Latest delay bogs Grand Rapids’ new Amtrak station’s opening

From The Grand Rapids Press:

-bafbf27417892a3cThe city’s largely completed Amtrak station named after a former West Michigan congressman now isn’t expected to open for passengers until early fall.

Officials blame an underground sewer line below Buchanan Avenue SW for the latest holdup. The Vernon J. Ehlers Amtrak Station already has suffered more than a year of delays since its ceremonial groundbreaking in 2011, and this most recent setback pushes the station’s opening to the end of September, officials say.

The station originally was to open in 2013, then spring or summer 2014.

Rapid spokeswoman Jennifer Kalczuk explained the sewer line running underneath the street and existing railroad has to be relocated before CSX Corp. can connect its tracks to the station.

“(CSX) can’t finish their portion until the sewer is moved,” Kalczuk said.

It appears, though, city officials knew about a problem with this line in mid-2012. An analysis of the sewer determined the system would not be strong enough to withstand the weight of a new rail spur atop it, and the city shored up funding for a sewer improvement and street reconstruction project on Buchanan and its immediate area.

Brandy Moeller, a manager with the Grand Rapids City Engineer’s office, said all associated costs of the project are not to exceed $826,000. After “administrative delays,” the project finally is set to begin in mid-August and end no more than six weeks later — two years after it was approved by city commissioners.

Discussions between the Michigan Department of Transportation and CSX Corp. involving track switching and signaling eventually were resolved in May 2013, with construction of the passenger terminal beginning the following month.

“As I understand it, we are doing our work in coordination with Amtrak’s completion items from (its construction) contract,” Moeller said.

Kalczuk said the station’s project cost remains at about $5.2 million but The Rapid can spend up to $5.8 million, according to guidelines set by the Interurban Transit Partnership, which owns The Rapid.

Amtrak’s Pere Marquette route currently serves passengers to and from Grand Rapids and Chicago, with three stops, once a day. The new station could allow an additional daily trip between the two cities upon completion.

West Michigan leaders recently expressed optimism that, one day, a train could run between Holland and Detroit.