Category Archives: News

M-1 Rail receives second phase of federal tax credit funding

From Crain’s Detroit Business:

Photo from M-1 Rail.
Winter construction of the M-1 Streetcar project is underway on Woodward Ave. in Detroit, Photo from M-1 Rail.

The second phase of $8 million in federal New Markets Tax Credit funding for the $137 million M-1 Rail streetcar project in downtown Detroit has been received.

The first round was received earlier this year, according to a news release.

New Markets investors receive over seven years tax credits equal to 39 percent of the total qualified investment — 5 percent each of the first three years, and 6 percent each of the next four.

The M-1 Rail project is the first public transportation initiative to receive funding through New Markets Tax Credits, said a news release.

Investors in the NMTC funding are J.P. Morgan Chase, Invest Detroit, the Great Lakes Capital Fund, Local Initiatives Support Corp., and United Fund Advisors.

The NMTC was created under the Community Renewal Tax Relief Act of 2000.

M-1 Rail streetcar project, which began construction in July, is 3.3 miles (6.6 miles total) along Woodward Avenue between Grand Boulevard and Congress Street. It will have 20 stations at 12 stops in that stretch.

Organizers predict 5,000 to 8,000 riders a day, with a basic one-way fare of $1.50.

Funding the project are private companies, foundations and hospitals, along with local, state and federal government agencies — making for a 24-part public-private arrangement that took seven years to negotiate and create.


First train pulls out of new Dearborn Amtrak station

From Detroit Free Press:

Rev. John Koski, associate pastor of Springwells Church in Dearborn, waves as the trains departs.(Photo: Eric Lawrence, Detroit Free Press)
Rev. John Koski, associate pastor of Springwells Church in Dearborn, waves as the trains departs.(Photo: Eric Lawrence, Detroit Free Press)

As Wolverine Train No. 351 to Chicago left Dearborn this morning, the Rev. John Koski was there, waving as it pulled away from the platform after picking up 68 passengers at the new John D. Dingell Transit Center shortly after 7 a.m.

Koski, 64, of Dearborn and associate pastor of the city’s Springwells Church, was impressed.

“This is going to be a great place,” he said, noting its proximity on Michigan Avenue near Evergreen to The Henry Ford and a local bike path. “This is going to be a great asset to Dearborn.”

Koski said he was also at the station to “dedicate this to the Lord” ahead of an open house planned for 4-6 p.m. Monday.

The federally funded, $28.2 million, 16,000-square-foot center is designed as an intermodal passenger rail station on the Chicago-Detroit/Pontiac. It’s near the Rouge River Gateway Greenway Trail that connects to the University of Michigan-Dearborn and Henry Ford College campuses, and a pedestrian bridge should make it easy for passengers to enter the Henry Ford and Greenfield Village, Dearborn city spokeswoman Mary Laundroche has said.

The station, which features a mosaic of blue tiles stretching out in rays and stars and smaller green arches designed by local students, also has a number of interesting features, including heat lamps in a mostly enclosed waiting area outside. And the platform itself can adjust so the distance to the train is less for those boarding or move to accommodate wider loads passing through, according to Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari.

A Tim Hortons also is being completed near the station.

It’s the third train station to open in Michigan in recent months. In October, the long-delayed $6.4 million Troy Transit Center and the $6.1 million Vernon J. Ehlers Amtrak Station opened in Grand Rapids opened for business.

This morning, the lobby of the new Dearborn station at 21201 Michigan Ave., which is about two miles west of the old station, was filled with riders, many of them who had visited Niagara Falls as part of a tour group.

Gary King, 54, of Ridgway, Ill., called the station gorgeous, while Sherri Ulbrich, 72, who was traveling with her husband Bob Cox, of St. Charles, Mo,, noted with a smile that the temperature could be warmer.

But Debbie Williams, 43, of Riverview marveled at the packed lobby.

“I’ve never seen it this full,” she said, describing the new station as an improvement. “The old station could fit in (this lobby). … It’s probably a little overwhelming compared to the last one. I had to make sure I was in the right place.”

Williams said she was traveling to Chicago to see a Bob Seger concert with a friend.

