Speed Rail: Transforming the Midwest—2011. Midwest High-Speed Rail Association & Siemens]; [Matt Melzer, “If Spain can do it, we definitely can”, California High-Speed Rail Blog, July 31st, 2008]


Myth: “Far from protecting the environment, most rail transit lines use more energy per passenger mile, and many generate more greenhouse gases, than the average passenger automobile.” (Randal O’Toole, Cato Institute, April 2008)

Fact: Amtrak is 31.2% more efficient than automobiles, 33.5 % more efficient than personal trucks, and 13.8% more efficient than airplanes (on a Btu per passenger mile basis). And the U.S. saves 4.2 billion gallons of oil each year through the use of public transportation. To get a more complete picture of the environmental impact of rail transit of all forms, one must take into account the extent to which rail serves as a catalyst for energy-efficient, pedestrian-friendly real estate development and thus also energy-efficient buildings.
[Transportation Energy Data Book: Edition 30—2011. Oak Ridge National Laboratory.]; [Public Transportation Fact Book—2011. American Public Transportation Association]


Myth: “The train’s only advantage is for people going from downtown to downtown. Who works downtown? Bankers, lawyers, government officials, and other high-income people who hardly need subsidized transportation.” (Randal O’Toole, Cato Institute, July 2009)

Fact: Amtrak’s long-distance trains provide service to many communities with few-to-no alternatives, and long-distance coach passengers are the lowest-income segment of Amtrak’s markets. The Empire Builder alone carried 533,000 passengers in fiscal year 2010. The route has very limited bus and air service alternatives and no parallel interstate highway most of the way. Extreme winter weather conditions frequently close highways and airports. Senior citizens accounted for 38% of adult passengers on the long-distance trains in FY2010. Of all Amtrak riders requiring accessibility, 42% use the long-distance trains. Paying to provide highway and air alternatives for these special-needs populations would be far more expensive than maintaining Amtrak service.
[Long Distance Train Facts—2011. Amtrak.]


Myth: The taxpayers pay Amtrak subsidies because the railroad loses so much on sleeper rooms and dining service.

Fact: Sleeping car passengers pay much higher fares than other passengers. Though they account for only 15% of long-distance riders, they are the source for 36% of the total revenue. Since the average coach traveler rides for more than 10 hours, providing access to food is essential for a functioning train service. Amtrak has simplified its offerings and implemented point-of-sale systems to enhance cost efficiencies.
[Long Distance Train Facts—2011. Amtrak.]


Myth: “Gasoline taxes and highway tolls built and maintain intercity roadways, and they also support mass transit with $10 billion in subsidies annually….Only rail requires heavy subsidies.” (Wendell Cox, The Wall Street Journal, ‘The Runaway Subsidy Train,’ January 31, 2010)

Fact: The amount that government has spent on highways, roads, and streets has exceeded the amount raised through gasoline taxes and other user fees by $600 billion (in 2005 dollars). Since 2008, Congress has transferred $34.5 billion in U.S. Treasury general funds to the highway trust fund.

Generally, highways cover only 51% of the total associated costs through user-fees, because the federal highway program focuses on new-build and leaves states to worry about maintenance. Compare that to the 75% of Amtrak operating costs and 53% of commuter rail operating costs covered by ticket revenues.
[Do Roads Pay For Themselves?: Setting the Record Straight on Transportation Funding—2011. U.S. Public Interest Research Group.]


Myth: The only way to decrease traffic is to build more roads.

Fact: A recent study by the University of Toronto found that building more roads leads to more congestion. As you increase capacity, new drivers will move in to take up that freed capacity until traffic becomes so onerous that people look for other alternatives. The equilibrium point for urban roads will always be congestion.

“In particular, if you had one percent more roads, you had one percent more driving in those cities” says Matthew Turner, a co-author of the study.

The only method known to effectively decrease traffic is congestion pricing, where drivers are charged on a variable scale based on zone and time (i.e. driving downtown during rush hour will be the most expensive).
[The fundamental law of road congestion: Evidence from the US. Gilles Duranton and Matthew A. Turner. 2011.]


Myth: “So how is California’s fabulous high-speed rail project between LA and San Francisco going? You know, the one approved by California’s fabulous voters as part of California’s fabulous initiative process. Well, a new estimate for the nice, easy part between Merced and Bakersfield puts the cost at $10-$14 billion, up from earlier estimates of $6.8 billion made a mere three years ago…” (Kevin Drum, Mother Jones, “California’s HSR Boondoggle Now Even More Boondoggly”, August 11, 2011)

Fact: An initiative is a ballot measure placed on the ballot by the voters. In truth, the California high-speed rail project measure was placed on the ballot by a two-thirds vote in both houses of the Legislature and granted final approval by the (Republican) Governor, pursuant to the constitutional requirement for approval of general obligation bond measures.

