Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak Wolverine Service’

Amtrak Adding Extra Thanksgiving Trains

October 18, 2017

Amtrak will add eight extra trains in Illinois and 10 in Michigan to handle Thanksgiving travelers.

In a news release, the carrier said it will operate every available passenger car during the holiday period.

On the Wolverine Service route, Extra No. 356 will depart Chicago on Nov. 22, 25 and 26 at 9:30 a.m., stopping in Michigan at New Buffalo, Niles, Kalamazoo, Battle Creek, Jackson before arriving in Ann Arbor at 3:10 p.m.

Extra No. 359 will depart Ann Arbor on the same dates at 4:05 p.m. and make the same stops, en route to Chicago, arriving at 7:46 p.m.

On the Pere Marquette route, extra No. 372 will leave Chicago at 10 a.m. and make all stops en route to Holland, arriving at 2:11 p.m. It will depart Holland at 3:10 p.m. and make all scheduled stop en route to a 5:27 p.m. arrival in Chicago.

These schedules are in effect on Nov. 22 and 26.

Amtrak said that in 2016 it carried 760,755 passengers throughout its national network during the Thanksgiving travel period and it expects similar patronage this year.

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Fuller Park Favored for New Ann Arbor Station

September 19, 2017

A draft environmental assessment favors placing the new Amtrak station in Ann Arbor in Fuller Park.

The long-awaited 212-page report was released on Monday after the Federal Railroad Administration gave the go ahead to do so.

Public comments are being accepted through Nov. 2 and opposition is expected given that many in Ann Arbor have already spoken against using a city park for a new train station.

The city also considered sites along Depot Street, where the existing Amtrak station is located.

Ann Arbor officials have long favored the Fuller Park site in front of the University of Michigan Hospital.

The new station would be elevated over the tracks in order to connect with a city-owned parking lot leased to the University of Michigan.

Development of the station is projected to occur in two stages. Phase I includes:

  • Construct station above the tracks
  • Construct five-level intermodal operations and parking structure to accommodate transit operations, 435 long-term parking spaces, 50 short-term parking spaces, 150 parks user parking spaces and motorcycle parking, bicycle parking, shared bicycle service and bicycle room in parking structure
  • Construct vertical circulation element on north side of the tracks
  • Construct platform on the north side of the tracks with two warming shelters and 650 feet of canopy
  • Construct new 250-foot, eastbound, right-turn lane at the Fuller Road/West Site driveway intersection
  • Construct new 250-foot, eastbound, right-turn lane at the Fuller Road/East Site driveway intersection
  • Relocate and reconstruct the Fuller Road crossovers, including 250 foot, left-turn bays at each crossover
  • Construct four bus bays

Phase II includes:

  • Construct additional parking structure levels to accommodate 870 total long-term parking spaces, 50 short-term spaces, 150 parks user parking spaces
  • Construct five additional bus bays to equal nine bus bays

If a commuter rail service between Ann Arbor and Detroit is implemented, the station project would also include:

  • Construct second 800-foot platform on south side of the tracks with two warming shelters and 650 feet of canopy
  • Construct vertical circulation elements (elevators and stairs for pedestrians) on south side of the tracks
  • Construct an additional 250 spaces (1,320 total)

The environmental assessment noted that the Fuller Road site can be developed on property owned by the city and the Michigan Department of Transportation, thereby eliminating the need to acquire additional property.

However, the station will require the use of 3.2 acres of Fuller Park, which in turn must be approved by Ann Arbor’s Park Advisory Commission and City Council approval.

Another factor weighing in favor of the Fuller Park site was lower costs, which were estimated at $81 million. Development of a station along Depot Street would cost between $94 million to $98 million.

Ticket Agent Hours Cut in Jackson

September 19, 2017

Amtrak has reduced ticket agent service in Jackson, Michigan.

The changes, which became effective on Aug. 29, means the ticket office will be closed on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Amtrak has hired a caretaker to open and close the station on those days. Ticket office hours on other days of the week will be 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said that Tuesday and Wednesday are typically the lowest travel days in the Midwest.

