Category Archives: News

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.

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

Transportation officials discuss light rail systems for Ann Arbor

From Crain’s Detroit Business:

Plans for a light rail system linking parts of Ann Arbor are being discussed by city and local transportation officials.

Details were released Wednesday at the University of Michigan, the Ann Arbor News reported that

The Ann Arbor Connector could cost $500 million to $700 million and would run through downtown Ann Arbor, the university’s central and north campuses and the school’s medical center.

University planner Sue Gott said in a statement that the system would provide “better transit access to downtown, important U-M destinations and job centers, reducing dependence on adding more parking in core areas.”

The costs would be paid through federal and state dollars, university funding and other sources.

The project is in the early planning stage. Public meetings are scheduled for March 24.

If constructed, the light rail would have its own dedicated lane. The service also is estimated to be 43 percent faster than standard buses and would increase rider capacity by about 52 percent, officials said.

The connector also could be fully powered by renewable energy.

“As our community and its needs grow, the public transportation services that help connect people with jobs, school, appointments, shopping, and family and friends have also grown,” said Matt Carpenter, chief executive of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority.

Source: http://www.crainsdetroit.com/article/20160224/NEWS01/160229901

Quicken names M-1 Rail as QLine

From Crain’s Detroit Business:

The name of the new M-1 Rail streetcar line in Detroit will be QLine, Dan Gilbert’s Quicken Loans Inc. announced Thursday.

The name was one of several trademarked by Quicken, as first reported by Crain’s last year.

Quicken is paying $5 million over 10 years for the naming rights to the line.

Quicken Loans Inc. purchased the naming rights on the $137 million streetcar project, now called Qline.

“The launch of QLine marks a significant moment in the development of Detroit,” said Jay Farner, president and chief marketing officer of Quicken Loans. “Quicken Loans is proud to play our part in the beginning stages of modernizing the transit system in our burgeoning urban core.”

The first QLine car is expected later this year followed by safety testing.

Crain’s first reported in May that Quicken purchased the naming rights on the $137 million streetcar project, which is under construction and scheduled to be complete in the first quarter of 2017.

“Community after community has benefited from the economic benefits of urban rail systems,” M-1 Rail CEO Matt Cullen said in a statement. “Each day we are getting more excited for the launch of QLine and all the possibilities it will open for our community and our residents.”

QLine was one in a series of rail-related trademark registrations by Quicken in the last 17 months. In December, Quicken trademarked RocketRail, one month after trademarking the names Quickline, QLink and QLine, according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. In February 2014, Quicken trademarked the name QRide.

RocketRail appeared to be a play off a series of products tied to Gilbert-related ventures that use the words rock and rocket.

In October, Quicken unveiled a new service for desktops and smartphones called Rocket Mortgage. Gilbert’s Rock Ventures LLC also plans to install fiber-optic cable to provide ultrafast Internet access called Rocket Fiber in downtown Detroit and Midtown.

Quicken is the largest single corporate contributor in the streetcar line at $10 million, an increase made last year from its previous $3 million capital contribution. The $5 million for the naming rights is in addition to that.

The naming rights are for only the 3.3-mile loop now under construction, and don’t cover any future expansion of the line up Woodward or potential spur lines on streets such as Michigan and Gratiot avenues, M-1 Rail organizers said.

The rail line will run from Congress Street downtown to Grand Boulevard in the New Center area with what organizers project will be 5,000 to 8,000 riders per day.

In June, M-1 said it had signed a $32 million contract with Pennsylvania-based Brookville Equipment Corp. for six streetcars, which will begin to be delivered later this year.

Construction of the mostly curbside fixed-rail streetcar line, which will be commingled with traffic, began in 2014. It will have 20 stations at 12 stops between Grand Boulevard and Congress Street, and it will run in the median at its north and south ends.

M-1 Rail has said expected annual operations costs will range from $5.1 million to $6.5 million. Backers said the plan is to have 10 years of operating money banked, after which time the public Regional Transit Authority will assume control of it.

Construction is being funded by a mixture of corporate, foundation and public money, and the intention is that future government investment would expand the line north as far as Pontiac and onto other streets (while linking into other transit systems along the route).

Gilbert and Roger Penske are co-chairmen of the nonprofit project. M-1 Rail CEO Cullen is also president and CEO of Gilbert’s Rock Ventures.

