Posts Tagged ‘Detroit-Ann Arbor commuter trains’

Ann Arbor City Council Approves Funds for New Amtrak Station Design and Engineering Work

January 19, 2017

The Ann Arbor (Michigan) City Council this week approved a contract with a consultant to begin design and engineering work for a new Amtrak station, but not before city officials had to defend the need for the new facility.

michiganBy an 8-3 vote, the council agreed to pay for the work, but not before some questioned the need for the station, saying that Amtrak ridership in Ann Arbor has been falling for the past three years.

Eli Cooper, the city’s transportation program manager, acknowledged the ridership decline, but said in any event a new station is needed because of the crowded conditions at the existing station and its poor condition.

“I would invite council members, members of the community, to come out and experience the existing Ann Arbor Amtrak station during periods of heavy use,” Cooper said. “The waiting room is substandard for the complement of passengers boarding trains today. This is based on the current ridership.”

Amtrak opened the existing modular station in 1983. When Amtrak began service in 1971, it served Ann Arbor through the former Michigan Central passenger station.

But it was squeezed out of that facility, which is today a privately owned restaurant known as the Gandy Dancer.

A new Amtrak station is projected to cost more than $2 million with 80 percent of that cost being picked up by a federal grant.

But the station project has drawn the ire of some council members because it is behind schedule and over budget.

The city has yet to settle on a site for the new depot, which could be built near the existing station on Depot Street or in Fuller Park.

Voting against spending money for the design and engineering work were Jack Eaton, Sumi Kailasapathy and Jane Lumm.

“This is a project that’s been consistently behind schedule and over budget,” Lumm said. “I’m not sure what makes us think that won’t continue. A good portion of the local dollars already invested are gone, and I fear, wasted. And we sit here tonight being asked to commit another $500,000 of taxpayer money.”

Lumm noted that the city faces a deadline to get the station completed before the federal grant expires.

“But because of the delays along the way, the clock is running out on the grant funding, so we’re now being asked to scramble and dive in to the next phase immediately,” she said. “That’s just not how we should be doing things.”

Cooper admitted that ridership projections that were calculated in 2014 may be overly optimistic.

One projection was that Ann Arbor would be handling nearly 1.4 million rail passengers in 2025. That would include Amtrak patronage of 969,000 and 516.000 for a still-to-be-funded commuter rail service to Detroit. It was also based on Amtrak service increasing from three to 10 roundtrips a day between Chicago and Detroit.

In Amtrak’s fiscal year 2016, which ended on Sept. 30, it handled 122,534 passengers, an 18 percent drop from ridership of three years earlier.

“The anticipated commuter service and the forecast and projection for future growth in both rail ridership and use at this station are, if you will, perhaps not well founded, but the need for the initial investment is in order to remedy the defects of the current station,” Cooper said.

Amtrak and state transportation officials have said that falling gasoline prices have cut into Amtrak ridership in Michigan.

Another factor was that during summer and fall of 2016 track work between Battle Creek and Jackson cut the level of service.

The work sponsored by Amtrak and the Michigan Department of Transportation affected 41 miles of track and involved replacing 26,000 railroad ties, repairing or installing 15 track switches, realigning or modifying 29 railroad curves, repairing 23 railroad grade crossings and improving road profiles at crossings.

Amtrak also upgraded its signal system east of Kalamazoo. The work was originally scheduled to be completed in September but did not end until November.

The State of Michigan owns most of the route between Kalamazoo and Deaborn while Amtrak owns the route between Kalamazoo and Porter, Indiana.

The work was conducted as part of the Michigan Accelerated Rail Program with state officials saying that passengers will benefit from improved reliability, a smoother ride and the first 110-mph Amtrak service in the Midwest.

Michigan Officials Reviewing Options After Voters Narrowly Defeated Tax Plan for Commuter Rail

November 27, 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 and used the route now used by Amtrak’s Wolverine Service trains.

Detroit-Ann Arbor Commuter Service Idea Revived

May 23, 2016

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.”