Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak in Michigan’

SW Michigan Wants Reroute of Pere Marquette

January 4, 2019

Transportation planners in southwest Michigan see falling ridership and changing transportation priorities as posing potential threats to the continued operation of Amtrak’s Pere Marquette on its current route between Chicago and Grand Rapids, Michigan.

They are hoping that rerouting the train between New Buffalo, Michigan, and Porter, Indiana, to the same route used by Amtrak’s Wolverine Service trains would help save the train.

Although Ryan Fellows, an associate planner with the Southwest Michigan Planning Commission, said that no changes in service are expected in the short term it is the long term that has him concerned.

Studies have recommended revamping intercity rail service in Michigan to form a coast-to-coast network whose main stem would operate between Chicago and Kalamazoo, Michigan.

At Kalamazoo, trains would fan out for Grand Rapids, Detroit and Lansing.

However, the segment of the Pere Marquette route serving St. Joseph, Bangor and Holland might be discontinued and some or all of those cities served by connecting bus service.

What Fellows would like to see is a connection built at New Buffalo between CSX and an Amtrak-owned line that would enable the Pere Marquette to use the same route as Wolverine Service and Blue Water trains.

That route, he noted, would allow the Pere Marquette trains to operate at a top speed of 110 miles per hour while providing connections with other trains serving Michigan.

“A feasibility and engineering study is a necessary step prior to establishing a rail connection in New Buffalo to link the Pere Marquette and Wolverine-Blue Water services,” he said during a presentation to the Twin Cities Area Transportation Study agency.

That agency recently approved a resolution in support of studying building the proposed New Buffalo connection.

The transportation planners fear that funding of the Pere Marquette might fall by the wayside unless the Pere Marquette route become more efficient and reliable.

Between 2007 and 2017 ridership of the Pere Marquette declined by 11 percent, to 93,449 passenger.

During the same period, ridership on the Blue Water rose 46 percent while Wolverine Service trains posted a more modest ridership increase of 2 percent.

Pere Marquette ridership increased by 4.4 percent between 2016 to 2017, generating $3.2 million in ticket revenue.

Planners have pointed to a 2017 Midwest Regional Rail System report that projected that connecting Chicago with Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids and Detroit would increase ridership from 200,000 to 1.5 million, with connections to cities throughout the region.

However, the existing Pere Marquette route was seen as lacking enough population to attract the ridership that the proposed coast-to-coast network would generate.

Efforts to boost ridership of the Pere Marquette have included making special stops for such events as the Senior PGA at Harbor Shores in Benton Harbor, and the Tulip Festival in Holland.

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MDOT Seeking Public Comment on Transportation Plan

January 3, 2019

A transportation plan to guide the state through 2045 is being developed by the Michigan Department of Transportation.

MDOT said that it is seeking public comment on the plan, known as Michigan Mobility 2045.

Those public views are being sought using public hearings as well as Metroquest, which is described as a technology designed to extend outreach to a larger and more diverse group of state residents via telephone town halls.

MDOT said the public response will be used to develop and release a final draft of the plan, which is expected in May.

Michigan helps fund three Amtrak routes that link Chicago with terminal points in the state in Grand Rapids, Port Huron and Pontiac (Detroit).

Niles Station Host Program Set to Launch

December 7, 2018

Hosting open house events is the first step that volunteers in Niles, Michigan, are taking as part of their efforts to launch a train station host program.

Training will be conducted this month for the two dozen people who showed up at the open houses to volunteer for the program.

Eight Amtrak trains a day stop in Niles and the volunteer hosts will be able to work whatever hours they’re able.

Earlier this year, Amtrak removed its ticket agent from Niles and hired caretakers to open, close and clean the station.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the Niles station used to be open only through late afternoon, but with the caretakers and volunteers it is open from 9 a.m. until 10 p.m.

If the last train of the day is late, someone should be on hand to allow passengers and those meeting them to have access to the waiting room, restrooms and a pay phone.

Serving Niles are six Wolverine Service trains between Chicago and Detroit (Pontiac) and the Chicago-Port Huron Blue Water.

Magliari said the Niles community has been active in helping Amtrak look after the depot, which dates to the days when the trains were operated by the Michigan Central.

During that era a local gardener would present a flower to each woman passing through the Niles station .

