Michigan asks Washington for $830 million to establish Detroit-Chicago high-speed rail

Remember how, a while ago, I told you that the feds had set aside over $8 billion for high-speed rail projects, and Michigan was joining with other states in the vicinity of Chicago to make a request? Well, today was the deadline, and it appears as though we’ve requested $830 million from Uncle Sam. At least that’s what Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm said as she was preparing to leave Dearborn for Jackson yesterday, aboard an Amtrak train… the following clip comes from the Detroit Free Press:

Gov. Jennifer Granholm said Michigan will apply for $830 million in federal grants to create a high-speed rail system from Pontiac to Chicago.

Granholm, speaking at the Amtrak station in Dearborn, said the system would allow train speeds of 110 m.p.h. and a travel time from Detroit to Chicago of 4 hours instead of 6 hours. Nine such trips would be planned each day.

Among the improvements would be moving the Dearborn Amtrak passenger station to a new station at Greenfield Village.

Other existing passenger stations would be upgraded, and the rail improved so passenger trains would no longer be delayed by freight train traffic…

There wasn’t a lot of detail given that we didn’t already know from SEMCOG’s Carmine Palumbo, but it’s good to finally know the exact dollar amount that we’re going for. And, I don’t believe that I’d heard anyone to date make the claim that the trip between Detroit and Chicago would only take four hours, which, if true, would be great… Now that I think about it, I also don’t remember hearing previously that the Dearborn station was “moving” to Greenfield Village. I thought that there would be stops at both.

Of course, several other regions are vying for these same funds, so I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. As Obama has said on previous occasions that the Chicago rail corridor was particularly close to his heart, though, I’m encouraged that something will come of it. And then there’s the fact that the Detroit-Chicago route is the second most popular midwestern Amtrak line after Chicago-Milwaukee, which should also help.

But, there’s apparently a complication. According to the Governor, it might not sit well with the feds that, as we’re requesting these funds to further build-out our rail infrastructure, we’re also cutting back on our contributions to Amtrak… The following comes from the Chicago Tribune:

…The pursuit of the federal dollars means Granholm likely will have to abandon her plans to trim 22 percent of the $7.3 million from state Amtrak subsidies for lines originating in Port Huron and Grand Rapids. Funding would drop by half — to about $3.7 million — starting in October under a budget passed by Senate Republicans.

If she cuts Amtrak funds, it’s less likely the state will persuade the federal government to give Michigan high-speed rail grants.

Granholm said she must “make the case” to restore the cuts, which were protested last week in East Lansing by a group called Save Our Trains Michigan, and show federal transportation officials the state is committed to high-speed rail.

“We’re going to push (for) the full amount into the budget,” she told The Associated Press on the train. “We’ve got to restore those cuts. … If it leverages $833 million, I think it’s worth the investment.”

Preserving the funding won’t be easy. Granholm and legislators are trying to close a $2.8 billion shortfall in the budget year that starts Oct. 1. Much of the hole can be filled with federal recovery money, but state officials still face a sizable gap between revenue and spending.

Many groups oppose high-speed rail investments by the government and Amtrak subsidies.

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a Midland-based free-market think tank, has encouraged the cuts. It argues that passenger rail subsidies aren’t among the state’s constitutional responsibilities…

My hope is that the feds, in all of their wisdom, wouldn’t hold it against us, when making this decision, that we’ve got the most depressed economy in the country (and therefore might not be able to contribute as much as we’d like to Amtrak). But maybe they would. Who knows? Maybe the federal government has already written-off the imploding city of Detroit as a lost cause. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see… Or, perhaps we could be proactive about it, and push our state Senators to reinstate the full Amtrak subsidy, as a sign of our dedication to rail. Of course, I have no idea where the money would come from to do so. Furthermore, I don’t know that $830 million would even come close to covering the real costs of high-speed rail between Detroit and Chicago.

Oh, it should also be noted that Governor Granholm indicated that a second rail-centric federal funding request would be submitted in October. Those funds, if granted, would be used to jump-start the business of high-speed rail car and engine manufacturing in the state. (Something that we should have been pushing aggressively since the day after 9/11.)

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  1. Andy Ypsilanti
    Posted August 25, 2009 at 12:14 am | Permalink

    *Sigh* Will we ever get this rail thing down in Michigan? We used to have a great rail system, untill we decided the car was king. Now we get to try and start over. Just like L.A. and their subway. When I talk to people out side of the greater A2 metro area about rail, most of them just scoff, and say “what would we want that for. It’s like the bus. Stinky and full of weirdos. I’d never ride that.” Maybe we just need to have personal rail cars so Michiganders feel more comfortable.

  2. Joanne
    Posted August 25, 2009 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    Whatever happened to the commuter rail line? Does Amtrak want competiton from high speed; would the failing company run it; no one wants to pay the high prices Amtrak charges now to go A2 to Detroit-will the high speed be expensive, the same, or an affordable commuter fare? Everyone is suddenly concentrating on high speed as if that’s the savior of our economy and transportation needs. What happened to paying a bus fare to ride the train to nearby areas, to Detroit, and to the airport?

