Posts Tagged ‘Michigan Amtrak service’

Wolverine Service Frequency to Rise July 19

May 19, 2021

The Michigan Department of Transportation and Amtrak have agreed to add back an additional daily roundtrip to the Chicago-Detroit corridor that was suspended in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Chicago-Pontiac Wolverine Service train will begin operating July 19, going westbound in the morning and eastbound in the evening.

The two parties also said that effective May 25 speed limits on 45 miles of the corridor will ncrease to 110 miles per hour.

The faster speeds were authorized between Kalamazoo and Albion, Michigan, on track owned by MDOT

The higher speeds are being allowed following completion of Federal Railroad Administration certification of the signal system.

Officials said additional track infrastructure work is needed before the top speed can be increased between Albion and Dearborn in the Detroit suburbs.

The faster speeds will not reduce the scheduled travel time in the corridor but MDOT and Amtrak officials contended in a statement that improved on-time performance can be expected because the higher speeds will enable trains to make up time lost elsewhere.

This includes segments shared with freight railroads in Chicago and Northwest Indiana, and in the Detroit region.

Speeds of up to 110 mph have been in place since 2012 in the corridor on the Amtrak-owned segment between Kalamazoo and Porter, Indiana.

That segment uses an Incremental Train Control System signaling system.

That system has since been placed into operation east of Kalamazoo as an overlay to the interoperable I-ETMS positive train control system.

The schedule effective July 19 will have Wolverine Service trains 350 and 354 departing Chicago at 7:20 a.m. and 5:50 p.m., respectively.

Westbound trains 351 and 355 will depart Pontiac at 5:43 a.m. and 5:35 p.m., respectively.

The new schedule will restore connections from western long-distance trains to Michigan points that were lost during the pandemic.

Currently, the lone Wolverine Service on the corridor departs Pontiac at 5:43 a.m. and arrives in Chicago in late morning.

The return trip, though leaves Chicago at 1:25 p.m., which is too late to make connections from inbound Western long distance trains.

An MDOT official said the agency will consider adding back the third roundtrip to the corridor “as travel demands increase and COVID-19 vaccination rates rise in Michigan.”

Before the pandemic, trains departed Pontiac in early morning, mid morning and late afternoon. Trains departed Chicago in early morning, early afternoon and early evening.

Amtrak’s Michigan Trains are Invariably Late

February 26, 2020

Passengers board an Amtrak train bound for Chicago at Ann Arbor, Michigan. Chances are they will arrive late in the Windy City.

If you’re riding Amtrak in Michigan the chances are your trip is going to be late.

A report by the Detroit Free Press said the on-time rate last year in Michigan was 43 percent. On the Wolverine Service route between Chicago and Detroit it was just 33 percent.

That compared with a national average of between 60 and 70 percent.

Amtrak considers a train late if it is 30 minutes or more behind the published schedule.

Figures released by Amtrak show that the performance of the Michigan trains is getting worse.

On-time performance fell from 71 percent in 2016 and 2017 to 62 percent in 2018.

Amtrak is hoping that as part of a renewal of the federal surface transportation law that Congress will strengthen the law giving passenger trains preference over freight trains.

Marc Magliari, an Amtrak spokesman based in Chicago, said such a law would give the passenger carrier legal leverage to better deal with its host railroads, which Amtrak blames for delaying its trains.

“It’s a very important issue to us because our reliability is suffering,” Magliari said.

The Free Press said it tracked the arrival times of six Amtrak trains in Troy, a Detroit suburb on the Wolverine Service line.

The trains from Chicago varied in lateness from 30 minutes to more than two hours.

Amtrak figures show that the afternoon Wolverine from Chicago to Pontiac, the Detroit suburb that is the terminus of the route, arrived in Troy an average of 42 minutes late.

Six times it was more than an hour late and once in mid-January it was two hours behind schedule.

The newspaper said passengers it spoke with who disembarked at Troy said that although they found the delays annoying they still liked train travel.