For many years the Four Flags Garden Club has maintained the station’s flower beds and decorated the depot for the holidays.

When Amtrak was planning to remove its Niles ticket agent, it contacted the Niles DDA Main Street program to ask it to help organize the effort to start a volunteer host program.

Director Lisa Croteau said the host program will help carry on the station’s “long history of hospitality,”

Croteau said the hosts will greet travelers, share tidbits about the history of the depot and serve as “kind of a concierge for the downtown and the city of Niles,” to tell people where they can get a ride or a bite to eat or whatever they need.

Magliari said the Niles program could serve as a model elsewhere in Michigan or in Elkhart, Indiana.

“It’s something happening in more and more places around the country where communities are engaging with us to have a welcoming presence in the stations,” Magliari said.

One of the Niles volunteers is Pete Womer, who is retired after working 40 years in the utilities department at the University of Notre Dame.

He told the South Bend Tribune that he was looking for a volunteer project, has been a train traveler for more than 50 years, and he loves to meet people and chat.

“In the long run, it makes customers feel a little more comfortable,” Womer said. “It’s a good feeling knowing you’re helping people out.”

East Lansing Ticket Office Closing Oct. 29

October 19, 2018

Amtrak will remove its ticket agent from the East Lansing, Michigan, station on Oct. 29.

A caretaker will continue to open the waiting room at the station.

Passengers will be able to buy tickets from a self-serve kiosk at the station or make reservations at Amtrak.com, on the Amtrak mobile app, or by phone at 800-872-7245.

East Lansing is served by the Chicago-Port Huron, Michigan, Blue Water. It also as connecting bus service to Amtrak’s Wolverine Service trains that operate between Chicago and Detroit.

 

Boarding in Durand

August 12, 2018

Passengers board Amtrak’s westbound Blue Water in Durand, Michigan, with most of them en route to Chicago.

The tracks used by Amtrak here are owned by Canadian National but their ancestry is Grand Trunk Western.

GTW’s trains to Chicago were discontinued with the coming of Amtrak in 1971, but later revived with funding from the State of Michigan.

Flint Ticket Office Closes

July 11, 2018

Amtrak has removed its station agent and closed the ticket window at its station in Flint, Michigan. The change was effective on July 5.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said passengers waiting to board the Chicago-Port Huron Blue Water trains will continue to have access to the station waiting area and restrooms for all train arrivals and departures.

Station hours will be 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. to midnight.

Passengers needing assistance will be helped by onboard Amtrak personnel.

There is no checked baggage service available at Flint.

So Long Durand

June 15, 2018

The passengers have boarded Amtrak’s westbound Blue Water and the conductor has given the highball command on the radio.

Train No. 365 is on time as it departs Durand, Michigan, en route to Chicago. The next stop, though, is East Lansing, Michigan.

P42DC No. 126 is the rear of the train since the Blue Water operates with locomotives on each end so as to avoid having to turn the locomotive or the train in Port Huron, Michigan, during its overnight stay.

Amtrak in Durand uses the Durand Union Station, which once had service provided by the Grand Trunk Western and Ann Arbor railroads.

The station also houses a railroad museum.

Ford Buys Detroit Michigan Central Station

June 11, 2018

Ford Motor Company has purchased the former Michigan Central Station in Detroit and plans to make it the centerpiece of an advanced automotive technology development in the Corktown neighborhood.

The station had been owned by the Moroun family since 1995 and had managed to survive a 2009 order of the Detroit City Council to raze the dilapidated structure.

Ford also acquired an adjacent building known as the Roosevelt Warehouse, which had previously been used as a schoolbook depository.

The 18-story Central Station has long symbolized urban blight in Detroit with its vacant offices and broken windows. It is surrounded by razor wire and a chain link fence.

Amtrak used the station from its 1971 inception until moving to a nearby modular facility in January 1988. Amtrak later built a station in the New Center neighborhood of Detroit that it began using in May 1994.

Matthew Moroun declined to disclose the sale price of the depot. “The deal is complete,” he said. “The future of the depot is assured. The next steward of the building is the right one for its future. The depot will become a shiny symbol of Detroit’s progress and its success.”

Ford plans to share information about its plans for renovating the station at a reception on June 19.

Reports that Ford was negotiating to purchase the station have circulated since March.