He also said that many Amtrak passengers are printing their tickets at home or having them scanned on their smart phones aboard the train.

“Overwhelmingly, our passengers choose electronic ticketing,” Magliari said. “Most people are using the eTicketing and a lot of people are doing it without talking to a human.”

Magliari also quipped that “the days of people pushing coins and folded dollars across the counter to a ticket agent with a big stamping machine are pretty well gone. It’s all through automated systems.”

Jackson lacks any Quik-Trak Self-Service Ticketing Kiosks and Magliari said those are being phased out anyway.

At the present time, Amtrak has no plans to remove its ticket agent from Jackson, Magliari said.

Jackson is served by six Wolverine Service trains a day between Chicago and Detroit (Pontiac).

Troy Station Battle Comes to Quiet End

August 31, 2017

A dispute that lasted for 20 years over building an Amtrak station in Troy, Michigan, came to an end recently with the city council formally accepting the final $1.7 million in federal funding for the Troy Multi-Modal Transit Center.

The money was used to finish paying for a transit center that is used by Amtrak’s Wolverine Service trains between Chicago and Detroit (Pontiac) and local buses.

Troy, a suburb of Detroit, is known for its conservatism and many fights took place in city council chambers over whether to accept federal funding for mass transit.

The struggle also included a lawsuit over who owned the land beneath the transit center.

The city contended that it did, but shopping center developer Gary Sakwa disputed that and filed suit.

It was eventually settled with Troy paying Skawa $4.2 million to get clear title to the property.

At one time Troy and the neighboring city of Birmingham made plans to create a joint station for Amtrak and transit on their city borders. But Birmingham backed out of the plan and Troy went it alone.

Megan Owens, the executive director of Transportation Riders United in Detroit said transit has never been an easy issue in metro Detroit.

“But I think it’s gotten easier,” she said about the long fight over the Troy station.

Some critics of the station remain convinced it was not worth its $12 million cost.

One of them is the former mayor of Troy, Janice Daniels, who fought against it and ended up being recalled amid the dispute.

Daniels said it angered her that promoters of the center said it wouldn’t cost the city anything.

Troy end up paying $1.8 million, although those funds came from cash left over from federal reimbursement of road projects.

Last year Amtrak handled 23,714 passengers in Troy, a 9 percent drop from 2015.

However, some believe that with plans in the works to increase the speed of Wolverine Service trains to 110 mph in some places that ridership will grow.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said 80 miles of the Chicago-Detroit route is good for that top speed with another 25 miles slated to become high-speed in the coming months.

Amtrak to Put More Chargers into Service

August 29, 2017

Amtrak will soon place into service its new Charger locomotives on three other Midwest corridor routes, including one serving Michigan.

The Siemens-built AC-44 locomotives have already entered revenue service on the Hiawatha Service route between Chicago and Milwaukee.

Amtrak officials said the units are expected to enter service this week on Chicago-Quincy, Illinois, trains.

In the near future, will be assigned to Chicago-Carbondale, Illlinois, service and to the Pere Marquette to Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The new locomotives are being withheld from Chicago-St. Louis trains, and the Blue Water and Wolverine Service routes pending testing of Wabtec’s I-ETMS positive train control system and the two versions of Incremental Train Control installed on the routes of those trains.

“These are new installations, it’s a different locomotive, and the systems have to be merged and integrated with the Siemens software, so we will continue to run 110-mph between Porter and Kalamazoo with the existing P42 locomotives until testing is completed,” said Tim Hoeffner, director of Michigan’s rail office.

A similar situation exists in Illinois on Union Pacific track in the Chicago-St. Louis corridor. A 110-mph section between Dwight and Pontiac is reverting to 79 mph until the new system is in place.

The maximum speed of Lincoln Service trains will increase to 90 mph after track and signal work is completed.

