Posts Tagged ‘Michigan Department of Transportation’

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.

Detroit Amtrak Station Parking Lot Temporarily Closed

September 14, 2019

The parking lot at the Detroit Amtrak station is temporarily closed through Sept. 16.

The lot is being repaired by the Michigan Department of Transportation.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said limited parking is available at an overflow lot south of the station, as well as the railroad embankment at the TechTown parking lot along the west side of Woodward Avenue at Amsterdam Street.

Passengers are being asked to be dropped off and picked up at the station if possible.

Those who must leave their vehicle at the station while traveling may obtain a free parking pass from an Amtrak agent at the depot.

FRA Grants to Benefit Passenger Rail

August 27, 2019

The Federal Railroad Administration has announced the awarding of more than $272 million in grant funding to 10 rail projects through its State of Good Repair Program.

Several of those projects will benefit passenger rail.

The Michigan Department of Transportation was awarded up to $23.3 million for a rehabilitation work on the state-owned line between Kalamazoo and Dearborn that is used by Amtrak’s Wolverine Service and Blue Water trains.

The project entails rebuilding rail, crossties and track surfaces, and replacing two railroad bridges in Jackson.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation received $15.1 million to rehabilitate and upgrade an interlocking plant in Philadelphia at the junction of the Amtrak-owned Keystone Corridor and Northeast Corridor main lines.

Work will include slope stabilization and reconstruction of retaining walls, rehabilitation of an existing but underutilized track, and switch and signal reconfiguration.

Chicago commuter agency Metra will receive $17.8 million to construct a new grade-separated, double-tracked rail bridge over Milwaukee Avenue north of the Grayland Metra Station on Metra’s Milwaukee District-North Line in Chicago.

The city-owned New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal will receive $3.7 million to complete final design for upgrading station platforms and train service capabilities.

The platform modifications will bring the platforms into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, increase platform height to provide level boarding for Amtrak’s Sunset Limited and City of New Orleans, and improve the step height for boarding the Crescent.

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation was awarded $41.2 million to replace and upgrade Tower I interlocking, a major rail network junction at the entrance to the Boston South Station terminal area.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation received $76.9 million for the Piedmont intercity fleet and infrastructure investments project.

The project involves the acquisition of 13 new passenger coaches for use in the Piedmont service and an expansion of the Charlotte Locomotive and Rail-car Maintenance Facility.

New Jersey Transit received $18.4 million for platform D improvements at Newark Penn Station. The project includes repairing and/or replacing Platform D slabs and joints, reconstructing platform edges, installing new tactile strips and timber rub rails, repairing the overhead canopy and upgrading lighting.
The Rhode Island Department of Transportation was awarded $12.5 million for a major rehabilitation of the Amtrak station in Providence.

The Washington State Department of Transportation was awarded $37.5 million to procure three new consists for use in the Amtrak Cascades service.

The project will replace the three Washington state-owned Talgo VI trainsets: two used in current service and one damaged in the December 2017 derailment.

The loss of the damaged trainset reduced the Amtrak Cascades schedule from six to four daily round trips.

The project will enable WSDOT to meet existing and anticipated passenger demand, and allow Washington to retire its Talgo VI trainsets.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation was awarded $25.7 million to replace deteriorated, outdated passenger cab-baggage and coach cars used in the Chicago–Milwaukee Amtrak Hiawatha service with three single-level cab-coach cars and six single-level coach cars.

Amtrak Continues to Eye Chicago-Toronto Route

August 13, 2019

Amtrak continues to study the prospect of creating a Chicago-Toronto route via Detroit.

The proposal would extend one of the current Wolverine Service trains east of Detroit via Windsor, Ontario, where it would then operate on tracks used by VIA Rail Canada.

In a presentation last week at the Michigan Rail Conference at Michigan State University, an Amtrak representative said a precursor to launching the service would be upgrading tracks between the Windsor tunnel portal and the VIA station in Windsor/Walkerville as well as constructing a border crossing processing facility.

Wolverine Service trains currently operate between Chicago and Pontiac in the northern Detroit suburbs and is funded by the Michigan Department of Transportation.

The presentation did not indicate how much it would cost to implement the service nor did it identify a funding source.

“There would be multiple railroads to work with that we currently partnership with, and so it would take some cooperation to get such service going,” said MDOT spokesman Michael Frezell.

Operating a connecting bus between the Detroit and Windsor stations was described as a possible short-term move.

Amtrak proposed in March the idea of a Chicago-Toronto route in its federal funding request.

