Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak Wolverine Service’

Amtrak to Cease Serving Michigan City

March 31, 2022

Amtrak plans to end service at Michigan City, Indiana, on April 4.

In a service advisory Amtrak advised passers to instead travel to New Buffalo, Michigan, to board its trains or travel to Chicago via the South Shore Line, which offers commute rail service throughout the day.

The service advisory did not give a reason for why service to Michigan City is being dropped.

Michigan City lies on the route used by Amtrak’s Wolverine Service between Chicago and Detroit (Pontiac) but not all trains stop there.          

Eastbound, Wolverine Service Nos. 350 and 354 stop in Michigan City while the only westbound train to stop there is No. 355.

Amtrak’s Chicago-Port Huron, Michigan Blue Water, and Chicago-Grand Rapids, Michigan, Pere Marquette also pass through Michigan City without stopping.

The Michigan City boarding platform is located near the former Michigan Central passenger station.

Some Wolverine Service Times to Change

March 4, 2022

Amtrak will modify the schedules of three Wolverine Service trains between Chicago and Detroit (Pontiac) effective March 7, 2022.

In a service advisory Amtrak said the scheduled changes are due to planned track work and other infrastructure projects being sponsored on the segment of the route owned by the Michigan Department of Transportation and Amtrak.

Train 350 will originate in Chicago 35 minutes earlier at 6:45 a.m. It is currently scheduled to depart Union Station at 7:20 a.m.

Train 352 will originate in Chicago 55 minutes later at 2:15 p.m. It is now scheduled to depart at 1:25 p.m.

Train 353 will originate in Pontiac 48 minutes earlier at 8:50 a.m. It now departs there at 9:38 a.m.

Times at en route stations will be adjusted accordingly and Amtrak advised passengers to check for the latest arrival and departure times at those cities.

RAISE Grants to Benefit Regional Rail Projects

November 23, 2021

Projects in Ohio, Detroit and Philadelphia will receive a share of nearly $1 billion in U.S. Department of Transportation Rebuilding American Infrastructure With Sustainability and Equity grants.

The Michigan Department of Transportation will receive $10 million to be used for the New Center Intermodal Facility Project.

Project plans include a new station to serve Amtrak trains and local and intercity buses that will replace an existing depot in the New Center neighborhood of Detroit.

The new facility will comply with Americans with Disabilities standards and have a multi-level parking garage.

It will be located on the south side of the Canadian National tracks used by Amtrak’s Chicago-Detroit (Pontiac) Wolverine Service trains.

The existing boarding platform at the site will be lengthened and rehabilitated. The boarding platform will be connected to the new station by a tunnel.

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority will receive $15 million to improve the 19th Street and 37th Street trolley subway stations.

That work is part of a larger trolley modernization program. The RAISE Grant will be used to bring both stations into compliance with ADA standards, rehabilitate boarding areas and conduct other renovations to station facilities.

The Maumee Watershed Conservancy District of Findlay will receive $7.1 million for replacement of a bridge carrying Norfolk Southern tracks over the Blanchard River.

The new bridge will be a three-span, through plate girder structure with a ballast deck.

RAISE grants are one of the few USDOT discretionary programs that allow regional and local governments to directly compete for multimodal transportation funding.

The funding provide are to be used for “planning and capital investments in surface transportation infrastructure and were awarded on a competitive basis for projects that will have a significant local or regional impact,” USDOT said in a news release.

The maximum grant award is $25 million with no more than $100 million being awarded to a single state.

MDOT Describes Plans to Upgrade Rail Service

November 8, 2021

The Michigan Department of Transportation has released a draft plan that describes road and bridge projects to be undertaken through 2026 as well as information on rail, public transit and aviation programs.

The plan provides an overview of the agency’s efforts to increase speeds on Amtrak’s Chicago-Detroit corridor to 110 mph on the state-owned segment between Dearborn and Kalamzaoo.

Wolverine Service trains are already operating at 110 mph on some sections of a segment between Albion and Kalamazoo.

The plan envisions bumping up speeds in fiscal year 2022 between Albion and Jackson, between Dearborn and Ypsilanti in FY2023, and between Ypsilanti and Jackson in FY 2024.

That work will be done in part using a $61.75 million federal grant that MDOT has received. Projects being funded by the grant include bridge replacement in Jackson, track and signal work on a new connection in Battle Creek.

Ann Arbor’s New Amtrak Depot Plans Got Too Big and Expensive

September 7, 2021

In the wake of a decision by the Federal Railroad Administration to pull out of a project to build a new Amtrak station in Ann Arbor, Michigan, city officials are seeking ways to keep the project going, including reducing the project’s scope.

Work on getting a new Amtrak station in Ann Arbor began about a decade ago.

At the time, then Mayor John Hieftje projected the station would cost $30 million and the city would pay less than $3 million of that with the federal government picking up most of the tab.

