Posts Tagged ‘Chicago-Detroit corridor’

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.

Advertisements

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.

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.

Ann Arbor City Council Gives OK to Funding for New Amtrak Station Design, Engineering Work

January 20, 2017

The Ann Arbor (Michigan) City Council this week approved a contract with a consultant to begin design and engineering work for a new Amtrak station, but not before city officials had to defend the need for the new facility.

michiganBy an 8-3 vote, the council agreed to pay for the work, but not before some questioned the need for the station, saying that Amtrak ridership in Ann Arbor has been falling for the past three years.

Eli Cooper, the city’s transportation program manager, acknowledged the ridership decline, but said in any event that a new station is needed because of crowding at the existing station and its poor condition.

“I would invite council members, members of the community, to come out and experience the existing Ann Arbor Amtrak station during periods of heavy use,” Cooper said. “The waiting room is substandard for the complement of passengers boarding trains today. This is based on the current ridership.”

Amtrak opened the existing modular station in 1983. When Amtrak began service in 1971, it served Ann Arbor through the former Michigan Central passenger station.

But it was squeezed out of that facility, which is today a privately-owned restaurant known as the Gandy Dancer.

A new Amtrak station is projected to cost more than $2 million with 80 percent of that cost being picked up by a federal grant.

But the station project has drawn the ire of some council members because it is behind schedule and over budget.

The city has yet to settle on a site for the new depot, which could be built near the existing station on Depot Street or in Fuller Park.

Voting against spending money for the design and engineering work were Jack Eaton, Sumi Kailasapathy and Jane Lumm.

“This is a project that’s been consistently behind schedule and over budget,” Lumm said. “I’m not sure what makes us think that won’t continue. A good portion of the local dollars already invested are gone and, I fear, wasted. And we sit here tonight being asked to commit another $500,000 of taxpayer money.”

Lumm noted that the city faces a deadline to get the station completed before the federal grant expires.

“But because of the delays along the way, the clock is running out on the grant funding, so we’re now being asked to scramble and dive in to the next phase immediately,” she said. “That’s just not how we should be doing things.”

Cooper admitted that ridership projections that were calculated in 2014 may be overly optimistic.

One projection was that Ann Arbor would be handling nearly 1.4 million rail passengers in 2025. That would include Amtrak patronage of 969,000 and another 516.000 for a still-to-be-funded commuter rail service to Detroit. It was also based on Amtrak service increasing from three to 10 roundtrips a day between Chicago and Detroit.

In Amtrak’s fiscal year 2016, which ended on Sept. 30, it handled 122,534 passengers, an 18 percent drop from ridership of three years earlier.

“The anticipated commuter service and the forecast and projection for future growth in both rail ridership and use at this station are, if you will, perhaps not well founded, but the need for the initial investment is in order to remedy the defects of the current station,” Cooper said.

Amtrak and state transportation officials have said that falling gasoline prices have cut into Amtrak ridership in Michigan.

Another factor was that during summer and fall of 2016 track work between Battle Creek and Jackson cut the level of service.

The work sponsored by Amtrak and the Michigan Department of Transportation affected 41 miles of track and involved replacing 26,000 railroad ties, repairing or installing 15 track switches, realigning or modifying 29 railroad curves, repairing 23 railroad grade crossings and improving road profiles at crossings.

Amtrak also upgraded its signal system east of Kalamazoo. The work was originally scheduled to be completed in September but did not end until November.

The State of Michigan owns most of the route between Kalamazoo and Dearborn while Amtrak owns the route between Kalamazoo and Porter, Indiana.

The work was conducted as part of the Michigan Accelerated Rail Program with state officials saying that passengers will benefit from improved reliability, a smoother ride and the first 110-mph Amtrak service in the Midwest.

Ann Arbor May Soon Start Station Design Work

January 18, 2017

The Ann Arbor, Michigan, city council is poised to approve a $2.14 million contract for preliminary design and engineering work on a new Amtrak station.

michiganThe council was to vote on the contact despite the Federal Railroad Administration not yet having approved a preferred location for the station.

