MDOT’s handling of the controversial commuter rail cars was correct, and will potentially save up to $1,680,000 a year.
BY LARRY KRIEG
Remember the dust-up about how Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) was “wasting public funds” by leasing and refurbishing rail cars? These were the cars purchased by Great Lakes Central Railroad (GLC) from Chicago’s Metra commuter service. In 2010 MDOT’s Office of Rail leased 23 of these cars and commissioned GLC to refurbish them for anticipated commuter service in Michigan. (See the detailed article in The Michigan Passenger, Spring 2015 p.1)
As a result of an official state audit and media criticism, a legislative hearing was conducted in March of 2015. MARP submitted written testimony to the legislative committees, supporting the lease and refurbishment as foresighted and cost-saving. The result and the audit and hearing was a requirement that MDOT renegotiate the terms of the lease, terminating payments by the end of 2015 while retaining the right to lease the cars later, when and if commuter service is started.
The Southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority (RTA) recently released their study [http://www.rtamichigan.org/wp-content/uploads/Draft-Detailed-Definition-of-Alternatives-v16.pdf] of the Michigan Avenue Corridor (Detroit-Ann Arbor), recommending at least eight round-trip trains every day. The announcement was greeted with enthusiasm by local officials and business leaders along the line. If citizens pass the RTA millage in November this year, we could see these commuter cars rolling in Southeast Michigan as early as 2019.
On April 29 this year, Michigan’s Auditor General released a report [http://audgen.michigan.gov/~audgenmi/finalpdfs/15_16/r591019514F.pdf] certifying that MDOT did in fact comply with the requirement. In addition, they estimate Office of Rail’s new contracts with GLC brought about potential savings of $60,000-140,000 per month, or $720,000-1,680,000 per year.
That’s in addition to the money saved by refurbishing used cars in the first place. MARP estimates each refurbished, restroom-equipped car to cost $2.5 million less than the cost of new double-deck commuter cars. It even saved half a million dollars per car under what California recently paid to purchase and refurbish single-level used commuter cars, according to an investigation by Clark Charnetski. And about 3/4 of the money spent by MDOT stayed in Michigan, providing jobs for skilled Michigan technicians during the depths of the Great Recession.