In its efforts to put pressure on Congress, Amtrak has created a YouTube video titled Your Right to be on Time that urges viewers to contract lawmakers to complain about late trains and urge them to support legislation “that puts people before freight.”

The video contends that Amtrak’s host railroads are giving their freight trains priority over Amtrak trains in dispatching decisions.

“Usually, it’s what we call freight train interference. That’s when our trains are delayed by slow freight trains ahead of them,” the narrator says in the video.

The video acknowledges that delays can also be caused by such things as weather, track maintenance, mechanical problems with trains, and obstructions on the track.

“You can be certain we’ll tell Congress that the original law setting up Amtrak in 1970 does not allow us to bring litigation over the poor handling of our trains by the freight railroads,” Magliari said. “Imagine paying for a service from someone who knows you can’t go after them in court.”

Magliari said one reason why Amtrak trains are getting delayed by freight trains is that the latter are getting longer and sometimes are too long to put into a siding to allow Amtrak to pass.

The Association of American Railroads, which represents the Class 1 railroads that host Amtrak trains, contends the federal government should fund construction of additional tracks and longer sidings

“It would be nice to see the public coming forward” — that is, with federal and state dollars — “where they have an interest in keeping passengers trains operating,” said AAR’s John Gray, senior vice president for policy and economics.

Much of the track Amtrak uses on the Chicago-Detroit corridor, though, is owned by Amtrak or the Michigan Department of Transportation.

Wolverine Service trains, though, use within the Detroit metropolitan area tracks owned by Conrail, Canadian National and Norfolk Southern.

Amtrak’s Michigan trains use the busy NS Chicago Line to reach Chicago from Northwest Indiana.

MDOT, which helps fund Amtrak service in Michigan, said most of the delays incurred by Amtrak’s Michigan trains occur on that 40-mile stretch of NS.

The agency owns 135 miles of the Wolverine Service route between Kalamazoo and Dearborn. Amtrak owns the track from Kalamazoo to Porter, Indiana.

MDOT spokesman Mike Frezell said Amtrak trains using track that it and MDOT own have largely unimpeded travel there.

“We’re hoping within two years to have speeds up to 110 m.p.h. on portions of that, and we’ll be raising all the speeds through that section,” Frezell said.

He said the objective in raising speeds in the Chicago-Detroit corridor is to make train travel competitive with driving and flying.

Megabus Leaving East Lansing Market

December 29, 2016

Amtrak will have one less competitor in East Lansing, Michigan, after Megabus stops its service between there and Chicago on Jan. 9.

megabusMegabus currently stops at the Capital Area Multimodal Gateway, which is also used by Amtrak’s Chicago-Port Huron, Michigan Blue Water.

Lack of customer demand and a corporate restructuring were behind the decision to pull out of the East Lansing-Chicago market, said Megabus spokesman Sean Hughes.

He also cited low fuel prices and competition from other bus companies.

Hughes indicated the Megabus next month will be cutting other routes serving Chicago.

Other bus companies that operate between East Lansing and Chicago include Greyhound and Indian Trails.

Megabus currently also serves Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids in Michigan.

News reports have indicated that Megabus will also cease service in Iowa in January where it stops in Davenport, Coralville  (near Iowa City) and Des Moines on a Chicago-Omaha, Nebraska, route.


Trackwork Done on Wolverine Service Route

November 7, 2016

Completion of track work has restored full Wolverine Service to the Chicago-Detroit (Pontiac) line.

Amtrak logoAmtrak and the Michigan Department of Transportation sponsored the project, which included improvement of the signal system, replacing 26,000 ties, repairing or installing 15 track switches, realigning or modifying 29 railroad curves, repairing 23 crossings and improving road profiles at crossings.

Most of the work took place in Calhoun and Jackson counties.

The work was undertaken as part of Michigan’s Accelerated Rail Program which is seeking to improve service reliability, provide for a smoother ride and expand the top speed on the line to 110 mph.

Amtrak operates three daily roundtrips on the route, but has reduced the frequency of service during the construction season.

The passenger carrier also plans to operate 10 extra trains in Michigan during the Thanksgiving holiday.