Once the Federal Railroad Administration certifies that the positive train control system on the route is reliable, then top speeds will rise to 110 mph.

Amtrak superintendent of locomotives Mike Yates said that 12 of the 33 Chargers that were ordered are now on Amtrak property and 10 are ready to be put into revenue service.

Amtrak Offering $5 Tickets to Detroit

August 4, 2017

Amtrak is offering $5 tickets for travel to Detroit through Sept. 4. The fares are good for travel originating on the Wolverine Service route at Dearborn, Ann Arbor, Pontiac, Royal Oak and Troy.

Once in Detroit, passengers can ride the new QLine, a streetcar route that is offering free rides through Labor Day.

The 3.3-mile route on Woodward Avenue features 12 stops, including Comerica Park, the Fox Theatre and Midtown.

QLine streetcars operate Monday through Saturday between 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Ann Arbor To Continue Studying Station Sites

June 16, 2017

The Ann Arbor City Council will stay with the process of creating a new Amtrak station for a little longer.

The council this week voted 8-3 to provide additional funding to a consultant to finish an environmental assessment and move forward with preliminary engineering designs for multiple possible sites.

The council acted after the Federal Railroad Administration sought additional information and analysis of different alternatives.

Speaking in favor of continuing the process, Mayor Christopher Taylor said Ann Arbor demands better rail service.

“Better rail service for the city of Ann Arbor is critical to our economic improvement, to our quality-of-life improvement, to our environmental improvement,” Taylor said. “It is part of, I believe, the vision for the future of Ann Arbor that is shared by residents everywhere.”

But in voting against the proposal, council member Jane Lumm was skeptical that the city could meet its ambitious target dates for study and design work.

The city faces a late September deadline to spend a $2.8 million federal grant that it received in 2011.

The council’s latest action authorizes spending another $137,026 for the study and design work, which will now total $1,088,700 and must be completed before the federal grant expires on Sept. 30.

The city has yet to decide on a site for the new station. Among the proposals have been building a new depot off Depot Street or Fuller Road. Three other locations are still under consideration, including the existing Amtrak site on Depot Street, part of Fuller Park in front of the University of Michigan Hospital, and the former Michigan Central station, which is now the Gandy Dancer restaurant.

When asked why the city was doing preliminary engineering work for all the different alternatives as opposed to one preferred option, City Administrator Howard Lazarus said the FRA believes that Ann Arbor doesn’t “have a clear winner.”

The new station selection process has been dragging on for more than a decade, a point brought up by the dissenting council members.

Lazarus recommended moving ahead with the environmental assessment and releasing it to the public for a 30-day review.

The city would then seek a “finding of no significant impact” declaration from the FRA for a preferred option for a new Amtrak station.

At that point, he said the city would have a finished document that would be “non-perishable” and could be used to position the city for future FRA funding for final design and construction.

Lazarus and Eli Cooper, the city’s transportation program manager, said Ann Arbor remains at the mercy of the FRA.

Cooper said there have been private communications with the FRA over the past few years, but he was not at liberty to share that information publicly.

The grant was actually awarded to the Michigan Department of Transportation which along with the FRA has specific processes with regard to freedom of information.

Both agencies have told the city that they don’t want draft materials being released to the public.

However, Cooper said no final decision has been made about where a new train station should be built.

He said city staff, MDOT and the FRA look forward to receiving public views on the environmental assessment once the FRA authorizes its release.

Lazarus said that if the council failed to approve spending another $130,000, “we’re going to have to put a fork in it [station project] because it’s done.”

Detroit SMART to Serve Troy Amtrak Station

June 15, 2017

Local bus service will return to the Troy Transit Center in suburban Detroit, which is also used by Amtrak’s Wolverine Service trains.

The signing of a court order this week involving the city of Troy and an Oakland County developer paved the way for the return of bus service provided by Detroit’s SMART bus system.

The settlement ended years of litigation that began in 1999 and had kept the buses away. “We’re very happy that the parties were able to reach an agreement without going to trial,” said SMART communications manager Beth Gibbons.

