Posts Tagged ‘Detroit-Grand Rapids rail service’

Some Want to See Pere Marquette Rerouted

May 10, 2016

The Michigan Department of Transportation is looking into the prospect of routing Amtrak’s Pere Marquette via Kalamazoo, Michigan.

The Chicago-Grand Rapids, Michigan, train, currently operates via Holland along the shore of Lake Michigan.

Michigan DOT3The study is being made at the request of Grand Rapids leaders who hope that going via Kalamazoo might reduce the travel time to Chicago.

MDOT and Amtrak are working to rebuild the track between Chicago and Detroit to allow speeds of up to 110 mph.

The track being upgraded is owned by Amtrak between Kalamazoo and Porter, Indiana, and by MDOT between Kalamazoo and Detroit.

MDOT Communications Manager Michael Frezell said his agency has discussed the idea of rerouting the Pere Marequette via Kalamazoo, but not in any sort of definitive way because “it isn’t a priority.”

The route via Kalamazoo is used by Amtrak’s Chicago-Detroit (Pontiac) Wolverines and the Chicago-Port Huron Blue Water. Those trains, along with the Pere Marquette are funded by MDOT.

The Pere Marquette joins the Chicago-Detroit route at Porter with all of the Michigan trains using Norfolk Southern tracks between Porter and Chicago.

The current track work in Michigan is seeking to cut an hour off the travel time between Chicago and Detroit and to reduce the travel time between Chicago and Kalamazoo to less than two hours.

“As Chicago gets more expensive to park and more congested to get into, (rail service) provides a great option,” said Jill Bland, executive vice president with Southwest Michigan First, a Kalamazoo-based regional economic development firm. “And with wi-fi and cars being upgraded, it’s definitely something we use in our toolbox when talking with companies.”

Grand Rapids interests believe that connecting their city with the Chicago-Detroit corridor at Kalamazoo could stimulate greater greater mobility in the Grand Rapids area

However, MDOT’s Frezell said residents of such Southwest Michigan cities as Bangor, St. Joseph and Holland — all of which are served by the Pere Marquette  — need rail service, too, and that is why the discussion about rerouting the Pere Marquette via Kalamazoo has not gone very far.

Rick Chapla, vice president of strategic initiatives at The Right Place Inc., a Grand Rapids-based regional economic development firm, said that cutting the travel time and increasing service by rail between Grand Rapids and Chicago needs to be made a priority.

“Anything we can do to enhance connectivity between West Michigan, Chicago and the east side of the state is a positive,” Chapla said. “(A route from) Grand Rapids to Kalamazoo allows us the mobility to go east and west. It’s a critical link.”

That increased mobility also includes rail service linking Grand Rapids and Detroit.

This past February, a study of a cross-state rail passenger route estimated that it could serve 1.71 million travelers annually.

Although the upgrading of the Chicago-Detroit corridor has been linked with increased train frequencies, Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the passenger carrier has no plans to consider that until after the track rebuilding project is finished and work to alleviate rail congestion in Chicago is completed.

Increased rail service is also necessary because Southwestern Michigan has become an exurb for Chicago.

Bland of Southwest Michigan First said her organization has been hearing that an increasing number of people working in Chicago are living in areas such as Niles and Benton Harbor and ride Amtrak or the South Shore Line to and from work.

She said that enhancing rail passenger service will help solidify Southwest Michigan’s connection to Chicago.

“As the northern Indiana [rail] passage becomes more reliable and the Chicago project gets completed, it’s fair to say we can market that we are a suburb of Chicago,” Bland said.

Detroit-Grand Rapids Rail Service Being Eyed

March 19, 2015

A proposed Detroit-Lansing-Grand Rapids intercity rail service has reached the study phase.

The Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority approved a $100,000 contract with Transportation Economics and Management Systems for a ridership and cost estimate study.

The study also will examine demand and feasibility for the corridor that also would serve Holland. Planners will look at the economic and financial impacts of establishing the service.

AAATA is acting as a conduit for pass-through grant funding on behalf of the Michigan Environmental Council, which is taking the lead on the study.

“We provide public transit locally, and we are in general in favor of providing public transit to connect this region with other regions,” said Michael Benham, the AAATA’s strategic planner. “There are a number of cities in Michigan that are not connected with one another, and so this is kind of the beginning of an effort to do that.”

Benham said that Amtrak only serves a limited number of cities and the proposed Detroit-Grand Rapids corridor could increase the number of Michigan cities connected by rail.

On the eve of Amtrak, the Chesapeake & Ohio operated two roundtrips between Detroit and Grand Rapids via Lansing, but Benham said a number of alternative routing options will be considered.

One route might have the trains pass through Ann Arbor, although he conceded that might be difficult to do because of the lack of connections between the rail lines that the train might need to use.

For several years, Ann Arbor and state transportation officials have eyed establishing commuter rail service between Ann Arbor and Detroit, and between Ann Arbor and Howell.

The Michigan Department of Transportation even acquired former Metra bi-level commuter coaches for the service, which still lacks a funding source.

The cars are being stored in Owosso and the state is making lease payments on them even though they have nowhere to operate.

Of late there have also been discussions about establishing rail passenger service between Ann Arbor and Traverse City with intermediate stops in Cadillac, Mount Pleasant, Alma, Owosso and Howell.

That service would be a continuation of the proposed WALLY commuter rail line between Ann Arbor and Howell.

Reinstating Detroit-Grand Rapids rail service has been talked about at times over the past four decades, but the latest efforts began in 2010 when the Michigan by Rail team, made up of the MEC and the Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers, collected public input for Michigan’s State Rail Plan that favored establishment of rail service between Michigan’s east and west coasts.

In the 2011 Michigan State Rail Plan, an alternatives analysis and environmental review were recommended for the Detroit-Lansing-Grand Rapids corridor.

In 2013, MEC and MDOT came out in favor of studying Detroit-Holland service. The AAATA received a $100,000 grant from MDOT for the study.

AAATA issued a request for proposals in November and received three from interested firms. MDOT must approve the study contract with TEMS before it can be signed.

Benham said it’s unlikely the Detroit-Lansing-Grand Rapids corridor project would involve new tracks.

“All the routes that are being looked at are intended to be routes that already have tracks between the two points,” he said.

AAATA board chairman Charles Griffith describes passenger rail service between Detroit and Grand Rapids as another piece of a larger puzzle.

Although he said he is encouraged that expansion of intercity passenger rail and the establishment of commuter rail have received much attention, there is still much to be done.

“A lot of these things are still in the study phase, so in some ways it doesn’t feel like we’re any closer to actually having rail as an option,” he said. “It hasn’t exactly become clear to me what the pathway is to actually getting the service up and running and securing the funding.”

As for those idle passenger cars, MDOT is considering subleasing them or getting rid of them. Through May 2014, MDOT had spent $9.5 million to lease and refurbish seven cab and 16 coach cars and is still on the hook for another $2.7 million, according to a state audit that concluded MDOT did not effectively oversee the lease. Planned restroom upgrades for some of the cars could cost another $3.7 million.

However, Benham described that spending as an investment. “We talk about public involvement. The railcars really give us an opportunity to involve the public in a hands-on way,” he said.

“People wonder what is this commuter rail thing. They see the cars, they get on them, they look around, they go, ‘Ah, this is what you’re talking about.’ Most people get pretty excited about that and it becomes more real and less of this abstract project.”

AAATA recently launched an 18-month feasibility study for the proposed WALLY commuter rail line using a $650,000 federal grant. Consulting firm SmithGroup JJR has been hired to oversee that study.