The service curtailment had an adverse effect on ridership and revenue. Ridership during fiscal year 2016 was 411,625 on the Chicago-Detroit line, a decrease of 11.6 percent. Revenue was $17.8 million, down 6.4 percent from the 2015 fiscal year.

On-time performance improved to 65 percent compared with 39 percent in the previous year.

Initial Designs Completed for Ypsilanti Station

September 12, 2016

Initial designs have been submitted to the Ypsilanti, Michigan, city council as part of the city’s efforts to land Amtrak service.

michiganThe council has yet to take action on the designs, which would renovate the Depot Town complex for service by Amtrak’s Chicago-Detroit (Pontiac) Wolverine Service.

“Given our financial situation itself, we’re looking at doing something for the Wolverine stop,” said council member Pete Murdock. “It is sort of a minimalist plan–enough to get the train to stop.”

The depot renovation project is projected to cost $2 million and the city is hoping to obtain grant money to fund it.

The renovations could be finished by late 2017.

Ann Arbor Narrows New Station Sites

September 8, 2016

Ann Arbor officials have narrowed the list of potential sites for a new Amtrak station to three and hopes to further narrow the list before the end of the year.

The sites were named in a report the city recently released that spelled out four station design options.

Amtrak 4Two of the options involve the using the existing Amtrak station site on Depot Street, a third involves renovating the former Michigan Central station while the fourth involves building on Fuller Road at the location of a city-owned parking garage near the University of Michigan Hospital.

City officials are hoping to move quickly to get a draft environmental assessment done and submitted to the Federal Railroad Administration as early as this fall.

The environmental assessment will include an evaluation of potential environmental impacts for the remaining design alternatives and identify a preferred site.

Eli Cooper, Ann Arbor’s transportation program manager said the city also has issued a request for proposals in an effort to hire an engineering firm to create preliminary engineering drawings as soon as the FRA approves the environmental assessment and a site is chosen.

Ann Arbor has $2 million left from a $2.8 million federal rail planning grant the city must be spend by September 2017 or lose that funding.

Although city hopes to have a final station design completed by late 2017, it is likely to be 2018 before construction can begin on the $44.5 million station. Ann Arbor voters must also approve the final design.

The process to create a new Amtrak station began in 2007. The existing station on Depot Street is a 1970s era Amtrak-built modular structure.

Although the city looked at 16 potential station sites, it initially favored building the station in a portion of Fuller Park in front of the UM Hospital.

Two years later the city and UM formed a partnership to create the Fuller Road Station.

But information from the FRA received in 2012 called the Fuller Road proposal into question and the alliance with UM fell apart.

Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor said in a statement the city is committed to building a new Amtrak station and that public hearings will be held during the design stage of the planning process.

Ann Arbor is served by six Amtrak Wolverine Service trains and has been studying the establishment of commuter rail service.

Train Time in Durand

August 7, 2016

The westbound Blue Water is running ahead of schedule as it makes its Durand, Michigan, station stop.

The westbound Blue Water is running ahead of schedule as it makes its Durand, Michigan, station stop.

People pulling suitcases were already headed toward the station as I pulled in. In about a half-hour Amtrak’s westbound Blue Water would be making its station stop in Durand, Michigan.

Durand is a small town yet quite a few people boarded No. 365 on this Wednesday morning.

The Blue Water is funded by the Michigan Department of Transportation and operates daily between Chicago and Port Huron, Michigan.

Like many other Midwest corridor trains, No. 365 leaves early in the morning for a late morning arrival in Chicago. The return train departs Chicago in late afternoon.

There isn’t much time to spend in Chicago for a day trip, but if all goes well the schedule enables passengers to connect with western long distance trains and other Midwest corridor services.

The return schedule, though, is less favorable for connecting from the western trains, particularly if your train is late.

No. 365 arrived in Durand several minutes early and had to wait for time before departing.

I’ve seen and photographed Amtrak trains in Durand in the past, but this would be my first time to get the Blue Water in Durand.

