Category Archives: Reports

The Public Benefits of Passenger Trains

By Kay Chase, Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers

September, 2007

 The transportation system in the U.S. is facing daunting challenges which demand new solutions – solutions that include greater reliance on rail to move both people and goods.

 The challenges include increasing highway congestion, cancellations and delays at airports, rising fuel costs, greenhouse gas emissions, and, particularly in Michigan, an aging population and inadequate financial resources for highway maintenance and construction. All of these are making travel more time consuming, costly, polluting, and dangerous.

 In the period 1990-2001, vehicle travel on Michigan interstate highways increased 33%, while lane miles increased only 3% (TRIP, page 3). Highway traffic is expected to increase another 40% by 2026 if no new capacity is added. This will result in congested conditions on two-thirds of the state’s urban interstates and one-third of the rural interstates (TRIP, page 5).

 Michigan faces two additional challenges: (1) an aging population, and (2) severe financial constraints that are hampering maintenance of the existing system, let alone allowing for future road expansion.

 A report prepared in 2006 for the Michigan Department of Transportation states “The dominant socioeconomic change in Michigan is expected to be the increase in aging and retired populations.”     (SocioecTR, page 30)

 Consequently, MDOT predicts a tripling of highway fatalities among persons 65 or older in the next 25 years if present trends continue.     (SafetyTR, page 20)

 On the subject of safety, it is worth noting that “There has not been a single passenger death, other than from natural causes, on a Michigan train since Amtrak’s inception.” (personal communication, John DeLora, Executive Director of the Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers).

 It is not unreasonable to assume that commuter and passenger trains will assume a greater role in Michigan’s future transportation system. The state of Michigan, along with other states throughout the Midwest, appears ready to place greater reliance on off-highway solutions to meet future transportation needs.

 The recently completed Michigan State Long Range Transportation Plan (MichSLRP)    foresees a revenue gap that will hamper both maintenance and repair of existing roads and bridges and the ability to add new capacity to the system. With nearly 60% of the state’s interstate highways in fair condition or worse – and with the looming bankruptcy of the Federal Highway Trust Fund – the need for new solutions is critical.

 The State Long Range Plan proposes investing “in all transportation modes” and acknowledges the need for “adding new capital . . . expanding transit and rail passenger service.”  (MichSLRP “Preferred Vision”, p.18)

 Because travel by rail is safe, energy efficient, cost effective, and convenient, it seems clear that the state’s rail system offers the greatest potential for meeting future travel needs, given the challenges outlined above.

 The transportation sector accounts for nearly a third of U.S. energy consumption. Cars and light trucks account for 60% of U.S. energy consumption, domestic air carriers 7%, Class I freight railroads 2%, and commuter- and intercity-rail a tiny 0.2%.     (ORNL, Table 2.6)

 On the basis on energy consumed per passenger mile, passenger rail (Amtrak) is 27% more efficient than cars, 57% more efficient than light trucks, and 43% more efficient than certified route airlines.

                       Transportation Mode        Btu per passenger mile

                       Personal trucks                         4,329

                      Certified air route                     3.959

                      Cars                                          3,496

                      Intercity rail (Amtrak)              2,760

                           Source: Transportation Energy Data Book, Edition 26 (2007), Table 2.12

 Technical improvements in equipment and changes in operating procedures have allowed Amtrak to cut its fuel use 10% over the period 2004-2006 – even while carrying more people on more trains (AMTRK-1).

 Despite these efficiencies, rising fuel prices added $43 million to operating expenses over the period. This fact highlights the need for excellent track and signal maintenance and efficient dispatching to avoid fuel-wasting delays while enroute.

 Growing concern with greenhouse gas emissions and the implications for global climate change make it likely that carbon will be regulated in the near future. Because the transportation sector accounts for almost a third of U.S. energy use, the highest share recorded since 1970  (ORNL, Table 2.1), and a third of the carbon dioxide emissions (ORNL, Table 11.4), the need for fundamental change is clear.

 Passenger train travel, being more fuel efficient on a per passenger mile basis, will emit far less carbon dioxide.