Based in suburban Dearborn, Ford has transferred 200 workers on its mobility team into a nearby former factory site and is actively seeking other properties in Corktown, Detroit’s oldest surviving neighborhood and located just west of downtown.

Opened in 1913, the Beaux Arts-style Michigan Central Station was at the time the world’s tallest train station.

Although the Morouns failed to demolish the station, they did install more than 1,000 new windows, restored a working elevator and cleaned up the interior.

“The Ford move to the train station is the right play at the right time,” said Robert Kolt, a professor of advertising and public relations at Michigan State University, in an interview with the Detroit Free Press. “Many university grads want to work and live in cool places with an energetic vibe. Ford can remake the area and rebrand what the company does with this type of bold move.”

“I think it’s smart,” Robert Davidman, partner at the Fearless Agency in New York told the Free Press. “If you really want to attract the top talent, you go to where they are. And this allows Ford to take a piece of history and reinvent it. This makes them forward thinkers. Ford is breathing life into something that once was — Ford is going back to their roots, back to where it all began. And it brings back the luster.”

Ford’s plans for the complex it is developing in Corktown include making it the focal point of the company’s efforts to shift toward self-driving, shared and battery-operated cars and logistics.

Corktown is located seven miles down Michigan Avenue from Ford’s world headquarters in Dearborn.

Anyone Want to Board Here?

June 8, 2018

An Amtrak conductor stands by an open vestibule of the westbound Blue Water in Durand, Michigan, but all of the passengers are lined up at another vestibule father down.

That’s because the far vestibule aligned with the gate allowing passengers through a fence that separates the tracks of Canadian National (former Grand Trunk Western) and Durand Union Station.

Eventually, a few passengers were directed to board farther down the platform, perhaps because they were holding business class tickets. The cafe car on Train No. 365 was located toward the rear.

The Blue Water departed Durand on time en route to Chicago.

Some Say They are Racially Profiled Aboard Trains, Buses

May 25, 2018

Some Michigan residents have complained that they are being racially profiled by U.S. Border Patrol agents at stations and aboard buses and Amtrak trains.

Those unable to prove their immigration status are being detained.

The American Civil Liberties Union said 82 percent of foreigners stopped in Michigan have been Latinos.

After agents boarded an Amtrak train in Dearborn, Jeffrey Nolish, a 37-year-old U.S. citizen who is Latino and serving in the military, told the Detroit Free Press that he was the only person on the train interrogated by two Border Patrol agents.

Federal law allows Border Patrol agents to work within 100 miles of the U.S. border.

This encompasses all of Michigan, northern Ohio and Indiana, and a large swath of Northwest Pennsylvania.

In Ohio the limits of the 100-mile zone extend as far south as Columbus.

Within that zone Board Patrol agents have additional authority to search people or vehicles.

Because agents were regularly patrolling the Greyhound bus terminal in Detroit, the ACLU of Michigan and other ACLU branches asked Greyhound last March to stop allowing immigration agents to board buses to questions passengers

The ACLU has also filed a lawsuit seeing to force the Border Patrol to provide data on its stops in Michigan.

In its letter to Greyhound, the ACLU said it has found that Border Patrol agents operating on Greyhound buses focus on people of color and never give passengers a reason for the stop,

The Border Patrol denies it targets people based on race, saying its policies prohibit the consideration of race or ethnicity in law enforcement, investigation, and screening activities, in all but the most exceptional circumstances.

A Greyhound spokesperson told the Free Press that the company understands the ACLU’s concerns but Greyhound is required to comply with the law.

Greyhound said it has been talking with the Border Patrol to see whether there is anything that can be done to balance the enforcement of federal law with the dignity and its passengers.

However, the Greyound spokesperson said the law affords federal agents more power within the 100-mile zone to inspect vehicles, aircraft, and rail cars.

A Border Patrol spokesperson also cited the the 100-mile zone in saying that agents conduct searches away from the immediate border as a means of “preventing trafficking, smuggling and other criminal organizations from exploiting our public and private transportation infrastructure to travel to the interior of the United States.

The spokesperson said agents “have the authority to question individuals, make arrests, and take and consider evidence.”

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the rail carrier cooperates fully with federal authorities and federal law. He noted that Amtrak passengers age 18 and older must carry valid photo identification but would not comment on the issue of racial profiling.