Ann Arbor officials hope new railroad ownership could boost commuter rail, greenway plans


Ann Arbor Railroad logo
Ann Arbor Railroad logo

The Kansas-based company taking over the Ann Arbor Railroad says it’s open to talking about future commuter rail service and the vision for a greenway trail system along the tracks.

After years of poor relations with the railroad’s current owner, the Howell-based Ann Arbor Acquisition Corp., Ann Arbor officials are calling the promise of new ownership a positive move.

“That is great news and hopefully we can work with them to further our local rail initiatives,” said Eli Cooper, the city’s transportation programs manager.

Mayor John Hieftje is among the supporters of the WALLY commuter rail project and the vision for the Allen Creek Greenway. He said the Ann Arbor Railroad has been an obstacle up to this point.

“They’ve never been easy to work with,” he said. “It’s been hard at some points over the years for the city just to get a good conversation with them about this railroad that runs right through our city.

“We haven’t made much headway, and I know MDOT hasn’t made much headway, over the years with the Ann Arbor Railroad on any of these issues,” Hieftje added.

The Ann Arbor Railroad — a so-called “shortline” that runs from Ann Arbor to Toledo — is being acquired by a Kansas transportation company that wants to expand into Ohio.

Watco Railroad Company Holdings Inc., a subsidiary of Watco Companies LLC, has reached an agreement to purchase the 50-mile railway, which serves southeastern Michigan and the Toledo markets, focusing mostly on the automobile and manufacturing industries.

Most of the Ann Arbor Railroad’s operations are in Toledo, but the headquarters is in Howell. A spokesperson for the company couldn’t be reached for comment.

News of the changing ownership this past week sparked questions about whether Watco will be more amenable to talking with local officials about the proposed WALLY commuter rail line from Howell to Ann Arbor and the city’s vision for the Allen Creek Greenway, which hinges on acquisition of railway right-of-way to develop a system of walking and biking trails along the tracks.

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