ann arbor – detroit rail

According to Heritage Newspapers, Carmine Palombo, the Director of Transportation Programs for the Southeastern Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG), believes that the proposed Ann Arbor to Detroit regional rail project is on track for completion by October 2010. I don’t know how long the plan has been in the works, but I recall hearing Congresswoman Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatric take credit for getting the $100 million in federal grants to establish the east-west passenger rail line connecting Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Metro Airport, and Detroit a few years ago. Anyway, the feasibility study is now done, and, according to Palombo, things look good. There are, however, from what I’ve heard, still a few sticking points.

The first problem, as I understand it, is there doesn’t seem to be a way to get rail to Metro Airport. (The most recent plan that I’ve seen calls for a rail stop in Inkster with bus service carrying people to and from the airport.) The second problem, according to what I hear, is that the three rail companies who own the track that would be used – Norfolk Southern, Conrail Shared Assets and Canadian National – don’t want passenger cars to slow down their growing freight business. (Eventually more track would probably need to be laid, but, for now the plan would call for using existing infrastructure as much as possible.) It wouldn’t seem, however, that either of these is seen as a deal killer.

SEMCOG, according to Palombo, has yet to receive final cost estimates from the three rail companies as to what it would cost to make the track improvements necessary to make the plan doable, but they’re talking, and he sounds optimistic.

Here’s video from SEMCOG, showing what they envision the system looking like when it’s up and running.

It probably goes without saying that this, if it happens, would be a huge boon for Ypsilanti. If we had rail connecting us to Ann Arbor, the Airport, and downtown Detroit, it would put us in a much better position to attract residents interested in sustainability and the other kinds of things we discuss here all the time at MM.com. I don’t think I’m overstating the impact that this could have when I say that rail service, from my perspective, is even more critical to the future of our community than the development of the 38 acres at Water Street. More and more people are using mass transit, and, as fuel prices rise, they’re going to demand it. Like it or not, communities without comprehensive mass transit including rail service are going to be left behind.

So, what can we do to help see this happen? Here’s what I’m thinking… We should start a cross-party grassroots effort to promote the idea of east-west rail, and keep SEMCOG on task. I know there’s already a regional lobbying group called “Transportation Riders United,” and that they’re probably doing some of this, but I think there’s a place for an organization focused solely on building consensus among the communities along this east-west rail line where there will be stops. I know, at least in Ann Arbor and Ypsi, that there would be a great amount of interest in a website, for instance, where information, updates and interviews with key players could be shared. And, I can’t help but think that it would give us, the people who would use this rail line, more of a voice as things develop if we came together and formed an association now… So, who wants to start something?

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8 Comments

  1. applejack
    Posted September 7, 2008 at 12:32 am | Permalink

    I think this is a fantastic thing for Ypsilanti. Being from Atlanta I know how great it is to have some regional transportation. Even though MARTA sucks, it’s infinitely better than having no trains at all.
    Let’s take it from here to Chicago, and then we’ll really have something.

  2. applejack
    Posted September 7, 2008 at 12:38 am | Permalink

    i should also add, however, that this video is pretty horrible.

  3. Posted September 7, 2008 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    Have they addressed the problems of getting from the station to your destination? While getting to the Henry Ford might be easy (and useless, I might add), getting to where you want to go within Ypsi and Detroit could be another challenge. Not to mention, you’ll get mugged. This is going to strain infrastructure even more than it is already strained in terms of police patrols and a revamping of the bus system.

    Not being a cynic, I just wonder if the fiscal plan accounts for this.

  4. nearby
    Posted September 7, 2008 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

    Just wondering, since we are talking rail:

    Does anyone know what prompted the change– Amtrak used to slow down thru the town, as they should, in 2000-2001 or so, when I first moved here.

    There was then a period when they blew through at about 70mph. Seriously, the crossing bars would not be all the way down and the train would be blasting though.

    Now ( a little while back now) though, they are slowing down again– just when I was about start calling “someone” about it, as I go over the Forest St crossing often enough to have noticed the change.

    What was the deal– a rogue engineer? Someone else made a few calls?

    This site seems to be a confluence hole (fishing term) for a lot of local information…someone likely knows.

  5. Andy S Rodriguez
    Posted September 8, 2008 at 12:52 am | Permalink

    As for the link to the airport, the station in Wayne, Westland or Inkster will have buses that go to the airport. That goes the same for the stops in Detroit, Dearborn, Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor. There will be bus transfers at the stations that will take people to their destinations.

    From talking to Carmine Palombo, it seems that Norfolk Southern is more lenient. NS is reviewed how 4, 8 and 15 trains would affect their opperations. Eight round trips is the usual number being thrown around. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Canadian National, who only owns about three miles of the track proposed. They only want 4 round trips.

    Also, there is going to be a mile long connection track connecting NS and CN tracks in West Detroit, to avoid the massive, sharp S-curve and cutting the usual 20 minute trip between Dearborn and Detroit down to 10 minutes. The new proposed station in Detroit will be across from the current station on the second pair of tracks. Palombo said a tunnel would be the most likely fix.

    Also, he said short-term, a large bus shelter will be built for the Ypsi stop. However, something more permenant may be built in the future. The old MCRR depot could be renovated in my opinion. One of the boards fell off recently and it didn’t look too bad inside.

  6. Posted September 8, 2008 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    A group in Ypsi advocating and pushing SEMCOG on this would be a great idea. Partnering with TRU in Detroit would be a great way to do this. TRU has proven themselves to be a competent group with good relationships with transit entities in SE Michigan. They’re one of transit’s biggest supporters and support transit entities in SE Michigan. However they’re willing to call those transit entities out if they’re not living up to their end of the bargain. Partnering with some transit advocates in A2 would round out the group to cover most of the proposed AA-Det line.
    I’d give Meghan Owens a call or email. She’s a very down to earth person.

  7. Posted September 8, 2008 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    Annie and I are very, very excited about this. If anyone finds out how we can get involved and help this along, please don’t forget to share here.

  8. Christy
    Posted September 8, 2008 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    I agree share anything else you find out and I’m in to help promote and support this idea. I can’t wait!!

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