Hieftje expected to do what Dearborn, a suburb of Detroit, did in building a new $28.2 million Amtrak station with federal stimulus money paying for most of it.

But over time the size of the proposed Ann Arbor station expanded and so did its costs. After cost estimates reached $171 million, the FRA backed away.

News accounts of the FRA’s decision focused on the agency’s belief that the station would have too much parking for intercity rail service.

But Amtrak passengers were not expected to be the only user of the station.

At one time local government planning agencies in Ann Arbor, Detroit and other communities along with the Michigan Department of Transportation were eyeing creating a commuter rail service.

The University of Michigan offered to buy commuter train tickets for its employees in lieu of them buying parking permits on the crowded campus.

MDOT acquired a fleet of passenger cars that would be used for the service.

The expectation of commuter rail service was the major deciding factor for locating the new station in Fuller Park next to the University of Michigan Hospital.

Rather than paying $1,000 a year for a parking pass, employees would be able to ride free on a commuter train.

Heiftjie noted that tens of thousands of daily commuters have jobs in Ann Arbor. City officials saw an opportunity to create a place where more people could travel without cars and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The UM hospital is the most visited place in Ann Arbor on a daily basis.

But the commuter rail concept collapsed after Michigan voters rejected a bond issue that would have funded development of the service.

All along, city planners had seen the station as a two-phase development with the second phase hinging on the creating of the commuter rail service.

The proposed station would have a parking deck with 1,300 spaces, although most of those spaces were expected to be used by commuter train passengers.

But other design features also drove up costs, including elevating the station and building a bridge over the tracks. Another considerable expense included constructing a retaining wall to stabilize the slope leading to the UM hospital.

But most of the expense of the project involved the parking deck, including elevator/stair towers and a metal fin design to soften the deck’s appearance and make it look like “an art object.”

A first floor bus station was also included in the plans as well as a bicycle maintenance and storage area.
In pulling out of the project, the FRA described the project costs as being “an order of magnitude higher” than other stations the agency had funded.

Heiftjie has since left office and his successor as mayor, Christopher Taylor, continued to support building a new Amtrak station.

The city’s current station is located west of the former Michigan Central depot, which is now a restaurant.

Built in 1982, city officials consider the station too cramped given the level of ridership there.

Ann Arbor is the busiest passenger rail station in Michigan although it suffered significant ridership losses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ridership of the Wolverine Service route between Chicago and Detroit (Pontiac) in 2020 was 278,450 compared with 990,068 in 2019. In Ann Arbor ridership fell from 154,813 in 2019 to 41,013 last year.

Hieftjie said he doesn’t regret pushing the project even though in hindsight he believes the city tried to go too big in recent years and proposed too much parking.

He said when he began pushing the project it was a different world and he had high hopes for significant growth in rail ridership.

Now Hieftjie is not so sure that could happen due to changes brought about by COVID-19.

“The environment has changed,” he said. “We’re obviously in a whole different period. Due to COVID, people are not riding trains like they used to. I think it’s going to be a while before people return to transit.”

Track Works Leads to Wolverine Sked Changes

July 22, 2021

Schedules of Amtrak’s Wolverine Service between Chicago and Detroit (Pontiac) will be temporarily changed between July 20 and Oct. 31 due to track work being performed by Amtrak and Norfolk Southern.

Train 350 will depart Chicago 15 minutes earlier at 7:05 a.m. and will be scheduled to arrive in Pontiac at 2:46 p.m.

Train 351 will depart Pontiac 7 minutes earlier at 5:43 a.m. and is scheduled to arrive in Chicago 15 minutes later at 10:47 a.m.

Train 354 will depart Chicago at its scheduled time of 5:50 p.m, but be rescheduled to arrive in Pontiac 15 minutes later at 1:17 a.m.

Train 355 will depart Pontiac 7 minutes earlier at 5:28 a.m and is scheduled to arrive in Chicago 15 minutes later at 10:55 p.m.

An Amtrak service advisory said Trains 352 and 353 remain suspended but are expected to resume operation on Sept. 7.

Wolverine Service during the COVID-19 pandemic fell to one pair of trains between Chicago and Pontiac. Service increased to two pairs of trains on July 19.

Wolverine Service Frequency to Rise July 19

May 19, 2021

The Michigan Department of Transportation and Amtrak have agreed to add back an additional daily roundtrip to the Chicago-Detroit corridor that was suspended in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Chicago-Pontiac Wolverine Service train will begin operating July 19, going westbound in the morning and eastbound in the evening.

The two parties also said that effective May 25 speed limits on 45 miles of the corridor will ncrease to 110 miles per hour.

The faster speeds were authorized between Kalamazoo and Albion, Michigan, on track owned by MDOT

The higher speeds are being allowed following completion of Federal Railroad Administration certification of the signal system.

