Expanded Amtrak service from Milwaukee to the Twin Cities could start sometime later this year, even as prospects for new routes to Madison, Green Bay and Eau Claire remain uncertain, Wisconsin’s top rail official says.
Category Archives: News
Daily Long-Distance Service Study
Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) Amtrak Daily Long-Distance Service Study Summary of Regional Working Group Meetings – Round 1
View Project Website
Mechanic Street to close on Feb. 27
Mechanic Street to close on Feb. 27
for railroad bridge construction work in Jackson
LANSING, Mich. – The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) will close Mechanic Street to resume improvements around a railroad bridge. This work is part of the Jackson Railroad Bridges Replacement Project to replace two century-old railroad bridges over Jackson and Mechanic streets. The project also includes replacement of the railroad grade crossing at Blackstone Street.
The bridges are on a segment of railroad owned by MDOT within the federally designated high-speed rail corridor between Chicago and Detroit/Pontiac, supporting Amtrak passenger service and Norfolk Southern freight trains. The $32.9 million project is estimated to be completed in October 2023.
Monday, Feb. 27, 2023
Mechanic Street will close to traffic on Feb. 27 and Blackstone Street will close in early April. Jackson Street will remain open until the railroad bridges are replaced in August. Detroit and Van Buren streets will remain closed through the end of the project. Motorists should follow the posted detours.
Replacing these bridges will ensure smooth and safe railroad operations while maintaining this vital part of the state’s economy. Closing streets during this type of work is necessary to provide the safest work area possible for crews and motorists.
East Lansing Station Hosts
The MARP Station Host program consists of a group of five dedicated volunteers who staff the East Lansing Station mornings for the departure of the westbound train. First time travelers always have questions, and the ticket and parking kiosk can be challenging for some. While we do have a new and clean station that serves Amtrak, Indian Trails, and local CATA buses, it is short on signage to direct travelers, especially for those new to train travel. We do not meet the eastbound train because most arriving passengers simply leave the station quickly and very few people board the train to travel eastbound from East Lansing.
The East Lansing Amtrak Station is on Harrison Road adjacent to the huge Michigan State University (MSU) Campus. During the sell-out travel days (MSU’s spring break, fall break, and holidays), college students make up the majority of the passengers. As young, socially mobile, and frequent travelers, they typically need very little assistance from the station hosts. However, families traveling with children and seniors are identified by the station hosts and invited to
board first so they can find seats together. Some travelers with mobility issues and those with large or heavy luggage find that boarding the cars using the step box and climbing the narrow steps is difficult. (A raised boarding platform like at Ann Arbor would be a welcome addition and especially inviting for anyone with a mobility issue.)
Our current station hosts are Honey Bentley, Jerry Becker, Joy Gleason, Dave Koval, and John Boyse. Honey Bentley is assisted by her sister Kim Baker who serves as the weekend caretaker for our station. We’re all happy to be a part of the station host volunteer program, and enjoy our mornings at the station. (MARP is very proud of these dedicated volunteer hosts.)
Weigh in on north-south rail
Next Year’s Northern Michigan Rail Study Will Welcome Critics, Concerns
By James Bruckbauer
Transportation & Community Design Program Director
Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities
The idea of creating a passenger rail connection to northern Lower Michigan reached an exciting milestone this year when state and federal lawmakers announced funding support for the next phase of planning. But even though many people think the news is a win for Michigan cities, the idea has its share of critics.
The good news is this: The planning team wants to hear your feedback and opinions on the idea, even if you oppose the idea. In 2023 the study team will seek feedback from people all over Michigan so residents themselves can shape the potential service.
The idea itself came from the public speaking up. A little over a decade ago, during an extensive and extremely well-attended regional transportation land use visioning process, many Grand Traverse region residents enthusiastically said they wanted to see passenger train service restored to Traverse City. They saw the potential of fewer cars on the roads, less freeway congestion, more and safer travel options and rail’s economic boost to downtowns. The idea grew out of public interest and people speaking up, not top-down planning.
Big infrastructure projects impact many people, and passenger rail service to northern Michigan could have a huge impact on travelers, neighborhoods, cities, and taxpayers. When the news broke of federal and state funds approved to support the next phase of planning work—a study that will identify necessary equipment and capital upgrades and also outline a potential business plan for passenger service—many around the state celebrated the key milestone. Others, however, raised their concerns about potential costs, neighborhood impacts, the quality of previous study info, needs, and focus on tourism.
A recent letter to the Traverse City Record-Eagle claimed that the train line will cost a billion dollars and carry 1,500,000 wealthy visitors a year to Traverse City. Others have expressed a deep fear that the line will be focused on bringing too many more visitors to an already tourist-heavy Traverse City. The nonprofit Michigan Capital Confidential questioned the ridership projections in an earlier study and falsely claimed that the same ridership numbers will be used in the Phase II plan.
While I can’t control what people say or write about the idea in the public realm, I will always respond to specific questions about the project, and the 2023 study will be done in a way that recognizes and addresses your concerns.
In the meantime, here are few things key things to remember over the holidays as Groundwork works with many partners to launch the study early next year:
- The study is focused on a set of tracks that are already owned by the state of Michigan. Rail experts will explore how the state can maximize its own existing and active rail line that runs between southeast Michigan and the Traverse City and Petoskey areas, and runs through cities like Owosso, Mt. Pleasant, and Cadillac.
- The tracks are being used right now to carry freight products, and the study will look at how passenger and freight can coexist on the tracks.
- The initial 2018 study looked at many different scenarios, from 25 m.p.h. excursion trains to trains with speeds of up to 110 m.p.h. on some sections. The more realistic options, like 60–80 m.p.h. trains, were expected to cost a fraction of the high-priced 110 m.p.h. option. The next step is to boil those different ideas down to a real plan with updated cost estimates.
- The line also connects to Michigan’s important east/west passenger rail lines, and we feel it’s essential to connect people to the Detroit to Chicago Amtrak service, which is a rail line that has seen hundreds of millions of dollars of investment to make faster, more reliable train service.
- The team that worked on the 2018 study used a detailed method of estimating ridership, aggregating three main sources: 1) existing travel demand models from local transportation planning agencies throughout Michigan, which shows where vehicle trips start and end in Michigan, and including mode and purpose; 2) the socioeconomic growth projections for the areas along the lines; 3) and a “travel desirability analysis” that looks at people’s likelihood of driving vs. taking a plane or train, based on cost and travel time.
- Sure, visitors make up many mid- and northern Michigan trips. However, the focus for the next study will be on business, university, medical, and everyday travel in the state.
- The capital costs, operating costs, safety upgrades, and ridership forecasts will all be updated, but another piece that will be important to determine is the operating and management structure that should be created.
- I would like this next phase help us understand if there’s a viable service here that does not have to depend on public financial support. We believe there’s an opportunity to get creative with different revenue and private funding structures and create an innovative new model for train service.
- The Northern Michigan passenger rail line is included in the Michigan Department of Transportation’s State Rail Plan and long-range Mobility 2045 plan.
As we close out the year, we’re excited about this project. Unlike most major transportation projects, residents and travelers will get a say and have a voice in shaping this vision for potential future passenger train service that they want in their communities—which is especially fitting for a project that was first proposed in public visioning sessions.