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The new Pontiac Transporation Center opened on Aug. 8, 2011 replacing a grossly inadequate station. The new 4,500-square-foot station has a passenger lobby, bathrooms, seating and canopies at the bus loading area and the train platform. There is passenger parking and security lighting. Inside, facilities are provided for an Amtrak crew headquarters, which acts as a terminal for crews starting or ending their shifts. There are no Amtrak ticketing facilities. The street side of the location is also a SMART bus stop for the Woodward bus routes. One or two taxis will usually show up for incoming trains. SMART bus service does not operate at train times.
The Pontiac station also is home to Greyhound, with two buses daily and up to eight buses on the weekends. A Greyhound ticket agent will be available 10-12 hours a day on weekdays to assist passengers.
We recommend that passengers use Dearborn as a departure point. The fare is cheaper, and you will avoid a lot of excruciatingly slow running. A reasonable healthy person on a ten-speed bike can make it from Pontiac to Dearborn faster than the train. When returning from points west, by getting off at Dearborn, you can be back home and in your bed an hour before the train gets to Pontiac.
The City of Pontiac had long been a gritty industrial town, but redevelopment of the city’s center and the opening of the Phoenix Center have led to a rebirth of the downtown shopping district. Quite a few open-air concerts are held in the summer, and the downtown area has developed a vibrant nightlife. It’s really a pity that faster travel times between Detroit and Pontiac aren’t available, because this station has real potential.
The staffed Port Huron station is located on the west side of 16th Street, along the south side of the Canadian National Railroad tracks. The free parking includes about 25 spaces in front of the station building and another 12 behind. The station building was built in 1979 in a modular design which Amtrak considered using as a prototype for small staffed stations. Although the design has worked just fine, the design was never replicated. The waiting room has about 20 seats, which is almost always adequate, and the building and grounds are kept in excellent condition by the station staff. At this time, the station is only open and staffed from 10:30PM-6:30AM, with the ticket office closing after the departure of the morning westbound Blue Water, so if you want to purchase or pick up your tickets, you’ll have to be nocturnal. The station building is locked through the remainder of the day. The station has restrooms and a pay phone, but no vending machines, and no restaurants are located within walking distance. It is safe to leave vehicles here for extended periods.
The station’s location is just west of the American portal of the St. Clair River Tunnel, and it is common to see railroad enthusiasts on hand to watch CN trains come roaring out of the tunnel. Be sure to check out the historical marker along the station driveway and additional markers on the platform, commemorating the St. Clair River Tunnel as the oldest sub-aqueous railroad tunnel in North America. Canadian National still maintains a strong presence in Port Huron, and the St. Clair Tunnel is part of their mainline between Toronto and Chicago.
Local bus service is provided by the Blue Water Transportation Authority, Service on 16th Street (a short walk from the station) is provided by Route # 3 and Route # 9 buses. Call (810) 987-7373 for schedules and fares.
Port Huron is a very pleasant city which even today is oriented to the water. It is home to several large marinas, and is a regular stop for pleasure boaters on a scale that people from outside of Michigan would find hard to believe. It is also a popular spot to watch and learn about the large lake and ocean-going freighters which ply the Great Lakes and pass along Port Huron on the St. Clair River.
The Royal Oak city fathers have put up a shelter for Amtrak passengers just south of 11 Mile Rd. off Sherman Dr. The design they came up with is excellent, considering the constraints on the amount of space available. The shelter is dark steel with plexiglass windows, bench seating, it’s well-lit, and has radiant heaters.
A large short-term parking area is next to the tracks, with 115 metered and strictly enforced parking spaces (Warning: backing into parking spaces is a local ordinance violation, and is vigorously enforced). A long term parking deck is nearby. Some of the spaces next to the track are reserved for Amtrak passengers at $5 per day with a temporary permit available from the City Treasurer’s office at City Hall (11 Mile Rd east of Main St.)
Many SMART bus routes converge at a major transit station in the tan building immediately to the west. SMART routes operate for the morning and evening trains. A taxi dispatching office is also located there, so getting a cab is not a problem. To get information on SMART routes and schedules, call (866) 962-5515 Monday through Friday between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m.
Royal Oak must be seen to be appreciated. This has to be one of the hippest, liveliest year-round downtowns for a city this size anywhere in the country.
The Amtrak platform is adjacent to the former station which has been converted into a restaurant. (Photo by J.R. Valderas)
The unstaffed 1913-built Saint Joseph station is a bit tricky to get to, but what other station in Michigan has a view of Lake Michigan? Be sure to access the station from Vine Street. The station facility is today primarily occupied by the Silver Beach Pizza restaurant. Specific parking for Amtrak passengers is indicated on parking lot signs behind the depot. In the spring of 2011, a new waiting room for Amtrak passengers was added at the north end of the building along the track side. This waiting room features wide windows looking out toward the lake and contains 12 seats along with a Quik-Trak ticketing machine. Be sure to access the Amtrak waiting room directly from the platform; there is no internal link between the restaurant and the waiting area. The area is safe, and cars can be left for days without worry. Food service is very limited on the Pere Marquette at the present time, so consider bringing some food along for your journey.
The former Pere Marquette station and train tracks are literally within sight of Lake Michigan and directly beside Silver Beach County Park. If the weather is nice, it’s worth it to come a few hours early to enjoy some time beside the lake. Downtown Saint Joseph is full of interesting and unique shops and restaurants. The community is delightful and features many activities and festivals, especially during the summer months.