Patrick Socia, 58, of Texas Township near Kalamazoo, was headed home. He works for Quicken Loans in Detroit and travels back and forth regularly.

He takes the train more often when gas prices are high.

“You can plug in, do your work. It’s comfortable, not as ugly as a bus,” he said.

Hyginia Malinowski, 54, who recently moved to Dearborn from Williamsburg, Va., after her husband got a job with Ford, was traveling to Chicago with her friend, Susan Smith, 56, of Basel, Switzerland.

She was a bit anxious about the trip after learning that a man with possible mental health issues had been accused of stabbing four people Friday on a train heading to Port Huron, but she noted that “what are the chances it would happen again?”

This trip would mark her first in Dearborn.

“Everybody tells us it’s the best way to go,” she said.


Via Rail eyeing private capital to build its own dedicated rail lines

From the National Post (Canada):

fp1205_viacorridor_c_mfVia Rail Canada hopes to reduce congestion by building its own network of dedicated tracks, and the passenger rail service wants to enlist the help of private equity to do it.

Currently, 90% of the track that Via uses is owned by Canadian National Railway Co., and this shared infrastructure can result in bottlenecks as freight and passenger trains vie for space.

“Our on-time performance has deteriorated significantly over the last 12 months,” Yves Desjardins-Siciliano, president and CEO of Via Rail, said in an interview at Via’s headquarters in Montreal.

“Congestion is the No. 1 issue, and it has negative impacts on the Canadian economy as a whole because it makes both freight traffic and passenger traffic less efficient.”

CN said it does not publicly disclose how much of its revenue comes from Via.

In the third quarter, Via’s trains were on time 77% of the time, down from 83% a year earlier. The worst performer was the tourist-friendly route from Toronto to Vancouver, known as the Canadian, where on-time performance fell to 25% from 41% in the second quarter.

Mr. Desjardins-Siciliano — who was Via’s chief corporate and legal officer before he was appointed CEO in May — said the solution is to gradually build up a network of dedicated tracks that Via can use, separate from the freight carriers and commuter trains. Currently, Via owns only 2% of the network on which it operates.

Via’s first priority is acquiring track in the busy corridor between Quebec City and Windsor, Ont., which accounts for 90% of the railway’s volume. But the challenge for the Crown corporation is finding the money to undertake the costly process of building its own dedicated line.

Last week, the federal government announced $204 million in new funding that will be divided between Via and federally-owned and operated airports.

Mr. Desjardins-Siciliano said he doesn’t know exactly how much of that money will go to Via, but the funds will be used to acquire rail lines. And he plans to ask provincial and municipal governments for funding as well if they want Via to provide additional service — something Amtrak has done in the United States.

Via will consider buying tracks that other railways don’t need anymore, acquiring existing railway beds that have been abandoned, or building new tracks from scratch, he added.

“You don’t build it overnight,” he said. “You build it a trunk at a time.”

Unlike his predecessors, Mr. Desjardins-Siciliano is also open to exploring funding options beyond taxpayer dollars, including private capital.

The Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan and Borealis Infrastructure — an arm of the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System — paid approximately $3.4-billion in 2010 for the rights to operate High Speed One, the rail link between London and the mouth of the Channel Tunnel to France.

“So there is an interest in investing in infrastructure for passenger rail, provided there’s a business opportunity,” said Mr. Desjardins-Siciliano.

“And we believe that business opportunity is self-feeding, meaning if you have dedicated tracks, you’d be able to provide reliable, on-time service at greater frequencies and shorter trip times, and that’s what justifies private investment.”

Mark Romoff, president and CEO of the Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships, said he believes there would be “a lot of interest” from the private sector in Via’s project.

“Depending on how they chose to structure it, it could go ahead as a public-private partnership and yes, there would be a lot of interest on the part of the financial community to engage in a project like this,” Mr. Romoff said.

But Mr. Desjardins-Siciliano said he won’t make his pitch to private investors until Via improves its financial results.

“You can’t go to the private markets when you have bad on-time performance, lower or stagnant passenger volumes and congested rail infrastructure and are losing $300-million a year and expect private investors to be interested,” he said. “I believe you have to make the case first.”

