Category Archives: News

Bells & Whistles: Trains Return To Traverse City

It’s not your imagination: You’ve been hearing and seeing more trains in and around Traverse City. And if Chris Bagwell and James Bruckbauer have anything to say about it, the local tracks will be getting even busier.

For years since the Grand Traverse Dinner Train ceased operation in 2006, area tracks were rarely used; the economy had turned sour and freight rail traffic nationwide was drying up.

But now the bells and whistles have returned to northern Michigan, heralding a stronger manufacturing sector in the region as companies ship goods across the state and nation.

Enter Great Lakes Central Railroad, the Owosso-based company that operates trains along 400 miles of Michigan tracks from Ann Arbor to Petoskey and branch lines in between. Great Lakes’ rail cars are hauling grain, plastics, lumber, fertiziler and hazardous materials within the state and connecting to the major rail companies criss-crossing the nation.

Today, companies from Williamburg (Amerhart) to Kalkaska (Magnum Solvents) to to Grawn (Cherry Growers) are regular Great Lakes customers, as are Petoskey Plastics to the north and clients in Cadillac to the south. All told, Great Lakes’ General Manager Chris Bagwell tells The Ticker a train or two per week rumbles through Traverse City.

(The next time you’re tempted to complain about the delay as you wait at one of Traverse City’s 11 railroad crossings, consider this: most local crossings hold cars for 30-60 seconds. It’s not uncommon in a downstate town like Plymouth for 90-car trains to hold crossings for 45 minutes).

Though freight trains serve important roles as engines of commerce, it’s the tantalizing potential of passenger rail that has many in northern Michigan excited.

A campaign to begin passenger service between Ann Arbor and Traverse City is gaining steam, led by TC-based Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities. It’s an idea that will require political support, funding, and a proven market – but the most immediate problem is the track itself: An estimated 95 percent of the tracks between Ann Arbor and Traverse City are ready to haul tourists north, but that last five percent is located right here in northern Michigan.

The Federal Railroad Administration classifies all track; class 6 track allows for speeds above 100mph for freight or passenger traffic. Much of the local track is classified as “excepted track,” which falls below Class 1, which carries a 10mph speed limit for freight and does not allow use by revenue passenger trains.

Groundwork is prioritizing advocacy for more funding to upgrade those tracks because – according to Bruckbauer – there is “widespread interest in establishing passenger rail service,” noting his organization has received “dozens of support letters from various communities and groups along the line, and we’ve raised enough funding to advance a major study on the project.”

Great Lakes Railroad’s Bagwell reminds that freight “will always be what pays the bills,” but quickly adds that “anybody can see that Traverse City continues to grow, and the economic development groups up there are really pushing [passenger rail].” His company envisions it as a way to diversify beyond just hauling grains or raw goods.

The state-sponsored study that Bruckbauer hails as an important milestone will explore track conditions, potential costs, economic impact, ridership, and more. The study is part of Michigan’s State Rail Plan and is expected to begin this fall.



Port Huron train station no longer staffed

From The Port Huron Times-Herald:

Port Huron’s Amtrak station is no longer staffed starting July 1.

The station waiting area at 2223 16th St. will remain open to passengers from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. daily. Amtrak personnel on the train will assist passengers boarding and departing at the station.

The train leaves Port Huron at 6:20 a.m., arriving in Chicago six hours and 35 minutes later. The return trip departs Chicago about 4 p.m., arriving in Port Huron at 11:38 p.m.

Marc Magliari, Amtrak spokesman, said the changes to staffing stations throughout the country follows a trend of passengers purchasing tickets online.

“More and more passengers are not using the ticket windows for purchasing their tickets,” Mahliari said. “Overwhelmingly the majority of our tickets are sold without any human interaction.”

Tickets will not be sold at the station. Passengers can make reservations and get eTickets at, by using the free mobile apps, or by calling (800) 872-7245. The eTickets can printed at home or displayed using a smartphone. Passengers can also use Amtrak’s Quik-Trak ticketing kiosk at the station.

Amtrak started offering eTickets about four years ago. In 2014, nearly 24,000 people used the Port Huron station.

Magliari said Port Huron is joining a list of un-staffed stations that includes Grand Rapids, Lapeer, Durand, Holland, New Buffalo, St. Joseph and Troy.

Stations that remain staffed include Flint, Jackson, Detroit, Dearborn, Niles, Kalamazoo, Battle Creek and East Lansing.

At the end of the 2015 fiscal year, Amtrak employed 240 Michigan residents.

Magliari said he couldn’t say exactly where Port Huron’s station agent will go once the position is eliminated, but said the employee has union rights.

He said a caretaker will open and close the station and ensure it is clean and safe.

Amtrak also encourages passengers to be dropped off and picked up whenever possible at the Port Huron station, as parking is limited.

Matt Marderosian, director of Save Our Trains Michigan, said there is concern more cuts to staffing will be made along the Blue Water Line, which stretches between Port Huron and Chicago.

Marderosian said there is a demand to keep the trains running. He also believes many riders want the option of purchasing tickets onsite.


Great Dome Car Scheduled to be on the Amtrak Pere Marquette for Four July Weekends

Spectacular 360-degree views, made possible by windows on all four sides and curving up into the roof, are a feature of the Amtrak Great Dome car, which will be assigned to the Amtrak Pere Marquette train on four weekends this July.

Officially known as car 10031 “Ocean View,” it is the only Dome Lounge car in the entire Amtrak fleet. It will operate eastbound on Thursday nights with round-trips through the weekend, returning west to Chicago on Monday mornings, June 30-July 4, July 7-11, 14-18 and 21-24. There is no extra charge to ride in this car, built for the Great Northern Railway in 1955.

The upper level offers panoramic views of the of one of the prettiest routes in the Midwest, from the Chicago skyline to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, carousel and beach in St. Joseph, massive pickling tanks in Bangor, famous tulip town of Holland and the bright new station in Grand Rapids. Heavy traffic, steep tolls and pricey parking are far away for Amtrak customers, with adult fares starting at $32 each way, plus add-ons for bikes or small pets.

Clara’s restaurant in downtown Lansing to close

An iconic restaurant in downtown Lansing will be closing its doors for good.

Clara’s Lansing Station employee tells News 10 in Lansing the restaurant will officially close on June 26th.

The restaurant is a restored former train station.

The restaurant has served the downtown Lansing area for decades. According to the restaurants website, “active restaurateurs bought the station in 1978.”

Clara’s other station located in Battle Creek will remain open.

Clara’s is located on 637 East Michigan Ave in Lansing.



Michigan Auditor General praises commuter car deal

MDOT’s handling of the controversial commuter rail cars was correct, and will potentially save up to $1,680,000 a year.


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 [] 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 [] 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.