 For a trip of 280 miles, roughly the distance between Chicago and Detroit, one standard 5-car passenger train carrying 300 passengers will emit 19.5 tons less CO2 than 191 automobiles carrying an equivalent number of passengers and almost 13 tons less CO2 than the two airplanes needed to carry the same number of passengers (adapted from GHG spreadsheet developed by ELPC).

 gal.fuel useda  x  CO2 factorb  =  CO2 emissions per vehicle

CO2 emissions per vehicle  x  no.vehicles to move 300 people  =  lbs. CO2

 Intercity Train (diesel)  –  a 5-car train will move 310 people

(281c x 1.75)  x  22.384 = 11,007  x  1 = 11,007 lbs  or  5.5 tons CO2

 Automobile  –  at 1.57 passengers per automobile, 191 vehicles needed to move 300

(279 / 20.8)  x 19.594  =  263  x  191  =  50,199 lbs.  or  25 tons CO2

 Air  –  a Boeing 737-700 seats149 in all economy configuration

(0.9 hr.  x 970)  x  21.095  =  18, 415.935  x  2  =  36,832 lbs.  or  18.4 tons CO2

 a based on Amtrak 1.75 gals/train mile est.; 20.8 mpg fleet average for automobiles; Air Transport Action Group est. of 970 gal jet fuel/flight hour

CO2 factor calculated by Energy Information Administration

 Aside from the substantial savings in fuel use and harmful emissions, train travel has some less obvious, but important, advantages over air travel. Train stations are typically located in downtown areas, thus saving the time and fuel needed to drive to airports many miles from the urban center. In addition, trains serve many smaller communities that have no commercial air service, bringing people to jobs, shopping and education facilities.

 In summary, passenger rail offers a number of public benefits, among them:

  • Time- and cost-effectiveness
  • Safety
  • Fuel efficiency
  • Fewer harmful emissions

 Americans are responding by riding the trains in record numbers and demanding faster and more frequent trains. A recent Harris poll asked “Who should have an increasing share of passenger transportation?” 44% of respondents said passenger trains should have an increasing share, with commuter trains a close second at 35%. A mere 11% favored an increasing share for cars. Movement of goods by freight rail was favored by 63%. Asked about their priorities for future passenger transportation, 47% said safety was their first concern, 44% said energy efficiency, while only 29% rated cost as a priority.      (Harris)

 Investment of public dollars at all levels has spurred economic development in urban centers. Rising fuel costs and concerns with greenhouse gas emissions demand expansion of the transportation system to include greater reliance on trains – passenger, commuter and freight – to move people and goods.

 Continued success will require a mutually beneficial partnership with the freight railroad industry, an industry that offers many of the same public benefits.

 In conclusion, passenger trains offer substantial public benefits that include safety, convenience, and cost-effectiveness, while lowering emissions of greenhouse gases

 Improving trip times and increasing the number of trains on corridors connecting the nation’s downtown business centers can significantly improve regional transportation, often at a fraction of the cost of expanding highway or airport capacity. Many states have focused on rail corridor development as a critical element of improving access to city centers. With modest funding, these corridors could be able to better manage growing highway congestion and provide important environmental, economic and transportation benefits.

  — Amtrak Government Affairs “Corridor & State Trains”, February 2007

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AMTRK-1      “Energy Efficient Travel”, June 2006


AMTRK-2      Amtrak Fact Sheet, FY 2006 “State of Michigan”


AMTRK-3      Amtrak Government Affairs “Corridor and State Trains” (Feb. 2007)


ELPC            Environmental Law & Policy Center, Chicago IL


Harris          The Harris Poll #14, February 8, 2006


TRIP            Michigan Report, “Saving Lives, Time, and Money” (June 2006)


MichSLRP     Michigan State Long Range Plan


MWRRI-1     Midwest Regional Rail System, “Benefiting Michigan’s Economy”


MWRRI-2     Midwest Regional Rail System, Executive Report (September, 2004)


ORNL           Transportation Energy Data Book: Edition 26 (2007), published by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Center for Transportation Analysis


SafetyTR      Highway Safety Technical Report (MDOT 2006)

SocioecTR    Socioeconomics Technical Report (MDOT 2006)



Amtrak Timeliness Study Results

September, 2004

Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers (MARP) has conducted a timeliness study for AMTRAK trains serving the state of Michigan. The study period covers September 1 through September 30, 2004. Data for the study was obtained directly from AMTRAK’s website-based train status database.

Data was collected by four MARP members who were each assigned specific trains: Blue Water-Kaz Fujita; Pere Marquette-John Langdon; Wolverine eastbound-Jim Wallington; and Wolverine westbound-Mike Whims. MARP wishes to thank these members for their valuable efforts.