In the third quarter, Via shrunk its operating loss by 12.1% to $65.8 million, allowing the government to reduce its contribution by 9.4% to $83.1 million. Passenger revenues rose 6.6% to $77 million.

Mr. Desjardins-Siciliano said his goal is to reduce Via’s reliance on federal funding by getting its busiest routes — those in the Quebec City-Windsor corridor and tourist-friendly offerings like the Canadian — to break even. The government would then only need to subsidize remote routes and capital investments like locomotives and train tracks.

“You don’t get subsidized to go to Cuba and someone shouldn’t be subsidized to go see the Rockies or go to the beach in New Brunswick,” he said.

You don’t build it overnight… You build it a trunk at a time

One way for Via to break even on its busier routes is to increase passenger volumes so that each train generates more revenue at a lower cost per passenger.

The company is making a concerted effort to become more attractive to potential passengers. Since 2007, Ottawa has invested almost $1 billion in Via and the railway has put that toward renovating its carriages, offering better food, improving service and developing promotions aimed at particular groups, such as university students and business travellers.

Mr. Desjardins-Siciliano said Via is focused on attracting people who usually drive but are frustrated by the amount of congestion they encounter.

“There are days when getting in and out of Montreal or Ottawa, for example, will be 50% if not more of the travel time between Montreal and Ottawa,” he said. “That’s where train travel is a huge advantage.”

He added that congestion is much more likely to motivate people to take the train than high gas prices, and he doesn’t expect much impact on passenger volumes from the recent drop in oil prices.

Ultimately, though, Via needs to change Canadians’ perceptions of the value of train travel if it wants to win them over, Mr. Desjardins-Siciliano said.

“One of the drawbacks or difficulties of promoting and marketing Via Rail is many Canadians have not experienced Via since they were kids, so they may have a romantic view of Via, or they may have a past experience of Via as being old technology,” he said.

“We are trying to get people to recognize that the Via of today is a much more modern experience than people may remember.”


Three companies submit bids to operate Algoma Central

From the Sault Star:

1297568111753_ORIGINALThree rail companies have submitted formal bids to operate the Algoma Central Railway passenger service between Sault Ste. Marie and Hearst.

The same three rail companies have also submitted bids to CN Rail to operate the tour train service.

The ACR Passenger Service Working Group met Monday to hear CN Rail’s take on the formal bids and to further assess the bids for the passenger service.

“We will move the markers forward, we’re just not sure how much yet,” said city CAO Joe Fratesi prior to the meeting.

If CN Rail provides information that it has selected a preferred operator, then the working group will need to determine how it’s plans and ideas will merge with that operator.

Following the meeting, Fratesi said that CN and the working group have zeroed in on a provider but still needs to seek some clarification and missing information.

“It’s fairly important details that we’re looking for,” Fratesi said. He anticipates a response by the potential operator in early January.

He could not disclose what information is needed by either CN or the working group.

Once that information is received, and all the parties are satisfied, Fratesi said a plan can be put together for the Transport Minister.

It’s believed that all parties are pleased that the same companies submitted bids to run both the passenger service and the tour train operations.

“It would be very awkward if they were not the same of if one company was good for one purpose but not the other,” Fratesi said.

He stressed that there will be a role for the federal government to play in the continued operation of the passenger rail service.

“We have been told that they (the federal government) won’t play a role to the contribution they are currently involved in, but there will be a role for them,” he said. “And we have never faltered in our view that there needs to be federal support there for the long term and we all need to feel comfortable with the arrangement.”

Linda Savory-Gordon, co-chair of the Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains and member of the working group, said she’s pleased with the quality of the applicants.

“We’re anxious for a decision to be made so we can move forward with a sustainability plan and increase ridership and train events,” she said.

Savory-Gordon is a firm believer that special train events will create a strong draw and boost in revenue for the successful operator.

“We saw our Searchmont North Pole Express sell out in 20 minutes and I believe that’s a strong indication that these type of events could boost the revenue stream and make the train more sustainable,” she said.