City officials have narrowed the sites to Depot Street, on which the current Amtrak station is located, or in Fuller Park.

The design and engineering work contract would be with Neumann/Smith Architecture

Officials have said they want to be able to move quickly once the FRA acts and an environmental review is completed.

Efforts to construct a new Amtrak station in Ann Arbor have been ongoing for more than a decade.

The estimated total cost of preliminary design and engineering is $2.37 million, which includes the $2.14 million contract with Neumann/Smith and a city staff budget of $234,884.

Another $101,131 that has yet to be allocated will be kept in the project budget if needed to complete the environmental review phase or the preliminary design and engineering work.

“If the entire amount of the Neumann/Smith contract and the contingency is necessary to complete the project, the total cost would be $2,471,325.67,” said Eli Cooper, the city’s transportation program manager in a memo to the council.

Cooper noted that the city could be reimbursed by the federal government for up to 80 percent of the project cost. The city would need to put up a 20 percent match.

The city council has already approved spending $342,665 of city funds for the station project but would need to pony up an additional $151,600 from the general fund cash reserves to complete the 20 percent match.

The city has said it will not complete the project without voter approval, a step not expected to be undertaken until 2018 at the earliest.

The city is facing a May 2017 deadline to complete the preliminary engineering and design work. That deadline was set by the terms of the federal grant.

Chicago-Columbus Rail Route Planning to Start

December 20, 2016

All Aboard Ohio said Monday that enough funding has been raised to begin what it described as an alternatives analysis and public input process for a proposed Chicago-Columbus passenger rail route.

Amtrak 4The Indiana Department of Transportation submitted an application to the Federal Railroad Administration in support of the planning process for the route.

In a news release, AAO, a rail passenger advocacy group based in Cleveland, said INDOT offered the locally-raised funds, totaling $350,000, to start the planning process as part of an arrangement with the FRA.

The initial planning work is to be completed by late 2017.  AAO also said the support of the Northeast Indiana Passenger Rail Association was also critical.

The Chicago-Columbus route would operate via Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Lima, Ohio, using large portions of the former Pennsylvania Railroad’s Fort Wayne Line, which hosted Amtrak trains until November 1990 when the trains were rerouted due to Conrail downgrading the route.

“There are only two rail corridors to the east of Chicago that lack heavy freight rail traffic and could offer the potential for frequent, reliable, 110-mph passenger trains,” said Ken Prendergast, executive director of AAO.

The Fort Wayne Line is one of those with Amtrak’s Chicago-Detroit being the other.

Prendergast noted that work is already underway to upgrade the Michigan corridor for 110-mph passenger service.

Trackwork Completed on Wolverine Route

November 8, 2016

Completion of track work has restored full Wolverine Service to the Chicago-Detroit (Pontiac) line.

Amtrak logoAmtrak and the Michigan Department of Transportation sponsored the project, which included improvement of the signal system, replacing 26,000 ties, repairing or installing 15 track switches, realigning or modifying 29 railroad curves, repairing 23 crossings and improving road profiles at crossings.

Most of the work took place in Calhoun and Jackson counties.

The work was undertaken as part of Michigan’s Accelerated Rail Program which is seeking to improve service reliability, provide for a smoother ride and expand the top speed on the line to 110 mph.

Amtrak operates three daily roundtrips on the route, but reduced the frequency of service during the construction season.

The passenger carrier also plans to operate 10 extra trains in Michigan during the Thanksgiving holiday.

The service curtailment had an adverse effect on ridership and revenue. Ridership during fiscal year 2016 was 411,625 on the Chicago-Detroit line, a decrease of 11.6 percent. Revenue was $17.8 million, down 6.4 percent from the 2015 fiscal year.

On-time performance improved to 65 percent compared with 39 percent in the previous year.