The carrier once operated a train known as the International between Chicago and Toronto via Sarnia, Ontario.

In Michigan, the International used the route of the current Blue Water between Chicago and Port Huron.

The International operated between Oct. 31, 1982, and April 23, 2004.

Tulip Festival Extra Trains Scrapped

May 2, 2019

Amtrak and Michigan Department of Transportation have canceled a planned extra service between Chicago and Holland, Michigan, to take passengers to the latter’s annual tulip festival.

The train had been planned to depart Chicago in the morning and Holland in the afternoon.

An MDOT spokesman said lack of adequate ticket sales led to the cancellation.

“Unfortunately, due to low reservations, we made a business decision with Amtrak to cancel the two special Tulip Time trains for May 4 and May 11,” said MDOT’s Michael Frezell.

He said those who booked travel on the extras will receive full refunds or they can ride Amtrak’s daily Pere Marquette between Chicago and Holland.

However, taking the Pere Marquette to Holland will require an overnight stay.

In fact, it would require a two-night stay because the Pere Marquette departs Chicago at 6:30 p.m. and is scheduled to arrive in Holland at 10:31 p.m. The return trip leaves Holland at 6:49 a.m.

The tulip festival special had been scheduled to leave Chicago at 7:05 a.m. and depart Holland at 11:28 a.m.

“We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused passengers,” Frezell said.

The Chicago Tribune reported a passenger who had tickets to ride the special received an email from Amtrak saying her trip had been canceled “due to a schedule change.”

Frezel said additional Chicago-Holland tulip festival service has been an on and off proposition over the years.

MDOT also sponsors extra service during the Thanksgiving travel period and until recent years had also underwritten extra trains during the Christmas travel period.

The tulip festival, known as Tulip Time, has been held for 90 years and draws about 500,000 visitors during its nine-day run.

Frezell said it is undecided if MDOT will sponsor future special train service to the tulip festival.

He said that would need to be worked out with Amtrak, the city of Holland and festival organizers.

“If the train does run again we recommend passengers book early,” he said.

Sarnia Mayor Wants Proposed New Amtrak Route

April 11, 2019

The mayor of Sarnia, Ontario, is hoping that Amtrak’s interest in starting a Detroit-Toronto route may lead to a restoration of service to Michigan.

Sarnia was a stop for Amtrak’s International, which once ran between Chicago and Toronto via Sarnia and Port Huron, Michigan.

That service ended in 2004, but Amtrak continues to operate the daily Blue Water between Chicago and Port Huron with funding from the State of Michigan.

The International had been a joint venture of Amtrak and VIA Rail Canada.

Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley said the route through the tunnel between his city and Port Huron deserves a closer look.

The Michigan Department of Transportation and Amtrak have discussed for years the institution of bus service linking Michigan and cities in Ontario.

Amtrak’s interest in a Detroit-Toronto route was mentioned in its fiscal year 2020 budget request to Congress.

“Amtrak is exploring places it can modernize and expand its services and network,” Amtrak spokesperson Marc Magliari said. “A Chicago/Western Michigan – Detroit – Toronto corridor is one of the services where we see promise.”

It is not clear if the route east of Detroit would operate via Port Huron/Sarnia or go through Windsor, Ontario, which is opposite of Detroit across the Detroit River.

“At this early stage, speculation would be premature,” Magliari said.

Bradley said his greater interest is to see restoration of passenger rail service lost over the past few decades.

He pointed out that the Sarnia VIA station is located on the Canadian National line running under the St. Clair River while Windsor’s new VIA station has no connection to the Detroit River rail tunnel.

Bradley said that although the market for passengers is bigger in Detroit and Windsor, the rail crossing at Sarnia and Port Huron worked well for many years.

The International was discontinued in part due to long delays in border crossing inspections follow the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Other factors included declining ridership and the desire of Michigan officials for a scheduled that allowed day trips to and from Chicago.

VIA operates just one roundtrip between Sarnia and Toronto.

He acknowledged that border crossing issues would still remain, but those would exist regardless of where it’s located.

Study Mulls Amtrak Return to Iconic Detroit Station

April 5, 2019

Ford Motor Company and others are reportedly studying whether Amtrak could return to Detroit’s Michigan Central Station.

Bridge Magazine reported that the Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority has commissioned a $30,000 feasibility study and that talks are underway involving Ford, the city and other transportation officials.

Ford purchased the abandoned train station for $90 million in 2018 and has launched a $1 billion project to renovate it.

