Future of passenger rail addressed in 20-year state plan

From The Holland Sentinel

The Pere Marquette’s future needs to be outlined in the state’s plan for future rail needs, local officials say.

The Macatawa Area Coordinating Council is submitting comments to the state on the Michigan Rail Plan, emphasizing the importance of passenger rail service and connections to the area. MACC officials also ask that the state’s rail plan clearly identify the future status of the Pere Marquette line.

The metropolitan planning organization also wants the Michigan Department of Transportation to study the feasibility of connecting Grand Rapids and Holland to the Detroit-Chicago high-speed rail corridor, which is in planning stages now.

“It seems to me, we need to do everything in our power to make sure that system is maintained,” MACC Vice Chairman Bill Vanderbilt said Monday. “The connection to Chicago, I think, is an important one.”

The public comment period for the draft of the MDOT’s Michigan Rail Plan ends Friday.

MDOT’s draft rail plan outlines the state’s freight and passenger rail needs for the next 20 years, said Bob Parsons, MDOT’s public participation coordinator. Though money might not be available now for the projects, it is a 20-year plan, officials emphasized. The federal government requires states to develop a rail plan.

“They want to make sure the state has looked at all their needs,” Parsons said.

The projects within the state’s plan would cost $7.2 billion and include feasibility studies for passenger rail service from Grand Rapids north to Traverse City and south to Kalamazoo and the high-speed rail corridor. The state is $3.1 billion short of funding the projects listed in that plan.

There’s a lot of interest in running a passenger rail north, Parsons said. A study must be done first to explore all the costs — operating, maintenance, fares.

“It has potential to become a very dynamic plan,” Parsons said. “It’s a good thing; it causes states to evaluate their current conditions.”
The idea is “buying down the list” one project at a time as funds become available, Parsons said, and the projects would be pursued in stages.

MDOT will use the plan to address the rail needs as it moves forward, including where more passenger rail is needed. The plan shows there was almost a 50 percent increase in ridership on the three passenger lines in Michigan, according to MDOT and Amtrak. Pere Marquette ridership improved from 69,934 in 1999 to 103,785 in 2010. Ridership improved on all three Michigan passenger lines from 518,744 in 1999 to 775,997 in 2010.

Source: http://www.hollandsentinel.com/feature/x1647079882/Future-of-passenger-rail-addressed-in-20-year-state-plan