Category Archives: News

Dowagiac man leading efforts to fund repairs to local train station

From Dowagiac Daily News:

For the past five winters, the bright white lights hanging from the roof of Dowagiac’s historic train depot have shined like a warm beacon during cold evenings downtown.

That brilliant visage may soon burn out, though, without some generosity from the local community.

Dowagiac’s Ron Leatz has recently began a new fundraising campaign to pay for repairs to the 1903 train depot’s outdoor lighting system, which has begun to fail due to ongoing wiring problems. Leatz is seeking to raise $5,200 in donations to fund the work, in hopes of having it completed by year’s end, he said.

Leatz, a volunteer with the Michigan Association for Railroad Passengers who serves as the “host” for travelers
riding the Amtrak trains that stop at the depot, was responsible for organizing the initial “Light Up the Depot” campaign in 2010 that funded the installation of the lights to begin with.

The Dowagiac man was inspired to install such light fixtures on the historic train station after seeing the efforts of the Niles’ Four Flags Garden Club, which pays for the installation of Christmas lights every winter at the city’s own vintage Amtrak station, Leatz said.

In order to accomplish his goal of lighting up Dowagiac’s depot, Leatz collected $8,000 from residents and businesses throughout the Dowagiac community in 2010. The city, which maintains the depot, then used the funds to pay for a contractor to install Christmas lights atop its roof.

“They used a very low wattage for the bulbs, to make it look like the kind of lighting used at the turn of the century when the station was built,” Leatz said.

Instead of serving as temporary decorations for the holiday season, the lights placed atop the Dowagiac station were installed permanently, switching on every season at the start of daylight savings time and switching off when daylight savings time ends, Leatz said.

“I did not want to collect such a large amount of money and only have them up for only 30 or so days,” he said.

The elements have taken their toll on the more than 2,200 feet of wiring powering the light bulbs, though, with the damage causing issues to the building’s electrical system, he said. In order to fix the problem, the wiring will need to be completely replaced, though the installer should be able to reuse the 1,700 light bulbs currently in place, Leatz added.

With the winter season rapidly approaching, Leatz said he is beginning to go door-to-door asking for help with the new fundraiser.

“When we did this the last time, we had people donating just a dollar or even pocket change to the effort,” he said. “When you are trying to raise this much money, every little bit adds up.”

People wishing to contribute to the cause can write checks to “Light Up the Depot,” and can either drop them off to the city treasurer office inside Dowagiac City Hall or mail them to the city at P.O. Box 430, Dowagiac, MI 49047.

For more information, people can call Leatz at (269) 782-0635.


Metro Detroit leaders reach regional transit deal

From The Detroit News:

An eleventh-hour deal was struck Aug. 2 by the top elected leaders in Metro Detroit to save a $4.6 billion transportation millage proposal to help fund regional rapid transit.

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson said Tuesday that a “deal to make the deal” had been reached.

“It’s a huge breakthrough today,” he said.

The agreement comes after the Regional Transit Authority’s board voted 4-5 Thursday against placing the 20-year, 1.2-mill tax on the Nov. 8 ballot that would fund rapid transit.

A recent rift between counties threatened the authority’s millage proposal, but the secret afternoon meeting Tuesday addressed the concerns raised by county executives Mark Hackel of Macomb and L. Brooks Patterson of Oakland, and secured their support.

At issue was whether future funding votes would protect the interests of a few or each county, guarantees on funding allocations and concerns about when the authority would take over the M-1 Rail system now known as the QLine. In addition, Oakland received assurances that transit service would be granted to more communities in the master plan, officials said.

Patterson also said the deal addresses concerns such as ironclad assurances that every county receives 85 percent of what they raise in terms of tax revenue from the millage and that each county will have to approve any funding allocations in future votes.

“Now we’re going to set about memorializing it in writing so we know where we stand,” said Patterson.

The group of regional leaders met in downtown Detroit on the last day to move forward to have the ballot language for the transportation millage certified by county clerks in time for the Nov. 8 ballot.