SMART buses will resume picking up and dropping off riders at the Transit Center.

The City of Troy agreed to pay $100,000 to developer Gary Sakwa and his Grand/Sakwa Properties, owners of a 75-acre shopping center and condominium complex that surrounds the transit center.

An earlier lawsuit was settled when Troy agreed to spend $4.15 million in federal transportation funds to buy the 2 acres under the center from Sakwa, whose ownership he claimed under previous legal rulings.

“It certainly is a welcome step in the right direction” for mass transit in southeast Michigan, said Megan Owens, executive director of TRU, or Transportation Riders United, a nonprofit group of bus riders.

Six daily Chicago-Detroit (Pontiac) Wolverine Service trains serve the transit center.

Amtrak, Ann Arbor Agree on Tunnel Project

May 24, 2017

While Ann Arbor officials await action on the city’s bid to build a new Amtrak station, it has reached an agreement with the passenger carrier about the first steps in being allowed to build a tunnel beneath the tracks.

The Allen Creek Railroad Berm Opening Project will enable storm water to more easily reach the Huron River and therefore reduce flooding.

The project is expected to allow pedestrians and cyclists to reach riverfront recreation areas.

The tracks used by Amtrak are owned by the Michigan Department of Transportation, but Amtrak is the primary approval agency.

Amtrak is requiring the city to enter into a design-phase agreement and to reimburse the railroad Amtrak for its costs.

By its estimate, Amtrak said work in the design phase of the project will cost $71,940. The Ann Arbor City Council has authorized a reimbursement of up to $97,020.

“The amount being paid to Amtrak at this time is $71,940,” said City Engineer Nick Hutchinson. “As a contingency, we obtained authorization from council for a total amount of $97,000 should more be needed.”

Any unused money for design work will be returned by Amtrak to the city.

“This action by the city of Ann Arbor is another example of our close working relationship with the city, Michigan DOT and Amtrak for improvements to facilities and service at the busiest Amtrak station in the state,” said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari.

Ann Arbor officials have said that pedestrians and cyclists will be able to use the tunnel beneath the railroad tracks used by Amtrak’s Chicago-Detroit (Pontiac) Wolverine Service.

Federal Emergency Management Agency grants are expected to cover 75 percent of the storm water portion of the project. Construction is expected to begin in summer 2018.

Expedited FRA Review Sought of Ann Arbor Station Site Environmental Assessment

April 24, 2017

A  Michigan congresswoman is trying to turn up the heat on the Federal Railroad Administration to act sooner rather than later on reviewing an environmental assessment for a new Amtrak station in Ann Arbor.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell has written to the FRA to urge it to expedite that review.

Ann Arbor faces a Sept. 30 deadline to spend a $2.8 million federal grant that it received to develop a station. The FRA had indicated earlier that it would not finish its review until summer, leaving the city little time to spend the grant money on station design work.

In her letter to the FRA, Dingell said it was important that the FRA move in an “urgent and expeditious manner so the city can move forward with improving mass transit in the state of Michigan.”

Once the FRA finishes reviewing the environmental assessment, there will be a 30-day public comment period.

Thus far the city has not revealed the site it prefers for the new station.

Dingell also pointed out in her letter that Amtrak and the State of Michigan have been working to upgrade service between Chicago and Detroit for higher speed service.

Currently, Ann Arbor is served by three Wolverine Service roundtrips although transportation officials have spoken about increasing that level of service at some future time as well as launching commuter rail service to Detroit.

FRA spokesman Marc Willis said the FRA received the environmental assessment from the city.

“We reviewed it and sent it back to them for revisions,” he said, adding there’s no time frame from the city when it will be sent back for FRA review.

City Council Member Zachary Ackerman believes the city is running out of time to build a new Amtrak station

Ackerman said that a new station seems to be less of a reality given the current climate in Washington and he won’t support a new station without significant federal funding.