Special report: All aboard the Pere Marquette

From Up North Live

With gas around four dollars a gallon, all of us are looking for cheaper ways to get around, and that is helping the train industry get back on track.

7&4’s Lauren Amstutz shows us how ridership for Amtrak is on the rise and why taking the rain can be a fun and inexpensive way to vacation.

The day started bright and early. After parking for free at the Amtrak station in downtown Grand Rapids, I joined others near the tracks excited for the train’s arrival.

The Pere Marquette service arrived in Grand Rapids every morning at 7:30, and today was no different. The route makes stops in Holland, Bangor, Saint Joseph-Benton Harbor and finally Chicago, Illinois.

Train Conductor, David Pryor says, “A lot of people do not know that you can go to Chicago for a day have a great time and be totally relaxed in both directors without the hecticness of security and the airport.”

Pryor has a point, not only did I avoid any kind of security line, but the seats are spacious and comfortable, something travelers really seem to enjoy.

Amtrak Passenger Ben Hull says, “In a plane if you don’t ride 1st class you are going to be very compact, the seats would be much smaller than this.”

Ben Hull is on his way to the Windy City for a visit with his brother who is attending college there. Besides a fear of driving in big city traffic, riding the train is his time to unwind.

Hull says, “In the car when you’re driving you have to concentrate on driving, I’ve been doing school work for a while.”

Hate driving, love relaxing, despise the cost of gas, whatever the case Amtrak’s popularity is increasing and ridership numbers in Michigan prove it.

From October 2010 to March of this year, ridership on the Pere Marquette Route increased 6.7%. Ticket revenue was up 11.7% to almost $1.5 million.

Other Michigan routes saw increases too. Amtrak’s Wolverine service from Pontiac to Chicago increased 16.3%.

Ridership on the Blue Water Service, that’s East Lansing to Chicago saw a 26.2% increase in ridership.

Pryor says, “The best part about train travel is that we go from one downtown to the other downtown so you are not on the outskirts of town like most airports.”

After passing small towns, and views of Lake Michigan we finally arrived in Chicago. The entire trip took about three hours.

Read more/ see video: http://www.upnorthlive.com/news/story.aspx?id=620077