A tentative meeting was set for Thursday to vote on the plan for Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Washtenaw counties.

Detroit Mayor Michael Duggan, Wayne County Executive Warren Evans and RTA chief Michael Ford also attended the meeting.

The 20-year millage would cost the owner of a $200,000 home about $120 annually.

“I congratulate the other members of the Big Four, because nobody went in there with the idea to sink it,” Patterson said. “We all wanted to save it.”

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel said the eleventh-hour negotiations addressed his concern about governance of the transit authority with representatives from Detroit and Wayne, Macomb, Oakland and Washtenaw counties.

“There will be at least one vote from each county and the city of Detroit,” he said, adding that the structure ensures no community will be marginalized.

“It’s a great way of resolving the issue,” he said.

The latest development was good news for Ford, the transit authority’s CEO.

“We’re pleased that the regional leaders have reached agreement on a regional transit plan to place before voters in November and look forward to a successful vote at the special RTA board meeting Thursday morning,” Ford said in a statement.

Evans said after meeting that he remained hopeful that residents will be able to vote on the millage in November.

“While there are still minor concerns that must be addressed, our goal is to improve the public transit system in southeast Michigan,” Evans said in a statement. “The improved public transportation system that the RTA is proposing will build upon the progress that Detroit and Wayne County have made in the past few years, progress that has strengthened our region. With this plan everybody wins.”

Duggan also issued a statement Tuesday following the agreement.

“We appreciate our partners agreeing to come together and move our region forward,” Duggan said. “This regional transit plan will bring not only independence and opportunity for people all over southeast Michigan, but it will allow us to compete with metropolitan areas across the country for development and investment. This agreement also signifies that our region is starting to move beyond a half-century of infighting that has served only to divide us and hold southeast Michigan back.”


Bells & Whistles: Trains Return To Traverse City

It’s not your imagination: You’ve been hearing and seeing more trains in and around Traverse City. And if Chris Bagwell and James Bruckbauer have anything to say about it, the local tracks will be getting even busier.

For years since the Grand Traverse Dinner Train ceased operation in 2006, area tracks were rarely used; the economy had turned sour and freight rail traffic nationwide was drying up.

But now the bells and whistles have returned to northern Michigan, heralding a stronger manufacturing sector in the region as companies ship goods across the state and nation.

Enter Great Lakes Central Railroad, the Owosso-based company that operates trains along 400 miles of Michigan tracks from Ann Arbor to Petoskey and branch lines in between. Great Lakes’ rail cars are hauling grain, plastics, lumber, fertiziler and hazardous materials within the state and connecting to the major rail companies criss-crossing the nation.

Today, companies from Williamburg (Amerhart) to Kalkaska (Magnum Solvents) to to Grawn (Cherry Growers) are regular Great Lakes customers, as are Petoskey Plastics to the north and clients in Cadillac to the south. All told, Great Lakes’ General Manager Chris Bagwell tells The Ticker a train or two per week rumbles through Traverse City.

(The next time you’re tempted to complain about the delay as you wait at one of Traverse City’s 11 railroad crossings, consider this: most local crossings hold cars for 30-60 seconds. It’s not uncommon in a downstate town like Plymouth for 90-car trains to hold crossings for 45 minutes).

Though freight trains serve important roles as engines of commerce, it’s the tantalizing potential of passenger rail that has many in northern Michigan excited.

A campaign to begin passenger service between Ann Arbor and Traverse City is gaining steam, led by TC-based Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities. It’s an idea that will require political support, funding, and a proven market – but the most immediate problem is the track itself: An estimated 95 percent of the tracks between Ann Arbor and Traverse City are ready to haul tourists north, but that last five percent is located right here in northern Michigan.

The Federal Railroad Administration classifies all track; class 6 track allows for speeds above 100mph for freight or passenger traffic. Much of the local track is classified as “excepted track,” which falls below Class 1, which carries a 10mph speed limit for freight and does not allow use by revenue passenger trains.