The study was prompted by continued complaints from passengers regarding AMTRAK’s timeliness performance. A preliminary study conducted by MARP in June-July, 2004 indicated serious timeliness delays, some of which were considered perhaps due to startup problems on the Blue Water and other non-recurring events. The September study is both a confirmatory study and a baseline against which future studies will be compared.

The results of the September study indicate that serious deficiencies exist in AMTRAK’s ability to deliver timely service on Michigan’s ten (10) daily trains. On average, an eastbound passenger could rely on reaching a train’s final Michigan destination city on-schedule only 36% of the time, and a westbound passenger could rely on an on-schedule arrival in Chicago only 9% of the time.

The September study results indicate that performance varies from train to train. The westbound trips are clearly less reliable than eastbound, and the somewhat subjective honor of the worst performance is shared by the Blue Water westbound and the Wolverine mid-day westbound #353 trains. In fact, anyone who rode the #353 Wolverine train never reached Chicago on time during September.

This report includes a summary sheet of performance data by train, followed by the actual data collected by each member. Although data format used by each member differs, a standard convention is utilized where (+) indicates lateness. Also, an early arrival is counted as on time in the summaries. A cancelled train (due to freight problems for instance) was not counted in the averaging.

                 September, 2004 AMTRAK Timeliness Study Results				

% of time train met schedule		90%	20%	7%	3%
Ave. departure from schedule (min.)	0.8	32.8	45.0	71.8

% of time train met schedule		87%	10%	0%	30%
Ave. departure from schedule (min.)	7.5	27.4	37.6	39.4

% of time train met schedule		100%	7%	3%	10%
Ave. departure from schedule (min.)	0.0	6.3	18.6	25.5

% of time train met schedule		90%	28%	24%	31%
Ave. departure from schedule (min.)	0.4	14.3	16.3	14.3

WOLVERINE early West #351 		Dp PNT	Dp DET	Dp BTL	Ar CHI
% of time train met schedule		69%	0%	0%	10%
Ave. departure from schedule (min.)	5.1	18.9	33.1	32

WOLVERINE mid-day West #353 		Dp PNT	Dp DET	Dp BTL	Ar CHI
% of time train met schedule		38%	0%	0%	0%
Ave. departure from schedule (min.)	14.7	26.6	46.0	42.5

WOLVERINE evening West #355 		Dp PNT	Dp DET	Dp BTL	Ar CHI
% of time train met schedule		79%	18%	3%	23%
Ave. departure from schedule (min.)	7.5	19.6	30.4	28.3

WOLVERINE early East #350 		Dp CHI	Dp BTL	Dp DET	Ar PNT
% of time train met schedule		80%	17%	30%	30%
Ave. departure from schedule (min.)	9.8	25.3	29.5	31.9

WOLVERINE mid-day East #352 		Dp CHI	Dp BTL	Dp DET	Ar PNT
% of time train met schedule		83%	23%	17%	20%
Ave. departure from schedule (min.)	3.8	25.3	30.6	29.1

WOLVERINE evening East #354 		Dp CHI	Dp BTL	Dp DET	Ar PNT
% of time train met schedule		90%	20%	33%	30%
Ave. departure from schedule (min.)	1.1	15.6	15.1	16.3

Data source: AMTRAK

Detroit Commuter Rail Proposal




Prepared for the Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers, Inc. and
Transportation Riders United, Inc.
by Dietrich R. Bergmann, PhD, PE
Railway Systems Engineering Corporation



Text for this page prepared on 28 May 2001 and last updated on 29 May 2001





Commuter rail service makes use of existing railroad rights of way and tracks, which on some occasions must be upgraded to accommodate the commuter rail service. It is distinct from other rail-based public transportation services known often as “trolley”, “streetcar”, “light rail”, or “heavy-rail” services.

Commuter rail service exists in a number of North American metropolitan areas. The accompanying web page enumerates many of these and includes links to their web sites so you can see how commuter rail services are being developed elsewhere in the United States and Canada. The population of some of these metropolitan areas is smaller than Metro Detroit’s population.

Commuter rail service between Detroit’s Renaissance Center and Pontiac can be readily established, notwithstanding the fact that the downtown segment of the right of way used for such a service until 1983 must be rehabilitated and new passenger coaches and locomotives must be purchased. The right-of-way rehabilitation is a matter of several months work to begin a rudimentary form of the service. Determining and implementing a means to extend the service in downtown Detroit through, under, or around the General Motors Corporation’s ten-story parking structure constructed during year 2000 just west of Rivard, behind Christ Chruch between Franklin and Atwater Streets, will take additional time. See MARP’s and TRU’s joint 24 May 2001 press release for information about the speed with which new passenger coaches and locomotives can be obtained for a demonstration project.

