Posts Tagged ‘Michigan’

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.

Steamer to Move From One Park to Another

May 24, 2017

A 2-6-0 steam locomotive on static display in Michigan is moving to a new display site.

Mogul-type No. 6 of the East Jordan & Southern Railroad will move in early June from Memorial Park to Sportsman’s Park about a quarter-mile away.

The steamer has been in its current location since 1961.

The move is being made to make more room at Memorial Park. A city official told Trains magazine that in its new location locomotive will be more accessible to the public.

The city plans to put up signs that tell background of the locomotive.

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.

Michigan Rail Passengers Advocates Pushing for Detroit-Windsor Bus Connection for Amtrak-VIA

April 24, 2017

Michigan rail passenger advocates are working with Amtrak and VIA Rail Canada to revive connecting service between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, although that might not necessarily be rail service.

In a campaign that has been dubbed “mind the gap,” the advocates are talking with both railroads about establishing a direct bus connection.

Passengers who now want to connect between Amtrak and VIA must either take a cab or ride three local transit buses.

The advocates noted that the border crossing at Detroit is the busiest between the two countries.

Until 2003, Amtrak and VIA hosted a Chicago-Toronto train known as the International that operated via Flint and Port Huron, Michigan.

A Detroit-New York train, the Niagara Rainbow, operated via Windsor between October 1974 and January 1979, ending when the states of New York and Michigan ended their funding of the train.

An article posted on the website of the National Association of Railroad Passengers said that VIA is in active discussions with bus companies to provide a “bus bridge” between the VIA station in Windsor and the Detroit Amtrak station.

The service may begin by late 2017. The Michigan advocates hope that if the bus connection proves successful that it might provide an impetus for resuming rail service between Detroit and Windsor.

PM 1225 to Pull August Excursions

April 20, 2017

Pere Marquette 2-8-4 No. 1225 will pull nine roundtrip excursions on Aug. 19 and 20 between Owosso and Howell, Michigan.

The hour-long trips are being conducted in conjunction with Howell’s annual Melon Festival.

Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for children. Caboose seating is available for $25 for adults and $20 for children.

The excursions will depart from the Ann Arbor Railroad station in downtown Owosso.

The Lima Locomotive Works Berkshire will be fired up on Aug. 18 for hand on the throttle sessions to allow participants up to 30 minutes to operate the locomotive.

As It Once Was in Grand Rapids

March 24, 2017

It is a Saturday morning in June 1995. I am awaiting the arrive of Amtrak’s Pere Marquette to Chicago.

The train originates in Grand Rapids but it lays over elsewhere in the city, making a deadhead move to the station in the morning.

The station is adequate for its purpose and reflective of the type of facilities that Amtrak has been building since 1972 when it built its first station in Cincinnati.

There is no ticket agent in Grand Rapids and I believe there never has been one.

The City of Grand Rapids gave $50,000 toward the cost of building this station and Amtrak service got underway on Aug. 5, 1984.

Amtrak no longer uses this facility, having moved to a new station in October 2014.

CN to Close Escanaba Iron Ore Docks

March 22, 2017

The Escanaba, Michigan, iron ore docks will close at the end of April, Canadian National has announced.

It will mark the end of 165 years of ore shipping from the Michigan Upper Peninsula port on Lake Michigan.

Shipments from Escanaba had been slowing since Cleveland-based Cliffs Natural Resources closed its Empire Mine 65 miles north of Escanaba in August 2016.

The Lake Carriers Association said that about 3.5 million tons of ore was shipped from Escanaba in 2015, but CN said no iron ore has moved to the docks since October 2016.

CN said it will keep open its Escanaba yard to serve local rail customers.

Escanaba had been the only iron ore port on Lake Michigan that in recent years has moved raw materials to industries in Chicago, Indiana and other points in the Midwest.

Michigan Officials Mull Options After Voters Spurned Commuter Rail Funding Proposal

November 26, 2016

The Southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority it examining its options after voters earlier this month narrowly defeated a tax increase that would have funded an expansion of service, including a Detroit-Ann Arbor commuter rail line.

SE Michigan RTAWhat is certain, though, is that the earliest that the SMRTA can return to the voters with the same proposal is 2018.

“Obviously we’re just trying to absorb what happened,” said Michael Ford, who leads SMRTA.

The proposal for a 20-year 1.2 mill tax increase passed in Wayne (Detroit) and Washtenaw (Ann Arbor) counties, divided voters fairly evenly in Oakland County but was rejected in Macomb County.

“We’re going to have to reassess, understand why,” Ford said of why people voted against the tax plan, adding he plans to convene with the RTA board, which includes representatives from the different communities, to discuss possible next steps, including whether to plan to put a proposal before voters again in two years.

Ford said he remains optimistic that something can be done to expand public transportation options and still thinks that the proposed plan of commuter rail and new regional bus services is a good one.

Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor said that had the tax been approved it would have given the Detroit-Ann Arbor rail link a critical boost.

“Commuter rail is a necessity for Ann Arbor to improve our local economy and to improve our local quality of life,” he said.

Had the plan been funded by the tax measure, commuter rail was expected to begin in 2022.

Tally on Regional Transit Ballot Measures

November 11, 2016

In a final tally, the Community Transportation Association of America said that 39 transit-related measures were approved by voters on Tuesday.

That included four that involved only rail transit, 17 that dealt only with bus transit, and 25 that covered both modes. Three measure involved only roads while one was aimed only at ferries. Of the 46 measure involving transit, 16 also affected roads.

The issues that involved public transportation in Ohio and nearby states are summarized below:

INDIANA
Marion County (including Indianapolis) approved a 0.25-percent income tax to raise $56 million per year for improved bus service and new Bus Rapid Transit construction as part of the IndyGo transit improvement program. It passed with 59.3 percent of the vote.

MICHIGAN
Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Washtenaw Counties (including metro Detroit, Dearborn, and Ann Arbor) voters rejected a measure to levy an additional 1.2 percent property tax to raise $2.9 billion for the Southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority over 20 years for a Detroit-Ann Arbor commuter rail line and a regional bus rapid transit system. The measure failed by about 18,000 votes with 52.7 percent of Wayne County ( Detroit)  and 56.2 percent in Washtenaw (Ann Arbor) voting yes. However, the measure was turned down in Oakland County (50.09 percent voting no to 49.91 percent yes), and 60.1 percent voting no in Macomb County.

OHIO
• Franklin County (Columbus)  voters renewed a 0.25 percent sales tax for the Central Ohio Transit Authority for 20 years with 72 percent of the vote, which will raise $62 million.
• Lorain County voters rejected a new 0.25 percent sales tax for transportation, with 50 percent of the anticipated $9.9 million annually going to public transit, with 74.2 percent voting no.
• Lucas County (Toledo) voters renewed a 1.5 percent property tax for the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority for 10 years with 58.5 percent of the vote.
• Stark County voters renewed a 0.25 percent sales tax for the Stark Area Regional Transit Authority for 10 years with 63.2 percent of the vote.

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.