One of Those Places Amtrak Left Behind

I recently stopped in Milan, Michigan, while on my way back home from a trip to photograph Amtrak’s Wolverine Service trains.

I wanted to photograph the junction of Norfolk Southern and the Ann Arbor Railroad and, if luck was with me, get a westbound NS train.

No trains passed through during my brief stay, but I did make an image of the former Wabash station, which still stands and is used by NS.

Being in Milan reminded me that there are countless places that Amtrak turned its back on when it started up on May 1, 1971.

Milan was one of them. It was a stop for Norfolk & Western’s Wabash Cannon Ball that used to run between Detroit and St. Louis.

Amtrak didn’t want the Cannon Ball, which made its last trips on April 30, 1971.

Of course had the N&W had its way the Cannon Ball would never have lasted that long.

My parents subscribed to the Decatur Herald as I was growing up and by the time I was a teenager I read it every morning at breakfast before going to school.

I read the numerous stories about the efforts of the N&W to ditch the Cannon Ball, but public opposition persuaded the Interstate Commerce Commission to keep it going.

Twice the ICC ordered N&W to keep the Cannon Ball running. The second of those cases, decided in 1969, prompted the railroad to ask a federal court to overturn the ICC action.

The court refused, but three months later Congress created Amtrak and the Cannon Ball began running on borrowed time.

There was never any apparent serious thought to Amtrak picking up the Cannon Ball.

When it left Milan for the final time, intercity rail passenger service ended for good in this city of 5,800 located 16 miles south of Ann Arbor.

A few passenger advocates have called over the years for restoration of Detroit-St. Louis intercity rail service, but no serious moves have been made to do that.

The NS tracks are in good condition so passenger trains could use the route, although it would cost a lot of money to build station facilities.

Passenger trains have passed through Milan on the former Wabash on occasion, mostly notably during the NS steam program.

In 2014 I rode a trip from suburban Detroit to Fort Wayne, Indiana, behind Nickel Plate Road 2-8-4 No. 765 and saw people standing by the Milan depot watching the steam train.

Soon it will be 50 years since Milan had scheduled passenger train service. Amtrak is something that happens somewhere else.

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