Posts Tagged ‘Michigan Department of Transportation’

MDOT Awards $3M in Grade Crossing Project Funds

December 24, 2019

A total of $3 million has been awarded by the Michigan Department of Transportation for 41 grade crossing projects in the state.

In a news release MDOT said the Local Grade Crossing Surface Program providing for projects ranging from minor asphalt repairs to installation of new track and surface materials.

Projects receive 60 percent state funding with railroads responsible for the remaining 40 percent of the costs.

The work is to be performed by the railroads and their contractors, with cooperation of MDOT and local road departments for detour routes.

Scheduling of the projects is the responsibility of the railroads and local road agencies.

Eight-one applications for the grant money were received from 40 road agencies in partnership with 17 railroads and were evaluated on a competitive basis.

FRA Grants to Benefit Passenger Rail in Mich., Pa.

August 27, 2019

The Federal Railroad Administration has announced the awarding of more than $272 million in grant funding to 10 rail projects through its State of Good Repair Program.

Two of the projects will benefit passenger rail corridors in Michigan and Pennsylvania.

The Michigan Department of Transportation was awarded $23.3 million for a rehabilitation work on the state-owned line between Kalamazoo and Dearborn that is used by Amtrak’s Wolverine Service and Blue Water trains.

The project entails rebuilding rail, crossties and track surfaces, and replacing two railroad bridges in Jackson.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation received $15.1 million to rehabilitate and upgrade an interlocking plant in Philadelphia at the junction of the Amtrak-owned Keystone Corridor and Northeast Corridor main lines.

Work will include slope stabilization and reconstruction of retaining walls, rehabilitation of an existing but underutilized track, and switch and signal reconfiguration.

Amtrak Continues to Eye Chicago-Toronto Route

August 13, 2019

Amtrak continues to study the prospect of creating a Chicago-Toronto route via Detroit.

The proposal would extend one of the current Wolverine Service trains east of Detroit via Windsor, Ontario, where it would then operate on tracks used by VIA Rail Canada.

In a presentation last week at the Michigan Rail Conference at Michigan State University, an Amtrak representative said a precursor to launching the service would be upgrading tracks between the Windsor tunnel portal and the VIA station in Windsor/Walkerville as well as constructing a border crossing processing facility.

Wolverine Service trains currently operate between Chicago and Pontiac in the northern Detroit suburbs and is funded by the Michigan Department of Transportation.

The presentation did not indicate how much it would cost to implement the service nor did it identify a funding source.

“There would be multiple railroads to work with that we currently partnership with, and so it would take some cooperation to get such service going,” said MDOT spokesman Michael Frezell.

Operating a connecting bus between the Detroit and Windsor stations was described as a possible short-term move.

Amtrak proposed in March the idea of a Chicago-Toronto route in its federal funding request.

The carrier once operated a train known as the International between Chicago and Toronto via Sarnia, Ontario.

In Michigan, the International used the route of the current Blue Water between Chicago and Port Huron.

The International operated between Oct. 31, 1982, and April 23, 2004.

MDOT Seeking Comment on Transportation Plan

August 6, 2019

Public comment is being sought by the Michigan Department of Transportation on its draft 2020-2024 transportation program.

The draft calls for MDOT to invest $20 million to support three Amtrak routes in Michigan in 2020.

MDOT would also spend $45 million for maintenance and capital improvements on the state-owned Kalamazoo-Dearborn corridor used by Amtrak’s  Chicago-Pontiac (Detroit) Wolverine Service trains.

A portion of that route is also used by Amtrak’s Chicago-Port Huron Blue Water.

Other rail projects mentioned in the plan include safety projects to reduce risks at grade crossings, including warning device enhancements and crossing eliminations.

Comments are being accepted through Aug. 30 with the State Transportation Commission expected to approve the final plan in October.

