From The Grand Rapids Press:
Several local organizations have pledged support for a study, which begins today, to examine the possibility of a West Michigan to Detroit-area passenger rail line.
The Holland Visitors Bureau, Michigan West Coast Chamber of Commerce, Macatawa Area Coordinating Council and Experience Grand Rapids each made a contribution totaling about $10,000 to fund a ridership and cost estimate study that could lead to actual service several years from now, project manager Liz Treutel said.
Treutel, who heads the study for the nonprofit Michigan Environmental Council, explains the seven-month project will examine ridership demand between the Holland, Grand Rapids, Lansing and Detroit corridor to better understand the impacts of establishing coast-to-coast rail service.
The Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority’s governing board, handling the study’s procurement, voted in late February to authorize entering into a $100,000 contract with Transportation Economics and Management System, or TEMS.
$80,000 was sourced from federal grant dollars, while the remaining $20,000 came from local match contributors, like West Michigan and other locations along the corridor, Treutel said.
For those Grand Rapidians looking to hop aboard a train to Detroit in the near future, a car still is the best choice.
“It’s not a full-blown study,” Treutel explained. “The two main components are ridership analysis — are there enough people to take the service, how much are they willing to pay, where will they go?
“The second component is looking at economic feasibility — are there riders, if there is, is this the kind of service that is economically viable and provides benefits for communities?”
Some might recall a time when passenger rail service existed along the line before 1971. The state was left with three Amtrak lines that exist today, Treutel said.
The Michigan Department of Transportation reports its rail ridership has grown from 568,555 passengers in 2004 to 777,463 riders in 2014. Its best year was in 2013 with more than 795,000 passengers.
Those numbers, including interest in re-establishing a line between the west and east coasts, helped spur conversations to get this initial study on the right track, Treutel said.
One possible benefit toward commuter service, she adds: The line already exists but is used by commercial traffic. Still, it could be at least another five years before actual service begins.
“We’re really wanting to recognize the importance of a transit system of many modes … something that would really, seriously compete with automobile traffic and get to a destination a lot faster, Treutel said.
Peter Varga, CEO of the area’s Interurban Transit Partnership best known as The Rapid, supports the study’s goals to determine what a new passenger line could mean for West Michigan and locations along the corridor.
It remains too early to dive into specifics, but Varga said The Rapid will be ready to participate when the time comes.
“We want to know what the data is, for sure,” Varga said. “All of us have always believed that rail service, which used to be more robust in Michigan, is due to come back at some point and this is a good start.”