Posts Tagged ‘rail passenger service in Michigan’

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.

Jackson Ticket Office Closed

April 4, 2018

Ticket agent staffing of the Jackson, Michigan, Amtrak station ended this week.

Amtrak said that effective April 2, it closed its ticket office in Jackson, but will continue to serve the station with its six daily Wolverine Service trains between Chicago and Detroit (Pontiac).

In a service advisory, Amtrak said passengers will continue to have access to the station waiting area and restrooms for all train arrivals and departures during normal station hours of 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

However, half of the Wolverine trains arrive and depart in Jackson outside of during those hours.

Amtrak personnel aboard the trains will assist customers boarding and detraining.

Passengers who pay for their tickets with cash may still do so aboard the train, but such tickets will be priced at the highest fare and subject to availability if not reserved in advance.

Amtrak said passengers who require full customer service for unaccompanied minors traveling on Amtrak or other services provided by employees should travel to Ann Arbor, Michigan, located 37 miles east of Jackson.

Extra Trains for Holland Tulip Festival

April 4, 2018

The Michigan Department of Transportation is sponsoring additional Pere Marquette service in May to a tulip festival in Holland, Michigan.

Amtrak will operate extra trains on May 5 and 12 departing Chicago Union Station at 7:05 a.m. and returning at 8:24 p.m. The schedule is set up to allow a day trip to the Tulip Time Festival.

The extra train to Holland will stop at Hammond-Whiting, Indiana, at 7:30 a.m., and make intermediate stops in St. Joseph and Bangor before arriving in Holland at 11:29 a.m.

The return trip to Chicago will leave Holland at 5:50 p.m. The trains will operate as Nos. 374 and 375.

In a news release, MDOT said the festival has been heralded as America’s “Best Flower Festival” and “America’s Best Small-Town Festival,” with more than 5 million tulips in bloom.

Fares on the extra service will range between $26 and $48 each way.

All regular Pere Marquette trains also will stop at Hammond-Whiting on May 5, 6, 12 and 13.

Michigan Trains Running Faster Now

January 24, 2018

Most Amtrak trains serving Michigan have faster running times, the Michigan Department of Transportation said this week.

Wolverine Service trains between Chicago and Detroit (Pontiac) have seen 20 minutes cut from their schedules. Blue Water service between Chicago and Port Huron, Michigan, has seen a smaller running time cut.

Both lines use rails owned by Amtrak between Kalamazoo, Michigan, and Porter, Indiana.

Amtrak dispatchers control the Chicago-Detroit line as far east as Dearborn except for a portion of track in Battle Creek that is owned by Canadian National.

MDOT acquired 135 miles of track from Norfolk Southern in 2012 that are used by Amtrak between Kalamazoo and Dearborn except for the CN track in Battle Creek.

The top speed between Porter and Kalamazoo 110 mph. The maximum speed is 79 mph on the MDOT-owned track, but that is expected to rise to 110 mph this year after the completion of positive train control testing and assignment of Siemens Charger locomotives to the route.

The State of Michigan has used $347 million in federal funds to replace rails, smooth curves, upgrade crossings and signals and improve train signaling and communication systems. These improvements are expected to result in higher running speeds.

MDOT funded a connection in West Detroit for a faster route to a CN line that serves Amtrak stations in Detroit, Royal Oak, Troy and Pontiac.

“At MDOT’s direction, Amtrak work crews have corrected years of deferred maintenance and have taken over dispatching,” said Joe McHugh, Amtrak vice president of state-supported services in a statement. “We have created the longest railroad segment outside the northeast that is being made ready for an even more reliable and faster Amtrak service.”

Port Huron Area Officials Debate Where to Put a New Amtrak Station

October 30, 2017

Officials in Port Huron, Michigan, are at odds over what to do about the town’s Amtrak station. Some want a new station, but where to place it has triggered disagreements.

The current station is located in an out-of-the-way location in the southern part of town, is not lighted well and is easy to miss.

Other gripes include lack of adequate parking, no room for a bus turnaround or access to other travel options, and no nearby restaurants or overnight amenities.

However, there is wide disagreement about what to do about that, including whether to renovate the current depot or build a new station closer to freeways or downtown Port Huron.

And the City of Port Huron thinks that some government entities are conspiring to move the station outside the city.

For now, a $125,000 study is underway to evaluate the current station and potential locations for a new one.

The station is the eastern terminus of the Blue Water from Chicago, a service funded by the State of Michigan.

Heading the station study is the Blue Water Area Transit, which hired Bergmann Associates to do the study.