Federal Grant Goes to Michigan Short Line

June 13, 2019

The Federal Railroad Administration has awarded a $8.7 million Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements grant to the Michigan Department of Transportation and Lake State Railway.

The money will be used to improve the short-line railroad’s Mackinaw Subdivision. Lake State has 375 miles of track in Michigan.

“Investments made with this grant along with money contributed by the state of Michigan and [us] will help the growing industrial and agricultural base located along the line,” said LSRC President and CEO John Rickoff in a statement.

Amtrak to Close East Lansing Ticket Office

September 7, 2018

Amtrak plans to close its ticket office in East Lansing, Michigan, as soon as it can work out arrangements with station owner Capital Area Transportation Authority.

The fourth-busiest Amtrak station in Michigan will join a list that includes Niles, Jackson and Flint where Amtrak has removed ticket agents.Mic

The Amtrak ticket office in East Lansing is currently closed on Tuesday and Wednesday with only a caretaker paid for by the Michigan Department of Transportation overseeing the station.

MDOT Communications Manager Michael Frezell said the agency is working to hire a full-time caretaker for East Lansing.

The caretaker would open the stations before trains arrive. “With a vast majority of tickets being purchased online, having tickets purchased at the station has significantly reduced over the past year,” Frezell said.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari declined to comment on the closing of the ticket office in East Lansing, saying that the carrier posts notices of that intent on its website but it has yet to do so in the case of East Lansing.

Magliari also wouldn’t comment on what threshold of patronage that Amtrak uses when deciding to close a ticket office.

This year Amtrak has closed several ticket offices at stations that it said averaged fewer than 40 passenger boardings per day.

Trains magazine quoted an unnamed Amtrak source as saying the minimum threshold of 40,000 boardings per fiscal year is being used to review which ticket offices to keep open and which to close.

More than 68,000 passengers boarded trains at East Lansing in fiscal year 2017, almost was 10,000 more than the number who boarded at Detroit, which is retaining its ticket office.

Amtrak also continues to maintain ticket offices in Michigan in Dearborn, Ann Arbor and Kalamazoo, all of which had higher patronage than East Lansing in 2017, and at Battle Creek and Port Huron, both of which handled fewer passengers in 2017 than East Lansing.

East Lansing is served by Amtrak’s Chicago-Port Huron Blue Water.

Detroit Diamonds Replaced

August 24, 2018

Amtrak, the Michigan Department of Transportation, Norfolk Southern and CSX cooperated to replace a four-diamond crossing at Wayne interlocking in the Detroit area this week.

Work began at 7:45 p.m. pn Aug. 14 after an NS freight passed through.

Workers removed the old diamonds and installed a prefabricated unit. Complicating the work was that the diamond has four crossings, making it a heavy lift and requiring precision alignment to reconnect to existing rail lines.

During the work, Amtrak’s Wolverine Service trains terminated at Ann Arbor, Michigan, with passengers riding a bus to stations at Dearborn, Detroit, Royal Oak, Troy, and Pontiac. CSX and NS trains were rerouted or halted.

The project was completed at 4 p.m. on Aug. 15. Amtrak resumed using the route over the crossing on the morning of Aug. 16.

The project received 75 percent of its funding from CSX and 25 percent from MDOT.

FTA Approves Michigan Safety Plan

August 20, 2018

The Federal Transit Administration has certified the transit-rail safety oversight program of the Michigan Department of Transportation.

To achieve FTA certification, states must identify a state safety oversight agency that is financially and legally independent from the transit agencies it oversees.

MDOT will oversee the automated Detroit People Mover system and Detroit’s Q Line streetcar.

States with transit-rail systems must be certified by April 15, 2019, or risk losing federal transit funding.

Could Brightline be Duplicated in Ohio?

April 23, 2018

The launch of the privately-funded Brightline intercity rail passenger service in Florida has some thinking about visualizing a similar service in Ohio.