Groundwork is prioritizing advocacy for more funding to upgrade those tracks because – according to Bruckbauer – there is “widespread interest in establishing passenger rail service,” noting his organization has received “dozens of support letters from various communities and groups along the line, and we’ve raised enough funding to advance a major study on the project.”

Great Lakes Railroad’s Bagwell reminds that freight “will always be what pays the bills,” but quickly adds that “anybody can see that Traverse City continues to grow, and the economic development groups up there are really pushing [passenger rail].” His company envisions it as a way to diversify beyond just hauling grains or raw goods.

The state-sponsored study that Bruckbauer hails as an important milestone will explore track conditions, potential costs, economic impact, ridership, and more. The study is part of Michigan’s State Rail Plan and is expected to begin this fall.



Port Huron train station no longer staffed

From The Port Huron Times-Herald:

Port Huron’s Amtrak station is no longer staffed starting July 1.

The station waiting area at 2223 16th St. will remain open to passengers from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. daily. Amtrak personnel on the train will assist passengers boarding and departing at the station.

The train leaves Port Huron at 6:20 a.m., arriving in Chicago six hours and 35 minutes later. The return trip departs Chicago about 4 p.m., arriving in Port Huron at 11:38 p.m.

Marc Magliari, Amtrak spokesman, said the changes to staffing stations throughout the country follows a trend of passengers purchasing tickets online.

“More and more passengers are not using the ticket windows for purchasing their tickets,” Mahliari said. “Overwhelmingly the majority of our tickets are sold without any human interaction.”

Tickets will not be sold at the station. Passengers can make reservations and get eTickets at, by using the free mobile apps, or by calling (800) 872-7245. The eTickets can printed at home or displayed using a smartphone. Passengers can also use Amtrak’s Quik-Trak ticketing kiosk at the station.

Amtrak started offering eTickets about four years ago. In 2014, nearly 24,000 people used the Port Huron station.

Magliari said Port Huron is joining a list of un-staffed stations that includes Grand Rapids, Lapeer, Durand, Holland, New Buffalo, St. Joseph and Troy.

Stations that remain staffed include Flint, Jackson, Detroit, Dearborn, Niles, Kalamazoo, Battle Creek and East Lansing.

At the end of the 2015 fiscal year, Amtrak employed 240 Michigan residents.

Magliari said he couldn’t say exactly where Port Huron’s station agent will go once the position is eliminated, but said the employee has union rights.

He said a caretaker will open and close the station and ensure it is clean and safe.

Amtrak also encourages passengers to be dropped off and picked up whenever possible at the Port Huron station, as parking is limited.

Matt Marderosian, director of Save Our Trains Michigan, said there is concern more cuts to staffing will be made along the Blue Water Line, which stretches between Port Huron and Chicago.

Marderosian said there is a demand to keep the trains running. He also believes many riders want the option of purchasing tickets onsite.


Great Dome Car Scheduled to be on the Amtrak Pere Marquette for Four July Weekends

Spectacular 360-degree views, made possible by windows on all four sides and curving up into the roof, are a feature of the Amtrak Great Dome car, which will be assigned to the Amtrak Pere Marquette train on four weekends this July.

Officially known as car 10031 “Ocean View,” it is the only Dome Lounge car in the entire Amtrak fleet. It will operate eastbound on Thursday nights with round-trips through the weekend, returning west to Chicago on Monday mornings, June 30-July 4, July 7-11, 14-18 and 21-24. There is no extra charge to ride in this car, built for the Great Northern Railway in 1955.

The upper level offers panoramic views of the of one of the prettiest routes in the Midwest, from the Chicago skyline to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, carousel and beach in St. Joseph, massive pickling tanks in Bangor, famous tulip town of Holland and the bright new station in Grand Rapids. Heavy traffic, steep tolls and pricey parking are far away for Amtrak customers, with adult fares starting at $32 each way, plus add-ons for bikes or small pets.