Dave McElroy, assistant general manager and finance director for BWAT, said resolving the station situation will take time and it will not be inexpensive. As for what is likely to happen, he is not sure.

“It just depends on what the study comes up with,” he said. “Where it is, what the community decides they’d really like to see.”

Talks about a new Port Huron station have been going since at least 2011.

Former Port Huron City Manager Bruce Brown spoke with Amtrak, the Michigan Department of Transportation and Canadian National Railroad about new station sites.

One was the Thomas Edison Depot Museum while the other was near the former Thomas Edison Inn property. But those proposals went nowhere.

Various the agencies got involved, including Port Huron Township.

After Amtrak said it had talked with the township about relocating its Port Huron station, Port Huron City Manager James Freed objected.

“I think they’re trying to move our train station outside the city without talking with our city residents, let alone those around that neighborhood,” he said.

Freed expressed similar sentiments during the first of two public hearings led by Bergmann Associations on Oct. 19.

Freed noted that property owned by CN was mentioned by station study project manager Jeremy Hedden in a presentation as a potential site candidate.

“My concern with the guy doing the study is he shows up, (says) that no decision has been made yet, that they want an open and fair conversation,” he said. “Yet, he starts the conversation off with several statements like this spot’s closer to the highway than this spot.”

The site in question is along Griswold Road between 24th Street and Michigan Road near Interstate 69.

Port Huron Township Supervisor Bob Lewandowski said that just because that site was at a hearing discussed doesn’t mean it’s a guarantee to be the location of a new station.

Lewandowski would like to see the township get the station. Some have argued that the station site selection process needs to take into account the greater needs of the region.

“For us right now, we’re advocating we would like to see it out here,” Lewandowski said. “We think we’ve got a better space to be able to provide more for a station as far as if we can’t get them to do the maintenance on the train here. (We could) have a few more jobs here. The space is there to have a platform to move (the train) to some sort of maintenance facility.”

Lewandowski said there’s also more space to accommodate other amenities for travelers — which could jump-start economic growth, such as a small hotel or restaurant nearby.

Freed is concerned about economic development as well, saying Port Huron uses its status as a city serviced by Amtrak “to the fullest of its capabilities” — both keeping the city a destination and making an transportation travel option available to a local population who needs it.

He said he thinks passenger rail is going to grow and that will bolster hotels and restaurants.

If the station were to remain in Port Huron, Freed said the current station on 16th Street could be upgraded, the original Grand Trunk Western station could be used or a new site could host a depot

Some have even advocated establishing a station in a location that would attract passengers from Sarnia, Ontario.

Mabel Higgins, vice president for Rail Advocacy in Lambton, said at the Oct. 19 hearing that a station in Port Huron Township would be accessible to Canadians coming by highway for travel to Chicago.

The station study underway is expected to be completed by February or March. The next step would be to conduct an environmental assessment of various station options.

In a best case scenario, construction on a new or renovated station is no closer than two years and it may be five years before completion.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said station renovations and replacements are almost always locally-driven projects.

He said Amtrak has many ongoing discussions with various communities, including Port Huron, about station renovation or replacement.

Magliari said transit agencies are often the “perfect group” to lead Amtrak station projects.

“They already have the transportation focus and willing people,” he said. “In some cases, it’s led by community groups who have an idea. That can work too. (Or it can be) a regional planning organization or council of governments.”

McElroy said BWAT expects to continue to lead the station project and that the two public hearing held thus far won’t be the public’s last opportunity to comment.

“Any input that Bergmann gets that is meaningful, there will be follow up, I’m sure,” McElroy said. “And like they tried to point out, if anything transpires from this study, there’s a lot more input that takes place. A lot more in depth, a lot more detail.”

Freed agreed that having BWAT take the lead makes sense. CN and MDOT are also expected to play a role in the process.

CN spokesman Patrick Waldron said he was familiar with discussion of a new station previously but wasn’t up to date if anything has resurfaced more recently.

Regional MDOT spokeswoman Jocelyn Hall said frequency, passenger boards, and community size are among the “many considerations when building a station.”

One of those is ridership history. MDOT said ridership at Port Huron rose from 13,162 in 2009 to 29,792 in 2013, a 125 percent plus increase.

However, Amtrak patronage has declined since then to 22,682 in 2015, 20,205 in 2016 and 15,850 through September of this year. The lowest ridership in the last decade was at 12,619 in 2007.

Another factor is where the money to pay for a new station will come.

“That’s a great question because funding for that has not been identified yet,” McElroy said. “The community, I’m sure we’ll go out and try to receive some federal and state grants. To be competitive, sometimes you have to throw in local money as well.”