Brightline, which currently operates between Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach but expects to begin service soon to Miami and, longer term, to Orlando, was the subject of the lead article in Ohio Passenger Rail News, the publication of All Aboard Ohio.

AAO said it would study the concept and its applicability to Ohio, but acknowledged that a private operator would need to step forward. It is not clear if that is likely to happen.

Although much has been made about how Brightline is a private company that does not receive public funding to cover its operating expenses as does Amtrak, AAO noted that Brightline is a public-private venture.

What makes Brightline different, though, is that as a private company it laid out its vision and business plan and then public entities helped it.

Brightline benefited from millions in state and local funds plus a $1 billion federal loan.

But what makes Brightline move is that it is as much a real estate venture as it is a transportation mode.

The genesis of Brightline began with the Florida East Coast Railway establishing a subsidiary, All Aboard Florida, which operates under the Brightline trade name.

FEC owns a freight line between Miami and Orlando that hosts Brightline trains. However, Brightline plans to build a new 40-mile stretch of high-speed track west of Cocoa, Florida, on a state-granted right of way to serve the Orlando airport.

Based on cell-phone data, Brightline projects that 500 million trips are made each year between South Florida and Orlando.

The company said if it can divert 2, 3, 4 or 5 percent of that traffic off the highways it will make a meaningful difference.

Brightline didn’t always have a clear block to implement its service, which began in January.

It was bombarded by attempts by public officials, NIMBYs and Astroturf groups seeking to derail it before it got started.

It is still fighting lawsuits from opponents of the Orlando extension.

Although the FEC has since been sold to Mexican industrial conglomerate Grupo Mexico, All Aboard Florida still has access to FEC tracks and has real estate to market.

The concept of pairing real estate development with public transportation is not limited to Florida. Numerous studies  and articles have described how public transportation arteries have stimulated commercial and residential development.

Brightline Chief Operating Officer Patrick Goddard told The Blade of Toledo that decades of studies showed the potential for rail service in a region that is experiencing population growth and is hemmed in by the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Everglades on the other.

“There’s nowhere to go and no room for more roads,” Goddard said.

That is not, though, the situation in Ohio. Nonetheless, Goodard said the potential for a Brightline-type service exists in “any city pairs that are too far to drive and too short to fly.”

Goodard sees a high level of interest in trying the Brightline concept elsewhere where “there’s the possibility for government to intercede for mobility in the region.”

Efforts to institute corridor rail service in Ohio have fallen short.

In 1982 Ohio voters rejected a penny increase in the state sales tax to pay for development of a high-speed rail program in the state.

In 2010, Ohio won $400 million in federal funding for capital outlays associated with developing rail service in the Cleveland-Columbus-Dayton-Corridor.

The funding would have paid for track, signals, station construction and the purchase of train sets.

After defeating Gov. Ted Strickland in the November 2010 gubernatorial election, John Kasich killed the project and returned the money to the federal government.

Kasich had actively campaigned against the 3-C corridor trains, saying he didn’t want to see the state underwriting the operating costs of the service.

The same criticism was leveled in earlier years against other proposals that never came to fruition that were promoted by the Ohio Rail Development Commission and Ohio Department of Transportation to launch 3-C service, including a proposal in April 1998 to mitigate traffic congestion on Interstate 71 between Cleveland and Columbus during a 10-year rebuilding of the highway.

At the same time that Ohio was moving forward with the 3-C Quick Start project under Gov. Strickland, Florida was also planning an intrastate rail network linking Miami with Tampa vial Orlando and received federal funds to help develop it.

But newly-elected Gov. Rick Scott killed the project and returned the federal money just as Kasich had done in Ohio.

Like Kasich, Scott didn’t want the state paying for the operating costs of the service.

All of this has left Ohio with just three intercity trains, all of which operate through the state primarily between midnight and 7 a.m.

Until Brightline came along, Florida was served by two New York-Miami Amtrak trains, and the Auto Train operating between Lorton, Virginia, and Sanford, Florida.

