Posts Tagged ‘Grand Rapids Michigan’

Grand Rapids Crossing Tower Being Preserved

September 29, 2016

A tower that once guarded a grade crossing in Grand Rapids, Michigan, will be restored.

MichiganThe more than 100-year-old Bridge Street Tower once protected the Pennsylvania and Pere Marquette railroads.

Built around 1910, the tower stood 50 feet high and operators worked in it on 12-hour shifts.

The tower is a throwback to an era when flagmen or tower operators protected railroad crossings before the advent of grade crossing gates and flashing signals.

The tower sits on property that was purchased by Charlie Secchia, of SIBSCO LLC.

Secchia was quoted by Trains magazine as saying that he is not a rail fan, but loves history and restoration.

“If we don’t preserve things for kids, they don’t know history,” Secchia said.

Currently, the top of the structure is being restored. Warped and deteriorated pine paneling and window frames are being replaced by treated lumber.

Secchia said he will have the structure painted gray with light green trim, which is how it appeared under Penn Central ownership.

Once rebuilt, the structure will be placed back on its original steel supports at Bridge Street and Seward Avenue.

Dispute Leaves Michigan Shippers Without Rail Service; STB Asked to Break the Deadlock

September 21, 2016

A dispute between the Grand Elk Railroad and CSX has left a half-dozen Michigan shippers without rail service for the past six weeks.

STBThe two railroads are arguing over a 3-mile stretch of track in Grand Rapids, Michigan, owned by CSX and over which Norfolk Southern had trackage rights.

CSX last month said that Grand Elk can not use the track because the NS trackage rights were not conveyed to the Grand Elk when it leased an NS line in 2008.

Grand Elk, which is owned by Watco, has asked the U.S. Surface Transportation Board to rule on the matter, asking the board to render a decision as soon as possible.

The short line said the trackage rights were “inadvertently” left out of Watco’s agreement with NS.

For its part, CSX has asked the STB to deny Grand Elk’s petition and argues that the short line has been operating illegally on the track in dispute.

Grand Elk, which began operating the former Conrail line in 2009, contends that it assumed that trackage rights had been assigned to it even if they were not specifically stated in the lease agreement.

In a filing before the STB, Grand Elk said if the trackage rights had been excluded, it would make no sense to sign the lease agreement.

CSX told the STB that Grand Elk had six opportunities to include the disputed trackage, but failed to do so when it negotiated the lease agreement with NS.

“CSX believes that [Grand Elk] has been operating surreptitiously over the line to mislead shippers about the product it is selling,” a CSX filing said.

It said Grand Elk’s failure to obtain STB authorization for more than seven years should not be viewed as an oversight but part of an illegal operation on CSX track.

CSX also contends that all previous trackage rights agreements expired in 2014. Grand Elk has sought to circumvent this by asking the STB to make the trackage rights retroactive to 2009.

The dispute dates to an effort in the 1980s by the city of Grand Rapids and the Michigan Department of Transportation to reduce the number of railroad lines in Grand Rapids in order to improve traffic safety.

The Chesapeake & Ohio gave Conrail trackage rights so it could abandon its right-of-way.

The 122-mile Conrail route in question extends from Grand Rapids to Elkhart, Indiana, and was conveyed to NS as part of the 1999 Conrail breakup.

Supporting the Grand Elk are shippers, city government and state elected officials.

One such shipper is Brink Farms, which in 2015 built a $2 million transload facility in Grand Rapids that has sat idle due to the trackage rights dispute.

Brink, which provides bulk transportation service for farmers, including feed, fertilizer, and grain, has another Grand Rapids facility that is not affected by the dispute.

Filings in the case indicate that CSX has said it will provide switching at the new Brink facility for $300 per car move, whereas Grand Elk would charge $105.

Brink said the CSX charges make it cost-prohibitive to use its new transload site. Brink Farms ships about 1,000 cars per year.

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.

Those Waiting for the Pere Marquette in Grand Rapids No Longer Being Left Outside in the Cold

February 18, 2016

A schedule change last year left Amtrak passengers in Grand Rapids, Michigan, out in the cold for several months but after a local TV station looked into the matter the situation has apparently been resolved.

An investigation by WOOD-TV in Grand Rapids found that the station is usually open before the Pere Marquette departs for Chicago but often closed when the train arrives at night.

Amtrak logoNo. 371 is scheduled to depart Grand Rapids at 6 a.m., but the posted hours for the station say it doesn’t open until 6:30 a.m. The station usually opens at 5:30 a.m.

Likewise, the posted hours say the station closes at 10:30 p.m., but No. 370 is scheduled to arrive from Chicago at 11:39 p.m.

The TV station said its investigation found that the depot hasn’t been open half the time it’s supposed to be open.

Reporters observed Amtrak personnel being able to get inside the station as others had to wait outside.

The Pere Marquette originates and terminates in Grand Rapids.

The station is owned by the Grand Rapids public transportation agency, The Rapid, and leased to Amtrak.

A contract that Amtrak has with the agency says that it is to “use its best efforts to open or close the station” for Amtrak personnel and passengers to use it.

The posted hours for the Grand Rapids station were fine until the schedule of the Pere Marquette changed last May.

WOOD-TV said that records show that Amtrak last month asked The Rapid to have the station open for a half-hour before the scheduled arrival of No. 370 from Chicago.

Amtrak’s request to The Rapid noted that the two parties had a verbal agreement to have the station vestibule open at night due to a conflict with the station caretaker.

However, the vestibule is small and Amtrak has received numerous inquiries from passengers as to why the lobby and restrooms cannot be made available to those waiting for the train to arrive.

Amtrak also asked that the station open at 5 a.m. for the departing train

In an e-mail message, a Rapid spokesperson said “the change in the train schedule . . . did cause some scheduling problems with the contracted station attendant who has been in place for years, first with Amtrak directly and then with The Rapid.”

The spokesperson said The Rapid continues to work with Amtrak.

“We now have a solution in place to ensure that the station is open before and after the arrival of the train as expected.”

The TV station reported that this past week it observed someone unlock the depot and turn on the lights in advance of the arrival of Train No. 370 from Chicago.

He said he had been hired about a week ago, which was about the same time that the TV station began making inquiries of The Rapid.

Located on Century Avenue SW, the $6 million station opened in late 2014. Most of its funding came from a $4.6 million U.S. Department of Transportation grant and a $1.5 million match in Federal Transit Administration, MDOT and local funds.

Amtrak Exhibit Train to Visit Grand Rapids

July 7, 2015

The Amtrak exhibit train will roll into Grand Rapids, Michigan, on July 25.

The train will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. as part of the year-old Amtrak Train Days. The train will be parked at the Amtrak station.

Also being featured will be the Chuggington Kids Depot with toy train and coloring tables.

For more information, visit  http://www.amtrak.com/exhibit-train