And as of this summer, the low-end estimate for the entire San Francisco-Los Angeles-Anaheim route has only been increased by $3 billion from the 2009 estimate of $43 billion.

A peer review committee, convened by the California High-speed Rail Authority specifically to address questions about ridership projections, deemed the ridership model a solid foundation for project planning: “We are satisfied with the documentation presented in Cambridge Systematics, and conclude that it demonstrates that the model produces results that are reasonable and within expected ranges for the current environmental planning and Business Plan applications of the model. We were very pleased with the content, quality and quantity of the information.”
[Independent Peer Review of the California High-Speed Rail Ridership and Revenue Forecasting Process: Findings and Recommendations from April-July 2011 Review Period—2011. ]


Myth: High-speed rail in California will destroy huge amounts of farmland and lead to urban sprawl.

Fact: California is projected to add around 25 million people by the year 2050, bringing its total population to around 60 million people. If the state didn’t build the high-speed line, transportation officials estimate California would need to spend an estimated $100 billion on 3,000 miles of new freeways, five new airport runways, and build 90 new departure gates through airport expansion or new construction.

Modern rail corridors are actually the cheapest, most land-efficient way to accommodate all the traveling Americans will need to do in the coming century. By creating hubs for intercity transportation in city- and town-centers, passenger trains create denser, safer, more pedestrian-friendly communities for families.
[Merced to Fresno Section of the California High-Speed Train System: Highlights of Draft Environmental Impact Report/Statement—2011. Prepared for the California High Speed Rail Authority and the US Department of Transportation Federal Railroad Administration.]


Myth: “Let’s face it, now is not the time to be spending a decent size country’s GDP on a fast train between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Instead we should be spending that fortune completing much needed regional mass transit systems for Los Angeles, San Diego, Anaheim, Irvine, San Jose, the Bay Area, Bakersfield, Fresno and Sacramento.” (“California’s High-Speed Rail Mistake”, Huffington Post, September 13, 2011)

Fact: The state of California’s GDP is $2 trillion. The United State’s GDP is around $14 trillion. The money we are spending on high-speed rail—and even the total cost of the project in California—is a tiny fraction of that. And a drop in the bucket compared to the hundreds of billions the U.S. spends on roads and highways.

Additionally, the funds are not interchangeable. This claim is often made by people who want to see Amtrak and high-speed rail killed, knowing that once the money is rescinded there’s little chance that Congress would redirect the money to increase spending on transit. By ignoring intercity transportation we would be chaining ourselves to automobiles, freeways, and airplanes—dramatically increasing our energy consumption and CO2 emissions. America needs both intercity rail and intracity transit.

The U.S. invests about 2.4% of GDP on transportation and water infrastructure. Europe invests 5% of its GDP by comparison, with China sprinting ahead at 9%. It’s no wonder that American Society of Civil Engineers’ 2009 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure graded the nation’s critical infrastructure systems a “D”, noting a five-year investment need of $2.2 trillion to bring U.S. infrastructure up to par.
[Gross State Product—2011. Greyhill Advisors.][“Life in the slow lane”, Economist, April 28, 2011]; [Report Card for America’s Infrastructure—2009. American Society of Civil Engineers.]

Michigan By Rail Final Summary Report

In June 2010, Michigan Environmental Council (MEC) and the Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers (MARP) convened a series of statewide public forums focused on Michigan’s rail system.  Sixteen Michigan By Rail public forums were held across the state during the summer and fall.

This summary of Michigan By Rail findings provides a brief overview of the Michigan By Rail public forums, a discussion of the five common themes that emerged through each forum, a description of each of the forums including promotional materials, sample press materials and sample maps from each forum that best represent the general direction of that particular forum.

The purpose of the Michigan By Rail public forums was to begin a statewide conversation about Michigan’s passenger rail system, to better understand what Michiganders want out of the state’s passenger rail system, and to encourage citizens to submit their ideas to the Michigan Department of Transportation for incorporation into the official State Rail Plan.

The forums took place on weekday evenings and were primarily participant-driven.  They began with opening remarks which included an explanation of Michigan By Rail public forums and the State Rail Plan.  MEC and MARP clearly distinguished Michigan By Rail public forums from the transportation department’s four listening sessions.

