Editorial: Money key for Amtrak rail station

From the Port Huron Times-Herald:

A new Amtrak train station could be Port Huron’s opportunity. Given the city’s plans for a new convention center and a revamped Thomas Edison Inn, it makes sense to explore possibilities for a new station near the development project.

Amtrak’s 16th Street train station is in the midst of growing pains. It has seen a dramatic increase in passengers — 40.8% from 2009 to 2011, according to the Michigan Department of Transportation.

MDOT reported the riders on the Blue Water line from Port Huron to Chicago served 374,130 riders last year. Port Huron City Manager Bruce Brown notes a portion of those passengers were Canadian tourists.

Before 2004, the Blue Water line also went to Toronto. Border security concerns forced that service to end. Canadian passengers have to cross the Blue Water Bridge to the 16th Street station if they want to reach Chicago.

If the station moved near the Edison Inn, those Canadian tourists wouldn’t have to travel as far to catch the train. The future amenities — a Hilton Garden Inn and Twisted Rooster restaurant — also might encourage Canadians and other visitors to spend more time and money in Port Huron.

Brown made his case for the new Amtrak station’s location to officials from MDOT, Amtrak, Canadian National railway and the Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers Inc. late last year.

Money is the major obstacle. The primary potential sources — the city, MDOT and Amtrak — aren’t flush with dollars. Although Brown suggested the cash-strapped city might contribute $50,000 of the $100,000 annual MDOT money it receives in mitigation for the Blue Water Bridge Plaza expansion project, that would only be a start.

Federal funding is the logical source, but prospects aren’t bright. Federal dollars are aimed at supporting high-speed train travel that pretty much excludes the Blue Water line.

MDOT will use a $150 million federal grant will help MDOT buy a 135-mile stretch of track between Dearborn and Kalamazoo from Norfolk Southern.

A $196.5 million grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will upgrade the track section for high-speed travel. The grant will improve a portion of the Blue Water line that converges with the Pontiac-to-Detroit-to-Chicago line.

If Port Huron can manage to get  a federal grant for the Amtrak station, it would be a fraction of the money to be spent on high-speed train travel. In any case, Brown’s idea needs funding to become feasible.

One last thing: If the money is secured, building the station south of the Edison Inn is the way to go.

The convention center prompted concerns about the status of the historic Fort Gratiot and an Indian burial ground. Building the station at the Thomas Edison Depot Museum, one of two possible locations, would be a mistake.

Source: http://www.thetimesherald.com/article/20120125/OPINION01/201250320/Money-key-Amtrak-rail-station?odyssey=nav|head