Officials said additional track infrastructure work is needed before the top speed can be increased between Albion and Dearborn in the Detroit suburbs.

The faster speeds will not reduce the scheduled travel time in the corridor but MDOT and Amtrak officials contended in a statement that improved on-time performance can be expected because the higher speeds will enable trains to make up time lost elsewhere.

This includes segments shared with freight railroads in Chicago and Northwest Indiana, and in the Detroit region.

Speeds of up to 110 mph have been in place since 2012 in the corridor on the Amtrak-owned segment between Kalamazoo and Porter, Indiana.

That segment uses an Incremental Train Control System signaling system.

That system has since been placed into operation east of Kalamazoo as an overlay to the interoperable I-ETMS positive train control system.

The schedule effective July 19 will have Wolverine Service trains 350 and 354 departing Chicago at 7:20 a.m. and 5:50 p.m., respectively.

Westbound trains 351 and 355 will depart Pontiac at 5:43 a.m. and 5:35 p.m., respectively.

The new schedule will restore connections from western long-distance trains to Michigan points that were lost during the pandemic.

Currently, the lone Wolverine Service on the corridor departs Pontiac at 5:43 a.m. and arrives in Chicago in late morning.

The return trip, though leaves Chicago at 1:25 p.m., which is too late to make connections from inbound Western long distance trains.

An MDOT official said the agency will consider adding back the third roundtrip to the corridor “as travel demands increase and COVID-19 vaccination rates rise in Michigan.”

Before the pandemic, trains departed Pontiac in early morning, mid morning and late afternoon. Trains departed Chicago in early morning, early afternoon and early evening.

Stimulus Money Conveyed to Amtrak

April 28, 2021

The U.S. Department of Transportation said this week that it has conveyed to Amtrak $1.69 billion in economic stimulus funds authorized by the American Rescue Act of 2021.

The funding includes $728.6 million for Amtrak’s long distance and regional trains outside the Northeast Corridor.

Amtrak was directed by Congress to allocate $174 million of that total to offset what the carrier charges states for corridor services.

However, the law does not require states to restore their Amtrak corridor services to pre-pandemic levels.

Most states reduced their corridor services during the COVID-19 pandemic due to a plunge in ridership.

Several states have begun restoring suspended services but others have yet to announce their plans.

Among the routes yet to be fully restored is the Wolverine Service between Chicago and Detroit (Pontiac).

The route had three roundtrips pre-pandemic, but since March 2020 the level of service has been a single daily roundtrip.

Some Illinois and Missouri routes also continued to operate below pre-pandemic levels.

The directive also mandated that Amtrak return long-distance service to daily operation if they operated as such before last year.

Amtrak has said daily operation will be phased in over a three-weekly period beginning May 24.

The Northeast Corridor will receive $969.4 million of which $109.8 million will go to states and commuter railroads to cover their share of capital costs Amtrak charges them for using the Northeast Corridor.

Another $100.8 million will be used for debt relief that Amtrak incurred before the legislation was adopted on March 11.

MDOT Gets Federal Grant to Improve Passenger Line

October 28, 2020

The Michigan Department of Transportation has been awarded a federal $15.6 million State of Good Repair grant to upgrade state-owned tracks used by Amtrak between Ypsilanti and Jackson.

The work will replace 80,000 feet of rail,  upgrade 42 horizontal curves, and make safety enhancements at 16 public and eight private grade crossings.

MDOT Director Paul Ajebga in a statement said the work will make the route and enable Amtrak’s Chicago-Detroit (Pontiac) Wolverine Service trains to operate faster.

A news release issued by MDOT said the grant will assist with completing 136 miles to serve trains operating up to 110 mph.

Michigan City Wants to Connect Amtrak Routes

July 30, 2020

The city commission of St. Joseph, Michigan, wants to see a connection built that would enable all of Amtrak’s Michigan services to serve nearby New Buffalo.

Currently St. Joseph is a stop for Amtrak’s Chicago-Grand Rapids Pere Marquette, but that train does not stop in New Buffalo even though it passes through it.

City officials said connecting the line used by the Chicago-Port Huron Blue Water and the Chicago-Detroit Wolverine Service with the Pere Marquette route would enable residents of St. Joseph to connect in New Buffalo to points in eastern Michigan.

The route used by the Blue Water and Wolverine Service, which is owned by Amtrak, passes through the northeast section of New Buffalo where it crosses the CSX route used by the Pere Marquette.

The city commission asks Mayor Mike Garey to discuss the connection idea with the Southwest Michigan Planning Commission. The vote on the resolution was unanimous.

The Michigan Department of Transportation funds all three Amtrak routes in Michigan.

The Pere Marquette route merges with the Blue Water and Wolverine Service route in Porter, Indiana, and all three services use Norfolk Southern track between Porter and Chicago.