Amtrak Adding Extra Trains for Thanksgiving

October 17, 2017

Amtrak will add eight extra trains in Illinois and 10 in Michigan to handle Thanksgiving travelers.

In a news release, the carrier said it will operate every available passenger car during the holiday period.

On the route between Chicago and St. Louis, train No. 300 from St. Louis will operate 35 minutes earlier than scheduled.

Lincoln Service extra No. 309 will depart Chicago at 10:30 a.m. and make all scheduled intermediate stops en route to Normal, Illinois, where it will arrive at 12:58 p.m.

No. 308 will depart Normal at 1:15 p.m. and make all scheduled stops en route to Chicago, arriving at 3:41 p.m. These schedules are in effect on Nov. 22 and 26.

On the Chicago-Quincy, Illinois, route, Illinois Zephyr No. 383 will operate 31 minutes later than scheduled.

Carl Sandburg extra No. 385 will depart Chicago at 11:30 a.m. and arrive Quincy at 3:53 p.m., making all scheduled intermediate stops.

Extra No. 384 will depart Quincy at 1 p.m. and arrive in Chicago at 5:23 p.m. after making all scheduled intermediate stops.

These schedules are in effect on Nov. 22 and 26.

On the Wolverine Service route, Extra No. 356 will depart Chicago on Nov. 22, 25 and 26 at 9:30 a.m., stopping in Michigan at New Buffalo, Niles, Kalamazoo, Battle Creek, Jackson before arriving in Ann Arbor at 3:10 p.m.

Extra No. 359 will depart Ann Arbor on the same dates at 4:05 p.m. and make the same stops, en route to Chicago, arriving at 7:46 p.m.

On the Pere Marquette route, extra No. 372 will leave Chicago at 10 a.m. and make all stops en route to Holland, arriving at 2:11 p.m. It will depart Holland at 3:10 p.m. and make all scheduled stop en route to a 5:27 p.m. arrival in Chicago.

These schedules are in effect on Nov. 22 and 26.

Reservations will be required between Nov. 21 and 27 for travel aboard the Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha Service.

Amtrak said that in 2016 it carried 760,755 passengers throughout its national network during the Thanksgiving travel period and it expects similar patronage this year.

It plans to assign every available passenger car to its trains during the holiday travel period.

Detroit SMART Buses to Serve Troy Amtrak Station

June 14, 2017

Local bus service will return to the Troy Transit Center in suburban Detroit, which is also used by Amtrak’s Wolverine Service trains.

The recent signing of a court order this week involving the city of Troy and an Oakland County developer paved the way for the return of bus service provided by Detroit’s SMART bus system.

The settlement ended years of litigation that began in 1999 and had kept the buses away. “We’re very happy that the parties were able to reach an agreement without going to trial,” said SMART communications manager Beth Gibbons.

SMART buses will resume picking up and dropping off riders at the Transit Center.

The City of Troy agreed to pay $100,000 to developer Gary Sakwa and his Grand/Sakwa Properties, owners of a 75-acre shopping center and condominium complex that surrounds the transit center.

An earlier lawsuit was settled when Troy agreed to spend $4.15 million in federal transportation funds to buy the 2 acres under the center from Sakwa, whose ownership he claimed under previous legal rulings.

“It certainly is a welcome step in the right direction” for mass transit in southeast Michigan, said Megan Owens, executive director of TRU, or Transportation Riders United, a nonprofit group of bus riders.

Six daily Chicago-Detroit (Pontiac) Wolverine Service trains serve the transit center.

MDOT to Seek Proposals for Feasibility Study of Ann Arbor-Traverse City Rail Passenger Service

February 11, 2017

A request for proposals to evaluate intercity railroad passenger service between Ann Arbor and Traverse City has been issued by the Michigan Department of Transportation.

MichiganKnown as the A2TC Train, the service is specified in MDOT’s 2011 Michigan State Rail Plan, which called for service to the northern part of the state.

The feasibility study will cost $160,000 of which half comes from a federal transportation planning grant. The other half will be split between the state and local agencies.

The not-for-profit Traverse City Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities led the drive to raise the local matching funds for the study.

Work on the study is expected to get underway in May.

MDOT Director Kirk Steudle said in a statement that demand for passenger rail service is “increasing because of high energy costs and increased congestion of highways and air travel.”

The A2TC route would serve Petoskey, Cadillac, Mt. Pleasant, Alma, Owosso, Durand, Howell and Ann Arbor.

It would connect with Amtrak’s Chicago-Detroit corridor at Ann Arbor.

The feasibility study is established to take nine months, but some officials are hoping it will be completed by November.