Detroit-Ann Arbor Commuter Service Idea Revived

A Detroit-based public transportation agency is trying to jump start the long dormant idea of instituting commuter rail service between downtown Detroit and Ann Arbor, Michigan.

The Southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority is proposing linking the Detroit-Ann Arbor service with the currently under construction Detroit streetcar network.

SE Michigan RTAThe RTA board is proposing to include the Ann Arbor service as well as bus rapid transit in its Michigan Avenue corridor study.

Lack of funding has stalled development of the 38-mile Detroit-Ann Arbor commuter service, which would use the same tracks used by Amtrak’s Wolverine Service trains.

Those rails are now mostly owned by the state of Michigan, which several years ago leased passenger cars for use in the service.

To fund the Ann Arbor commuter service, RTA is proposing to include that cost into its November millage request.

If the millage request is approved, RTA officials say the service could begin around 2022 and have an operating cost of $11 million to $19 million.

The service would required $130 million in capital costs to get started, which would include building a maintenance facility.

“It’s a significant connector between Ann Arbor and Detroit,” said Paul Hillegonds, the RTA’s board chairman. “One of the criticisms of rail always is it’s much more expensive than bus rapid transit, but in this case, the existing infrastructure is in place. It makes sense from a cost-effective standpoint, and I think will be very attractive to riders, and I think a very significant economic development tool for the region.”

RTA will present its commuter rail line proposal on May 31 as part of its master plan

The Detroit-Ann Arbor commuter service would operate eight times a day with trips spread out to include morning and afternoon rush hour service as well as afternoon and evening trains.

Intermediate stops would include Ypsilanti, Wayne and Dearborn. Trains would terminate in Detroit in the New Center area.

The Michigan Department of Transportation has spent $7.6 million to overhaul 23 former Chicago Metra bi-level commuter cars, but stopped paying the lease payments on them last year.

RTA estimates it would cost $4,000 per month per car to lease them from current owner Great Lakes Central Railroad. The agency has proposed leasing nine of the cars, which are currently sitting in Owosso, Michigan.

Saying that development of rail, bus rapid transit and other transit options is needed to create an “integrated system” to help people get where they want to go, RTA CEO Michael Ford said that Ann Arbor and Detroit are major hubs for jobs.

“People being able to get back and forth conveniently and quickly,” Ford said. “I think it’s a game-changer in a lot of ways. I know it’s been tried many times before, but having that kind of frequency of service, it’s very important to the region and getting people where they want to go.”

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