Source: http://www.crainsdetroit.com/article/20160324/NEWS/160329890/quicken-names-m-1-rail-as-qline

Amtrak is offering 20 percent off fares for the Blue Water, Pere Marquette and Wolverine trains

Don’t sit in your house and wait for warm weather. See the fun activities Michigan has to offer this winter by planning a Pure Michigan Snow Day and taking advantage of the hot savings Amtrak is offering on their Michigan trains! From now until March 31, Amtrak is offering 20 percent off fare for the Blue Water, Pere Marquette and Wolverine trains. Below are just a few of the special prices available (adult fares, each way, as low as):

Chicago to Detroit $28.00
Chicago to Grand Rapids $24.80
Chicago to Port Huron $24.80

             To receive discounts, apply Amtrak fare code V441 for Michigan trains. The fare code must be used to take advantage of these low fares. Tickets are non-refundable and some blackout dates apply. See the Deals tab on Amtrak.com for other applicable restrictions, including advance reservation and purchase requirements for discounts through March 31. Terms and conditions vary.

Once you have your ticket, here is a sampling of special events occurring now until the end of March:

Amtrak Route

Event

City

Dates

Wolverine

North American International Auto Show

Detroit

Jan. 11-24

Blue Water/

Wolverine

Kalamazoo Beer Week

Kalamazoo

Jan. 16-23

Wolverine

Avondale Train Show

Auburn Hills

Jan. 17

Blue Water

Port Huron Chilly Fest

Port Huron

Jan. 22-23

Pere Marquette

Annual Chili Tour

St. Joseph

Jan. 29

Blue Water

Art & Craft Beer Fest

Lansing

Jan. 29-30

Pere Marquette

St. Joe Winter Beer Fest

St. Joseph

Jan. 30

Wolverine

Winter Fun Fest

Ann Arbor

Jan. 30 – Feb. 20

Blue Water/

Wolverine

Coopers Glen Music Festival

Kalamazoo

Feb. 5-6

Pere Marquette

Magical Ice Fest

St. Joseph

Feb. 5-7

Wolverine

Paczki Day

Hamtramck

Feb. 9

Wolverine

Meridian Winter Blast

Detroit

Feb. 12-14

Wolverine

Ann Arbor Train Show & Sale

Saline

Feb. 13-14

Pere Marquette

Beer Week

Grand Rapids

Feb. 17-28

Blue Water/

Wolverine

Pub & Grub Fest

Battle Creek

Feb. 20

Pere Marquette

Winterfest

Grand Rapids

Feb. 25

Wolverine

Autorama

Detroit

Feb. 26-28

Pere Marquette

LaughFest

Grand Rapids

Mar. 10-20

Wolverine

St. Patrick’s Day Parade

Detroit

Mar. 13

Beyond the special events, the following list is an excerpt of family-friendly attractions that will keep visitors warm indoors. These attractions are open year-round:

Amtrak Route

Attraction

City

Blue Water/

Wolverine

Air Zoo

Kalamazoo

Wolverine

Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum

Ann Arbor

Blue Water

Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland

Frankenmuth

Wolverine

Detroit Institute of Arts

Detroit

Blue Water

Durand Union Station/Michigan Railroad History Museum

Durand

Pere Marquette

Federick Meijer Garden & Sculpture Park

Grand Rapids

Blue Water

Flint Institute of Arts

Flint

Pere Marquette

Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum

Grand Rapids

Blue Water/

Wolverine

Gilmore Car Museum

Kalamazoo

(Hickory Corners)

Pere Marquette

Grand Rapids Children’s Museum

Grand Rapids

Pere Marquette

Holland Museum

Holland

Wolverine

The Henry Ford

Dearborn

Blue Water/

Wolverine

Kalamazoo Valley Museum

Kalamazoo

Blue Water

Michigan Historical Center

Lansing

Wolverine

Michigan Science Center

Detroit

Blue Water

Michigan State University Museum

East Lansing

Blue Water

Port Huron museums

Port Huron

Blue Water

Sloan*Longway

Flint

Wolverine

University of Michigan Museum of Natural History

Ann Arbor

The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) does not endorse the events and attractions listed above as they just offer a snapshot of what visitors and residents can do along the Amtrak routes. For more information on other events, attractions, dining, lodging and connecting transportation to the trains, visit the following travel and visitor bureau websites:

Pure Michigan

Calhoun County Visitors Bureau

Dearborn Visitor and Welcome Center

Discover the Blue

Discover Kalamazoo

Experience Grand Rapids

Flint and Genesee Chamber of Commerce

Frankenmuth Convention and Visitor’s Bureau

Four Flags Area Council on Tourism

Greater Lansing Convention and Visitor’s Bureau

Holland

Lapeer Chamber of Commerce

New Buffalo Travel and Visitor’s Guide

Saugatuck/Douglas

St. Joseph Today

Shiawassee County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau

Visit Ann Arbor

Visit Detroit

Visit Grand Haven

West Michigan Tourism Association

Ypsilanti Convention and Visitor’s Bureau

 

Amtrak conductor talks to passenger on the Blue Water

A conductor talks to passengers aboard the Amtrak Blue Water.

More information at: http://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/MIDOT/bulletins/12f7aed