I had photographed the Chicago-Toronto International, which was scheduled through Durand in both directions in mid-afternoon.

That schedule didn’t afford passengers the opportunity to make a Chicago day trip nor did it connect with many other Amtrak trains.

The tracks used by the Blue Water are today owned by Canadian National, but were originally part of the Grand Trunk Western.

The GTW was controlled by CN so many Grand Trunk passenger trains interchanged with CN at Sarnia, Ontario, to and from Toronto.

The Blue Water began in September 1974, using the GTW between Port Huron and Battle Creek, Michigan, but then using Penn Central into Chicago on the same route as Amtrak’s Chicago-Detroit trains.

At the time, Nos. 364/365 operated as the Blue Water Limited. It became a Chicago-Toronto train in October 1982, initially operating as the International Limited.

The name was shorted to International in June 1983. Border crossing issues ultimately led Amtrak to suggest that the train be shorted to Chicago-Port Huron operation and put on a schedule similar to that of the Blue Water Limited.

Michigan agreed and in April 2004 the change was made and patronage greatly increased.

I don’t know if any of those who boarded the Blue Water on this day know any of this history or, for that matter, any history of GTW passenger service in Durand.

Most of those boarding were younger and probably know little if anything about the Grand Trunk or CN in general.

They probably were pleased that their train departed on time for its next station stop in East Lansing and, ultimately, to Chicago.

Passengers are lined up to board Amtrak train No. 365 in Durand. Most of them are probably headed for Chicago and some might be going via Amtrak beyond there.

Passengers are lined up to board Amtrak train No. 365 in Durand. Most of them are probably headed for Chicago and some might be going via Amtrak beyond there.

Right this way and to your left.

Right this way and to your left. The Blue Water consist is the standard Midwest corridor train offering of Horizon fleet coaches and an Amfleet cafe car offering business class service.

Two gentlemen sit on benches in the foreground and watch the last passengers board Amtrak's westbound Blue Water.

Two gentlemen sit on benches in the foreground and watch the last passengers board Amtrak’s westbound Blue Water.

The conductor chats with the Durand station caretaker and two railfans along the fence as No. 365 waits for time before it can depart from Durand.

The conductor chats with the Durand station caretaker and two railfans along the fence as No. 365 waits for time before it can depart from Durand.

A portrait in black and white of Amtrak train time in Durand.

A portrait in black and white of Amtrak train time in Durand.

Crossing the CN Holly Subdivision as Amtrak train No. 365 departs on time from Durand.

Crossing the CN Holly Subdivision as Amtrak train No. 365 departs on time from Durand.

The Blue Water operates with a locomotive on each end to avoid having to turn the train in Port Huron during the overnight layover.

The Blue Water operates with a locomotive on each end to avoid having to turn the train in Port Huron during the overnight layover.

Michigan Trims Wolverine Service for Summer

July 6, 2016

At the request of the Michigan Department of Transportation Amtrak has annulled some Wolverine Service trains for the remainder of the summer.

Amtrak logoCut from the timetable is eastbound No. 350, which had departed Chicago in the morning and ran only as far as Battle Creek.

Also annulled is an afternoon train from Battle Creek to Chicago, No. 353.

The service cuts mean that Monday through Saturday the first Wolverine Service eastbound train of the day departs Chicago at 4 p.m. A second Wolverine Service train leaves two hours later. Both trains terminate at Pontiac in suburban Detroit.

As for westbound service Monday through Saturday, No. 351 departs Pontiac at 5:15 a.m. while No. 355 leaves at 6:50 p.m.

On Sunday, Wolverine Service returns to normal with three roundtrips scheduled between Chicago and Pontiac.

However, the schedule changes with departures from Chicago at 7:10 p.m., 12:25 p.m. and 6 p.m.

Westbound trains leave Pontiac at 5:15 a.m., 10:35 a.m. and 6:50 p.m.

MDOT asked Amtrak to alter the schedule after reviewing ridership data for May and June and deciding that the cost of providing the Chicago-Battle Creek trains was not being adequately covered by ticket revenue.

