MDOT Eyeing 110 mph Speeds in Michigan

A Michigan Department of Transportation official is predicting that Amtrak trains will be traveling at 110 mph near Battle Creek within the three years.

MDOT Office of Rail Director Tim Hoeffner said a $3.3 million contract for track and signal improvements is being prepared to send out for bidding.

The work will involve tie and rail replacement as well as installation of new ballast.

The completion date for that work is late 2017 when some 30 minutes will be cut from the travel times between Dearborn and Kalamazoo on track now owned by the state of Michigan.

Currently, Amtrak trains are limited to a 79 p.m. top speed between those points.

On Amtrak-owned tracks between Kalamazoo and Porter, Indiana, trains are already hitting 100 mph on some segments.

MDOT’s goal is to cut the travel time between Chicago and Detroit from 5.5 hours to 4 hours.

“We are trying to increase the frequency and increase the number of trains running between Chicago and Detroit — and increase the reliability,” Hoeffner said. “You really need to do all of those things.”

Nearly 478,000 people rode Wolverine Service trains on the Chicago-Detroit route in 2014. A decade earlier the ridership was 301,000.

Hoeffner said ridership has gone up 50 percent in the past decade while revenue has doubled.

MDOT manages 665 miles of state-owned rail lines. In December 2012, it purchased the 135-mile route between Kalamazoo and Dearborn from Norfolk Southern for $140 million.

In September 2013, the state landed $9 million in federal grant money to rebuild the line.

“Whether it be roads or airports or railroads, transit systems are expensive infrastructures,” Hoeffner said. “These are some complicated systems. Really, what we’re doing is upgrading the existing route.”

Patronage of the route ranges from elderly people avoiding driving to young people looking to enjoy Internet access during a trip. There are also families taking their children on a train ride.

“A lot of younger folks today, really it isn’t that they don’t want to drive, they want to be mobile,” he said. “But being mobile doesn’t necessarily mean to own or drive a car. Mobile means having access to that smart technology. And being on board the train where you can use it, versus being in the driver’s seat of a car and not having access to that smart technology, is adding into more and more younger folks’ travel decisions.”

Federal funding also helped fund $3.6 million renovation in 2012 of the Battle Creek Intermodal Transportation Center.

Battle Creek Transportation Director Larry Bowron said the station and rail line rebuilding underscore the importance of passenger rail to the public transportation system.

“People have a choice,” he said. “I think people are going to continue to choose rail.”

“If they improve on-time performance, if they improve the experience — why wouldn’t people take the train?”

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One Response to “MDOT Eyeing 110 mph Speeds in Michigan”

  1. Tyrell Swint Says:

    It will be interesting to see how this affects ridership in this area!

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