Testing moves metro Detroit closer to a commuter rail

From the Detroit Free Press:

Shiny, refurbished stainless steel rail cars will begin making their way along tracks between Pontiac and Jackson today as state and local officials move ahead with proposals to establish commuter rail service between Detroit and Ann Arbor and in Washtenaw and Livingston counties.

The Michigan Department of Transportation and the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments will be testing the rail cars to make sure they meet Federal Railroad Administration safety standards, so the six bi-level rail cars won’t be available for public rides this week.

Instead, MDOT and SEMCOG say, the tests mark another step toward establishing commuter rail service in southeast Michigan, a goal that’s still at least a few years off.

No funding has been earmarked for the service, but Carmine Palombo, who directs transportation programs for SEMCOG, said Friday that the region is slowly moving toward running commuter rail between Detroit and Ann Arbor. Palombo said he hopes it could begin next year with limited service for events such as University of Michigan football games, Detroit Tigers and Lions games, and the fireworks and Thanksgiving Day parade in Detroit.

Seeing the refurbished rail cars this week might help “get people excited about riding the train, trying to get our legislators to see that this could be a part of our overall strategy for regional transportation,” Palombo said. “We’ve got a ways to go, but we’ve come a long way.”

Amtrak will haul the rail cars, which will be tested by officials from MDOT, the federal government and Great Lakes Central Railroad, the Owosso company the state paid to refurbish the cars. The cars were purchased from the Illinois commuter rail system using federal funds. The test trains will run up to a maximum speed of 79 m.p.h.

After stationary testing today, Palombo said the rail cars will travel from Pontiac to Jackson on Tuesday and return to Pontiac on Wednesday.

Those cars eventually could be used for commuter rail between Detroit and Ann Arbor and for the proposed WALLY commuter rail service between Ann Arbor and Howell, which state and regional leaders are working on separately.

Source: http://www.freep.com/article/20121112/NEWS05/311120035/Testing-moves-metro-Detroit-closer-to-a-commuter-rail?odyssey=tab