During May, ridership and revenue each fell 14 percent from the May 2015 performance figures.

There had been no connecting bus service between Battle Creek and points east on the route.

Michigan is undertaking a track rehabilitation project between Battle Creek and Jackson that involves replacing 26,000 ties, repairing 13 switches, rebuilding 23 highway crossings, and modifying or realigning 29 curves.

The work began in late April and is expected to be finished by Sept. 23 when schedules will reset to normal.

Amtrak recently said that regular service of three roundtrips will be offered during the Labor Day weekend.

The Chicago-Port Huron Blue Water and Chicago-Grand Rapids Pere Marquette are not affected by the track work.

MDOT to Study Detroit-Holland Service

June 21, 2014

Passenger trains haven’t travelled the 200-mile former Pere Marequette route between Detroit and Holland, Mich., since 1971, but that may change if the results of a pending study are favorable.

The Michigan Department of Transportation is preparing to commission a study of the instituting Amtrak service on the Detroit-Holland route.

“Right now, we need to figure out if there is actually a potential ridership along the route before we move this any further,” said MDOT spokesperson Michael Frezell.

MDOT officials decided to undertake the study after Amtrak ridership in Michigan had risen in past 10 years by nearly 300,000.

“This would be the first step in a many-step process. If we are to look for any type of passenger rail along any line between any of those cities, it would take years,” Frezell said.

“Right now, we need to figure out if there is actually a potential ridership along the route before we move this any further,” he said.

Aside from demand, another challenge to implementing the service would be the need to rehabilitate a route that has been freight only since May 1, 1971, when Chesapeake & Ohio service was discontinued with the coming of Amtrak.

The C&O operated two daily roundtrips over the route between Detroit and Grand Rapids, although one pair of trains did not run on Sundays.

The route also served Lansing, the state capitol that is today served by Amtrak’s Chicago-Port Huron, Mich., Blue Water. That train is funded in part by MDOT.

CSX proposed within the past year to remove the block signals from the Detroit-Grand Rapids route, citing the expense of maintaining the signals and the relatively low train density.

Although the Detroit-Holland passenger service study has yet to begin, its results are due to the Michigan legislature by May 2015.

Amtrak Adding Additional Wolverine Trips

May 19, 2014

Amtrak is adding Sunday and Monday only Wolverine Service trains for the summer while modifying other schedules to accommodate track work in western Michigan.

The schedules are effective between May 19 and Aug. 31. The track work includes the replacement of 44,000 crossties along with signal improvements.

The greatest change involves the westbound Blue Water from Port Huron to Chicago. No. 365 will be departing Port Huron an hour earlier. The schedule of the eastbound Blue Water will not be affected.

The summer schedule for No. 365 has it departing Port Huron at 5:20 a.m. and arriving in Chicago at 10:55 a.m. Times at intermediate station will be approximately one hour earlier.

The schedule shows an additional Wolverine Service trip on Sundays along with an additional westbound trip on Mondays.

Eastbound daily Wolverine Service trains will depart Chicago at 7 a.m., 2:50 p.m. and 6 p.m. Westbound daily Wolverine Service trains will depart Pontiac, Mich., at 5 a.m. and 5:40 p.m. A third daily train will depart Pontiac at 2:18 p.m., but will not operate on Sunday.

Sunday-only service from Chicago to Pontiac will depart at 12:50 p.m. while the Sunday-only train from Pontiac will leave at 10:35 a.m.

A Monday-only train to Chicago will depart from Dearborn at 3:38 a.m. and is scheduled to arrive in Chicago at 8:04 a.m.

Some Wolverine Service schedule exceptions will be in place for the Memorial Day weekend. They are as follows:

  • Train 349 will not operate on May 19 and 26, but will operate on May 27.
  • Train 352 will not operate on May 25, but will operate on May 26.
  • Train 353 will not operate on May 25, but will operate on May 26.
  • Train 354 terminates in Pontiac on May 25, and terminates in Detroit on May 26.
  • Train 359 will operate on May 25, but will not operate on May 26.

For detailed schedules, click on the link below.