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The Wolverine

Lake Cities now known as The Wolverine

Amtrak train #353, formerly known as the “The Lake Cities” now known as “The Wolverine,” pulls into the station sometime in May 2003 at Dearborn, Mich. The Wolverine is the most popular passenger train in Michigan With three daily trains in each direction between Chicago and Detroit. (Photo by Nathan Nietering)

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]

Detroit Renaissance Center/Oakland County Commuter Rail Service Demonstration Could Begin this Fall!


DETROIT, MI – John D. DeLora (of Detroit), Executive Director of the Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers, Inc. (MARP) and Karen D. Kendrick-Hands (of Grosse Pointe Park), President of Transportation Riders United, Inc. (TRU) jointly announced today the feasibility of a modern commuter rail service demonstration that could be operational between General Motors Corporation’s Renaissance Center in Detroit and downtown Pontiac, Michigan as early as this fall.

DeLora and Kendrick-Hands announced that the Board of Directors for the Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority (Sound Transit) of Seattle, Washington (Sound Transit) this afternoon authorized its “…Executive Director to enter into and execute agreements with other transit agencies in the United States and Canada to lease commuter rail equipment that is temporarily in excess of what is required to provide [Seattle area] service…”.

They noted that the equipment to be made available by Sound Transit includes brand new bi-level coaches similar to those in use in Toronto and a number of recently-established US commuter railroad operations. The available equipment also includes brand new General Motors Corporation Electro-Motive Division locomotives.

DeLora stated that the demonstration would help considerably in showing both the general public and local government officials what modern commuter rail service looks like and how it functions. He stated that the costs, performance, and feasibility of a modern commuter railroad service are considerably improved with respect to the characteristics of the Detroit-Pontiac service that was operated by the former Southeastern Michigan Transportation Authority (SEMTA) until the autumn of 1983. “There simply is no comparison. Modern commuter railroad cars are more attractive, they are easier for members of the public to enter and exit, they are quieter, they are more reliable, they can be operated at higher speeds, and they are far less costly to operate than the trains that were used by SEMTA until 1983.”

DeLora further stated that a demonstration service between Detroit’s Amtrak station and Pontiac could be started immediately after the equipment is made available by Sound Transit and negotiations with the host railroad companies are completed. He stated that those negotiations in order to be successful need the combined support of Governor John Engler, Michigan Department of Transportation Director Gregory J. Rosine, Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer, Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, and General Motors Corporation. He further stated that service directly to Renaissance Center could begin after a two-month time period required for rehabilitation and reinstallation of a single-track railroad line located just east of the Chrysler Freeway from approximately East Warren Avenue to and beyond East Jefferson Avenue.

Although MARP and TRU agree that the equipment rental, trackwork reinstallation costs, and operating costs will cost several million dollars, Kendrick-Hands pointed out that the demonstration project would help in analyzing public response to a commuter rail service that can diminish the need for the following proposed freeway expansion projects:

MDOT’s proposed two-block $72 million extension of I-375 into the East Riverfront,
MDOT’s proposed $1.244 billion widening of the 6.7 mile segment of I-94 between the Jeffries Freeway and Conner Avenue in the City of Detroit, and
MDOT’s proposed $447 million widening of I-75 in Oakland County.
DeLora and Kendrick-Hands noted that General Motors has requested improved access to its new developments on the Riverfront and stated that MDOT should be examining commuter rail as a quick, effective, permanent, and non-disruptive remedy to solving GM’s present access problems and as a means for catalyzing new development and reducing the need for costly parking structures in the East Riverfront Area, in the balance of downtown Detroit, and in the older Wayne County and Oakland County suburbs along the railroad right of way. He added that implementation of any I-375 extension is at least three years after the date, possibly this fall, that MDOT receives approvals for the extension from the Federal Highway Administration.

DeLora and Kendrick-Hands also noted that the proposed demonstration should be used to transport members of the public who reside in Detroit and work in office complexes in Troy. They noted that the City of Troy already has set aside a 2.7 acre parcel of land along the Detroit-Pontiac railroad line to serve as a public transportation center. They concluded by stating that MDOT is the logical sponsor for the demonstration project, inasmuch as MDOT is the agency that has the resources to do the demonstration and inasmuch as MDOT has the most to gain by deferring or eliminating costly freeway expansions which MDOT is presently proposing.

MDOT and TRU are both non-profit Michigan corporations. MARP was founded in 1973 to advocate improved intercity and metropolitan rail passenger services. TRU was founded in 2000 to advocate for transportation access and mobility in Southeastern Michigan.

Contact person 

 John DeLora 
(313) 882-8132 

Karen Kendrick-Hands 
(313) 885-7588 

BACKGROUND: The Detroit City Planning Commission, the Ferndale City Council, and the Birmingham City Commission in recent months all have passed resolutions tending to favor establishment of a modern Detroit Renaissance Center – Oakland County commuter rail service. For copies of the resolutions or equipment photos (.jpg format) contact