MDOT sponsored a study completed in 1997 that estimated the investment, the travel time performance, patronage, and operating cost subsidy for inauguration of commuter rail services on seven metro Detroit routes. MDOT’s study assumed that used passenger coaches and used locomotives would be purchased for the commuter rail service. RSE recommends against the purchase of used passenger coaches and used locomotives because use of new low-floor bi-level coaches enables the development of shorter trip times for the passengers and facilitates railcar access and egress by both handicapped and non-handicapped passengers.

RSE’s November 2000 calculation of the start up cost for a Detroit Renaissance Center – Oakland County commuter rail service estimates an investment of $85,000,000. The estimate is based on the investment estimated in MDOT’s study concluded during 1997. Details are given on the attached investment summary.

Station stops and service run times for the Renaissance Center – Pontiac service abandoned in 1983, for the replacement service considered by MDOT in 1997, and for the service that uses modern equipment and that is feasible at this time are provided on the attached service summary.

Have you considered what the benefits are from using quality public transportation for travel in lieu of a private automobile? One of those benefits is the reduction in the costs of traffic accidents. The Michigan Department of State Police has estimated that the Michigan economy suffered a loss of $9.6 billion during calendar year 1999 due to traffic crashes. Turn to the attachment , soon to be available, to see how significant the accident cost savings can be when people use a train to travel to their jobs in downtown Detroit, the Detroit Medical Center, the Wayne State University/Detroit Cultural Center campuses, Detroit’s New Center area, Royal Oak, Troy, Pontiac, or other places in the corridor extending from Detroit’s Renaissance Center to and beyond Pontiac.

The Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) during mid-2000 initiated a “Transit Visioning” process for metro Detroit. Comments have been solicited on several occasions and SEMCOG staff recommendations will be considered by SEMCOG’s General Assembly at that body’s October 2001 meeting. A flyer containing a vision regarding commuter rail service for the corridor extending from Detroit’s Renaissance Center to Oakland County was distributed on behalf of TRU and MARP to members of the public just before the beginning of SEMCOG’s 09 May 2001 “Transit Visioning” session held at the Troy Marriott Hotel. The commentary attached hereto is based on that statement invites you to support that vision by taking several actions.


The City of Ferndale’s Council on 19 December 2000 passed a resolution supporting the establishment of commuter rail service in lieu of widening highways. See the attachment for the full test of that resolution.

The Birmingham’s City Commission on 22 January 2001 passed a resolution that is similar to Ferndale’s resolution. Kenneth Rogers, Oakland County’s Deputy County Executive, on 16 March 2001 sent a letter to Birmingham’s Mayor and City Commission that was critical of their 22 January 2001 resolution, attaching at the end of it a marked up copy of the resolution. Bergmann was given Mr. Rogers’ letter for comment and responded in a 06 April 2001 letter to the City of Birmingham. The Birmingham City Commission voted unanimously on 23 April 2001 to send Bergmann’s letter to Mr. Rogers without comment. See the attachment for the Bergmann letter followed by the relevant excerpt from the Birmingham City Commission’s minutes and its Clerk’s letter to Mr. Rogers.

The Detroit City Planning Commission passed a resolution on 19 January 2001 asking that a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) be undertaken by MDOT on MDOT’s proposed I-375 extension project (estimated cost: $72 million) and MDOT’s proposed Oakland County I-75 widening project (estimated cost: $447 million) and that a Detroit Renaissance Center – Oakland County commuter rail service be considered as an alternative to parts or all or all of those two projects. After considerable pressure from MDOT, GM, and the Detroit Mayor’s office, the Detroit City Planning Commission substituted for the 19 January 2001 resolution a resolution that asks for a revision of the MDOT’s October 2000 I-375 Environmental Assessment (EA) that takes into account commuter rail for the Detroit Renaissance Center – Oakland County corridor.

Although the City of Troy has not passed a resolution, it has purchased land along the Detroit-Oakland County commuter rail route for a future Transportation Center. However, a provision of the Consent Court Decree that conveyed that property to the City of Troy provides that it shall return to the prior owner if not developed by the City of Troy for public transportation services within ten years [of 02 June 2000]