From the Port Huron Times-Herald
Mitchell Johnston doesn’t mind waking up at the crack of dawn to ride the Blue Water train to Chicago.
A sophomore at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., Johnston, 19, of Lakeport hopped on the train at the Port Huron Amtrak station about 6 a.m. Wednesday to get back to school.
Compared to driving or flying, taking the train is cheaper and more convenient, he said.
“It seems like the most practical option,” said Johnston, whose one-way ticket to Chicago cost $28.
Johnston said he rides the train several times a year. And he’s seen an uptick in riders on the Blue Water route, which runs from Port Huron to Chicago.
From Oct. 1, 2010, to July 31, 2011, ridership on the route increased 20.8% from last year’s numbers, Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said.
A total of 154,494 passengers rode the route from Oct. 1, 2010, to July 31, 2011. During the same time period the previous fiscal year, 127,942 passengers came aboard.
According to figures from the Michigan Department of Transportation, 12,920 passengers used the Port Huron Amtrak station, 2223 16th St., during the first seven months of the year.
“The ridership is up steeply on the Blue Water with no change in the amount of service,” Magliari said.
Port Huron seems to be following a general trend across the United States.
Magliari said ridership is up almost everywhere in the county. He said people who have tried the train when gas prices reached a “pinch point” have continued to ride as gas prices fluctuated.
“People are looking for a better way to get across Michigan or get to Chicago than slogging down I-69 and I-94,” he said.
Blue Water rider Richard Rigsby, 55, of Marysville, couldn’t agree more.
Rigsby has worked at Western Michigan University’s Department of Military Science since 2008. After two years of back and forth from Kalamazoo to visit his family, Rigsby said the three-hour drive caused “wear and tear” on his car. Going by car also was expensive, and, at times, traffic could be stressful.
“After driving all these years, it’s nice to let someone else do the driving for you and relax,” Rigsby said.
While riding on the train, passengers can see the country, read or even work on their laptops, he said.
Agbar Brown of Port Huron arrived at the Amtrak station at about
5:30 a.m. Wednesday to see off his girlfriend, Crystal Faye of Colorado, who recently moved to Illinois. He said Faye planned to take the Blue Water route to Chicago.
The trip from Port Huron to Chicago takes about 7 hours, Magliari said. The train is scheduled to depart from Port Huron at 6 a.m. and has an 11:59 a.m. central time arrival in Chicago.
Brown said the couple decided to use the train to “keep in touch” and see one another. And he plans to ride the train when he visits Faye in a couple of weeks.
“I actually am looking forward to it,” Brown said. “I think it’s very relaxing riding the train.”