Once a third-party operator is selected to operate the passenger service, a sustainability plan will be presented to the federal government, outlining recommendations that include efficiency improvements, economic benefits of a continued rail passenger service and a request for assistance to continue the train operations.

The ACR Passenger Service Working Group represents a large number of stakeholders who rely on the passenger train service for their communities, businesses or tourism, among other things.

It was formed in 2014, shortly after the federal government announced its intention to eliminate a $2.2 million annual investment in the remote passenger rail operation.

The service is currently operating as a result of the government granting the funding a one-year extension, giving the stakeholder’s group an opportunity to come up with a working plan.

The funding ends in March.

An economic impact assessment completed by BDO Canada showed that the ACR passenger service generates more than $38 million in annual economic activity in the region.


Dearborn train station construction finally reaching the end of the line

From the Dearborn Press & Guide:

The John D. Dingell Transit Center is ready to take on its first passengers on Dec. 10th. (Photo by Steve T. Sobel)
The John D. Dingell Transit Center is ready to take on its first passengers on Dec. 10, 2014. (Photo by Steve T. Sobel)

Amtrak passengers have to wait just a few more days before taking advantage of the new station’s amenities. It is scheduled to open Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2014.

The first train will roll into the new station, 21201 Michigan Ave. at 6:51 a.m.

Amtrak is moving all of its operations from the current train station behind the Dearborn Police Station to the new 16,000-square-foot Dingell Transit Center.

City leaders say the transit center promotes intermodal transportation, connecting travelers via train, bus, taxi and pedestrian and bike paths to work, education, cultural attractions, shopping and recreation in Dearborn and beyond.

The station is an important component in initiatives to boost commuter rail from Ann Arbor to Detroit and accelerated speed rail from Pontiac to Chicago.

Six Amtrak trains will stop daily at Dingell Transit Center, with increased Amtrak service and the addition of commuter rail expected in the coming years.

Almost 80,000 passengers used the current Amtrak station during the 2014 fiscal year.

In fact, Dearborn is the most popular Amtrak location in the Detroit metropolitan area, according to Marc Magliari, spokesman for Amtrak.

He expects that number to grow.

“Dearborn is excited to be part of the future of rail. We will continue to work with our partners to increase convenient travel that starts in Dearborn and takes riders throughout southeast Michigan, as well as between Dearborn and Chicago,” said Mayor Jack O’Reilly.

“We’re anticipating bringing more customers to our Dearborn businesses and more visitors to our cultural and entertainment venues,” O’Reilly said. “And in the near future, people are going to find it very easy to get on a train in Dearborn and connect with the new M1-Rail in Detroit for an evening out or to go to a game.”

Magliari said Amtrak is planning to expand in the future, adding to the six lines already running from Dearborn.

Right now, he said the most popular trips from Michigan are to Chicago and sites in western Michigan.

The transit center was funded entirely with $28.2 million from the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

The city of Dearborn owns the station and the seven-acre site, while Amtrak will run the facility.

Residents hoping to get a look inside the new facility are welcome to attend an open house scheduled for Dec. 15.

The open house takes place from 4-6 p.m. at the transit center, which sits near Brady Street and marks the entrance to the west downtown business district.

During the open house, visitors can tour the station, see informative displays and talk with people knowledgeable about the future of train travel. A mural created by Dearborn students will also be featured.

Congressman John Dingell (D-MI) and his wife, Debbie are expected to be at the open house.

In addition, people attending the open house can enter a free drawing to win tickets to The Henry Ford’s popular Holiday Nights in Greenfield Village.

The Henry Ford has historic displays inside the center, including an iconic Davenport train engine.

The transit center also features a pedestrian bridge over the tracks that will allow travelers to access a new entrance to The Henry Ford complex, including the Henry Ford Museum, Greenfield Village, the IMAX Theater, and Ford Rouge Factory Tours.

About 1.6 million people a year visit The Henry Ford.

Ford Motor Company expects to showcase a new F-150 on site, as well.

The transit center has received a silver certification from the U.S. Green Building Council’s

Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design. The building features a metal roof with solar collectors, energy efficient lighting and geothermal heating and cooling.