For several years the MC Station has become an icon for urban blight with its numerous broken windows and vacant space.

Amtrak used the station, built in 1913, until Jan. 5, 1988, when it began operating from a temporary modular station it built next to MC Station.

On May 4, 1994, Amtrak opened a new station in Detroit’s New Center neighborhood that the carrier said would be temporary until a permanent intermodal station was built across the tracks. That facility has yet to be built.

Ford has ambitious plans for the MC Station and its surrounding neighborhood that includes bringing 5,000 jobs there to work on autonomous and electric cars.

It is not clear how much it would cost to restore rail service to MC Station and how that would be funded. Some questions surrounding that matter are expected to be answered in the feasibility study.

Port Authority officials said Ford approached it about conducting the study.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said he couldn’t confirm those discussions but said in a statement that Amtrak is “exploring places it can modernize and expand its services and network.”

This includes a proposed Detroit-Toronto service that might also be extended to western Michigan.

Current Amtrak service in Detroit is three daily Wolverine Service roundtrips between Chicago and Pontiac that also stop in Royal Oak, Dearborn and Ann Arbor.

Discussions have been held in previous years about returning Amtrak service to MC Station.

The former owner of the depot, Manuel “Matty” Moroun, looked into the idea at one point.

The prospect of returning rail service to the station has captured the attention of some historic preservationists and historians.

“It’s a building no one thought could be saved,” said Dan Austin, the founder of HistoricDetroit.org. “It hasn’t seen anything but vandals and scrappers in years. And to tell you that Ford is coming in there and not only going to renovate it and restore it to all its glory, but make it a train station again? It’s hard to believe.”

Austin, who studies Detroit’s architectural history, called MC Station one of the city’s “most iconic abandoned buildings.” It is located in Corktown, one of Detroit’s oldest neighborhoods.

Canadian Pacific has tracks near the station. Michael Frezell, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Transportation, said his agency, which funds Amtrak’s Wolverine Service, is away of the feasibility study but said it’s too early to know what kind of arrangement could be worked out between Amtrak and CP as well as the costs involved.

Ford has not said whether its renovation plans for MC Station involve removing its existing but unused tracks.

It also has avoided discussing whether it could be used again as a train station.

Blasting Through Chelsea

January 12, 2019

Chelsea, Michigan, used to be an Amtrak stop. But that was back in the 1970s when the carrier still operated a commuter operation between Detroit and Jackson known as the Michigan Executive.

That serviced ended with the state pulled its funding in early 1984 and the Michigan Executive last ran on Jan. 13.

But Chelsea, located about halfway between Ann Arbor and Jackson, had already fallen off the Amtrak map. Amtrak service ended here on June 14, 1982.

However, Amtrak continues to pass through Chelsea six times a day even if none of the Wolverine Service trains stop here.

The tracks are now owned by the Michigan Department of Transportation and Amtrak has a top speed of 79 mph through much of Chelsea.

Shown is westbound No. 353, which is about 15 minutes behind schedule as it rushes toward Jackson.

To the left of the train is the former Welfare Building of the Glazier Stove Company. It was built to give employees a more productive and safer way to pass their free time than patronizing the local taverns.

The Welfare Building, built in 1906, had a swimming pool, library, billiards hall, theater and basketball court.

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).

Amtrak, MDOT at Odds Over Bridge Repairs

November 29, 2018

A conflict between Amtrak and the Michigan Department of Transportation has halted a bridge repair project in Kalamazoo.

At issue are the northbound and southbound U.S. Route 131 bridges over KL Avenue and tracks owned by Amtrak.

MDOT spokesman Nick Schirripa said the dispute centers on a construction agreement.

He said Amtrak has been making “unreasonable” demands.

“There is some consideration being given to Amtrak here, we are going to have an impact on their railroad, that is fair. But I think it’s only fair they make reasonable requests of us. And so far, the requests Amtrak is making of MDOT are unreasonable,” Schirripa said.

One of Amtrak’s demands is a clause to let Amtrak add anything to the project they it wants and to charge MDOT for anything the passenger carrier deems necessary.

The bridge were to be replaced in 2019, but that has been moved back to 2023.

In the meantime, workers have installed netting and screens beneath the bridges to catch any falling debris.

The 55-year bridges are in fair condition but structurally deficient.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the carrier is working with MDOT to solve the dispute, but declined to offer any further information.

Schirripa said the bridges handle 50,000 vehicles a day. He said that the bridges will be closed if MDOT engineers see that the structures may be failing.