But the Sunshine State also had commuter rail service in Miami and a new service in Orlando.

AAO sees Brightline as a potential template to kick start the long-stalled efforts to revive 3-C and promote development of other routes.

“Brightline takes us back to the past in some ways  . . . [to] the notion that transportation and real estate go hand-in-hand,” said AAO CEO Ken Prendergast in an interview with The Blade. “It has changed the dialogue about how passenger rail in this country should be going forward.”

Prendergast said transit-oriented development in several cities should encourage the belief that trains and real estate can grow symbiotically in Ohio.

He said that some “pretty remarkable development” is occurring near a bus rapid-transit corridor in Columbus, along the HealthLine busway in Cleveland, and next to the Cleveland RTA Blue Line rail station in Shaker Heights at the site of the former Van Aken shopping center.

Of course, Brightline benefited from being birthed by a railroad. There is little likelihood that either Norfolk Southern or CSX, which make up large segments of the 3-C corridor, would be as receptive to intercity rail passenger service as is the FEC.

Closer to Ohio, the Michigan Department of Transportation acquired from NS the route used by Amtrak’s Chicago-Detroit Wolverine Service trains.

MDOT owns the tracks between Dearborn and Kalamazoo while Amtrak owns the rails between Kalamazoo and Porter, Indiana.

The two agencies have been cooperating in the past few years to upgrade the line for higher speed service with a top speed of 110 mph.

Michigan’s efforts could benefit Ohio, Prendergast said, by creating a dedicated passenger corridor between Detroit and Toledo

CSX, Norfolk Southern and Canadian National have parallel routes between the two cities and consolidation of those routes would leave a line available for passenger use.

Prendergast said it is unlikely that NS would agree to allow additional passenger trains between Cleveland and Toledo so a new line for passenger trains would be needed for high-speed rail service.

He speculated that this would be an opportunity for the Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission to get involved, “now that it has the legal authority to do things other than highways along the highway corridor.”

AAO also sees potential for combining various existing underused rail lines that railroads might be willing to sell that could lead to a Columbus-Fort Wayne-Chicago corridor.

Prendergast said ORDC is soliciting public comments for a 2020 update to an Ohio rail plan, but has no funds have been set aside for passenger train startup projects.

ORDC created a plan in 2002 that it updated in 2007 for a statewide passenger rail network known as the Ohio Hub. It has never gotten beyond paper and public hearings.

As AAO looks for a private sector initiative to materialize in Ohio, Prendergast warned not to expect any help from Amtrak, which he said “only reacts in response” the efforts of others.

Aside from questions of whether a private developer is interested in a Brightline style project in Ohio – and that is a big IF – there is also the question of whether Ohio units of government would respond as they did in Florida.

“If they, or someone like Brightline, came in with a similar message, I think it would resonate,” Prendergast said.

Extra Trains Set for Holland Tulip Festival

April 4, 2018

The Michigan Department of Transportation is sponsoring additional Pere Marquette service in May to a tulip festival in Holland, Michigan.

Amtrak will operate extra trains on May 5 and 12 departing Chicago Union Station at 7:05 a.m. and returning at 8:24 p.m. The schedule is set up to allow a day trip to the Tulip Time Festival.

The extra train to Holland will stop at Hammond-Whiting, Indiana, at 7:30 a.m., and make intermediate stops in St. Joseph and Bangor before arriving in Holland at 11:29 a.m.

The return trip to Chicago will leave Holland at 5:50 p.m. The trains will operate as Nos. 374 and 375.

In a news release, MDOT said the festival has been heralded as America’s “Best Flower Festival” and “America’s Best Small-Town Festival,” with more than 5 million tulips in bloom.

Fares on the extra service will range between $26 and $48 each way.

All regular Pere Marquette trains also will stop at Hammond-Whiting on May 5, 6, 12 and 13.