Short introductions of the sponsors, local partners, and elected-official hosts followed the opening remarks.  Three United States congressmen, twenty-five state legislators, more than twelve mayors, and numerous city council members and township officials hosted the events.  Over 100 local partners, including more than 40 municipalities, eighteen chambers of commerce, seven planning departments, six conventions and visitors’ bureaus, and many others, helped publicize the forums.  Roughly 1,100 citizens participated.

Interactive mapping sessions consumed the majority of the forums.  Participants clustered around tables in groups of about ten.  The participants were given large Michigan maps which contained only county lines.  The participants were instructed to first place a sticker on the map which indicated where they considered home.  Then, they placed another sticker on the map at a place that they considered to be important to the state — a natural area, culturally significant place, etc.  Some participants used more than one sticker.  They were then instructed to draw lines on the map where they would like to travel by passenger train.  They also were reminded to consider freight rail traffic.  Finally, a person from each table presented that table’s map to the group at large — summaries of discussions, an explanation of what they drew on the map, and so on. The full group had the opportunity to question and comment on each map.

A representative from Amtrak or the Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers explained Michigan’s current passenger rail system after the map presentations.  The overview of the current system was intentionally delayed until after each table presented its map so as not to influence the mapping session.  The system overview led into wide-ranging discussions that consumed the remainder of the forum.  The discussions varied from forum to forum based on participant interest.  Common themes emerged both in the discussions and written input submitted by participants.

MEC and MARP collected input from participants about the current passenger rail system and their visions for its future.  Participants’ comments and the maps they created were used in the preparation of this document.

Nearly all of the participants wanted an improved and expanded rail system including more frequent and reliable service.  Five passenger rail themes emerged over the course of sixteen Michigan By Rail public forums regarding how to best achieve that goal:

  1. Michigan’s passenger rail system should include a Traverse City to southern Michigan connection.
  2. Michigan’s passenger rail system should connect east Michigan to west Michigan.
  3. Michigan’s passenger rail system should connect Michigan’s universities.
  4. Michigan’s passenger rail system should include commuter rail connections.
  5. Michigan’s passenger rail system should connect to Toledo.

What follows is a brief discussion of each of the common themes.

Michigan’s passenger rail system should include a Traverse City to southern Michigan connection
Each map at each forum included connecting Traverse City to the southern part of the state in some fashion.  The southern connection points varied between Grand Rapids and the Ann Arbor area depending on where the forum was held.  The maps, discussion, and comments, however, were consistent across forums regarding a Traverse City to southern Michigan passenger rail connection.

Michigan’s passenger rail system should connect east Michigan to west Michigan
Almost every map included connecting Michigan’s east side to west side from Detroit to Lansing to Grand Rapids (and often Holland).  Discussions around this passenger rail connection focused on linking together Michigan’s three principal cities (without first traveling to Chicago); commuter possibilities; connecting two major universities, Michigan State University and Wayne State University; make doing business easier in the three cities; and tourist travel — sports venues in Detroit, Art Prize in Grand Rapids, and the Capitol and other state government interests in Lansing.

Michigan’s passenger rail system should connect Michigan’s universities
Participants consistently mentioned a desire to connect Michigan’s universities and colleges. Some Michigan college towns are currently served by Amtrak; increasing service frequency, re-scheduling to accommodate the academic calendar, and connecting the college and universities together were reoccurring points.  The rationale that surfaced most typically in connecting the state’s academic institutions was to allow for instructors and students to more easily work and study at more than one institution.

Michigan’s passenger rail system should include commuter rail connections
Participants at each forum discussed the need for some sort of commuter rail service connecting the principal cities to outlying areas, particularly Detroit, Ann Arbor, Flint and Grand Rapids.  These discussions included a direct rail connection to Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW).

Michigan’s passenger rail system should connect to Toledo
Connecting Michigan’s existing passenger rail system to Toledo came up at each forum.  Participants discussed that one must travel to Chicago — or by motor coach to Toledo — to travel to points east such as New York.  Connecting Toledo to the Wolverine at Ann Arbor or Detroit was typically suggested.

More information, including photos of all of the participant-created maps, as well as local news articles covering many of the forums, is available at www.michiganbyrail.org.

Tim Fischer, Deputy Policy Director
Michigan Environmental Council

The full Michigan By Rail Summary Report is available online as a PDF file for viewing, downloading, or printing at:

http://bit.ly/fSYINU