  3. Tim
    Posted August 25, 2009 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    I think all of the projects are connected, Joanne. When she says, Pontiac to Chicago, I’m assuming that she means through Detroit. And, if that’s the case, the train would be coming through Ypsi. And, as we’ve been told, there would be a local stop. I’m not sure about the “high speed” aspect of it. My guess is that they mean fewer stops, and fewer instances of having to get out of the way for freight trains.

  4. Anne
    Posted August 25, 2009 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    According to AnnArbor.com, “SEMCOG is expected to file its own $100 million application for funding for the commuter rail project.”


    Maybe that covers the local line, and Granholm’s $830 million will go toward the high-speed portion.

  5. Posted August 25, 2009 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    Anne, I wrote the AnnArbor.com piece, and that’s my understanding, as well. SEMCOG’s commuter rail proposal is separate from Granholm’s high-speed rail hopes, but both could ultimately run along the same lines apparently.

  6. Posted August 25, 2009 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    “Emerging” High Speed means upgrading the level crossings and signalling to permit 110mph trains, and adding track where needed to be able to pass freight trains. Amtrak is not the best run rail operator in the world, but even without getting up to full Emerging HSR trip speeds, Amtrak generates an operating surplus with the medium fast Acela on the NEC … almost all Amtrak speed rail services around the world require subsidies, and all HSR services around the world reach operating surpluses, normally in their first five years of service.

  7. Smyth
    Posted August 25, 2009 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    Does anyone know how much is costs to lay one mile of track for a high speed train like the one we’re discussing? I can’t imagine that $830 or $833 million will get us that far.

  8. Mike want longr name
    Posted August 25, 2009 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    Can someone explain why we want a high speed line between Chicago and Detroit? I don’t mean to be contrarian just for the sake of it, and I don’t like the libertarians (faux or otherwise) who argue that “free market means cars”; I think they ignore the massive auto/urban sprawl subsidy that is the public road system. It would be nice to hop on a train to visit Chicago (MegaBus is nice, too), but I don’t see the benefit compared to a regional system that connects Ann Arbor to Detroit, Pontiac, Toledo, etc. Those make a lot of sense to me because people actually commute between those places.

  9. Sarah Tate
    Posted August 25, 2009 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    Chicago is the big local draw for talent. That’s where a majority of our best students go when they graduate. I suppose it could work the opposite way, but I’m thinking that if we made it easy to get there in a fun/safe way, we might find young adults more inclined to stay here after graduation. That’s just one thought.

  10. Oliva
    Posted August 25, 2009 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

    Taking the Detroit-Chicago fast train talk and veering off:

    If Detroit would study Chicago re. public flowers, city parks, hanging planters, a horticulture department with innovative, vibrantly minded (hearted) artists, planters, dead-headers . . . and given both places good luck re. plenty of water for dry summers. And that the people in both places endure grueling, long, cold, depleting, somber (dramatic but true, I think) winters so need every possible bit of green goodness available during the warm months . . .

    We were in Chicago recently, took the Amtrak from Ann Arbor, and were bowled over by so much public beauty–the plants and flowers! So inviting, so damn pleasing (a lot of purple). One night, around 11 p.m., some flower tenders were on ladders along the street trimming dead leaves and branches from enormous hanging plants. Apparently the city undertook a big planter-making project some years back, so there are some outstanding and very large handsome planters on very solid-seeming poles, full of healthy, brimming plants. We heard people speculate that it’s part of the Olympics bid, but our friends who live there say Mayor Daley’s always been big on beautification since he became mayor in 1989, giving grants for bungalow renovations and setting up the many gardens and flowery streets. I do realize they’re not everywhere in Chicago.

    It’s a beautiful thing that Detroit’s extending the River Walk by miles this fall, wetlands, bridges. And I think certain fiscal curmudgeons will just say it’s a stupid idea for Detroit to follow Chicago re. the flowers given the city’s dire circumstances. But I’m with Daley in thinking that residents’ immediate pleasure and ongoing happiness, restorative goodness such as flowers after winter, are worth a lot. Priceless actually. Well worth it. (I was telling a young bored employee at Lowe’s about the nighttime plant trimmers in Chicago, and he said, “I wish Detroit would do that–I’d love that job.”)

    I love the beautiful plantings that take place around this town, especially the public ones done by neighbors on Ypsi Pride Day and the absolutely wonderful neighborhood public gardens, such as the gem at Frog Island. And the hanging plants in front of Sidetrack are amazing–sweet and colorful but also so bountiful. People keep commenting about how good they look.

    Finally, to get back to trains. The Freighthouse has a clipping of that great past practice of having a garden beside the tracks and young people (young women then) coming aboard when the train stopped and giving travelers a flower. I should check because I could be remembering the facts wrong, and am short on details at the moment, but again, it’s about flowers, with which we could add a very nice touch to people’s train rides, in warm weather!

  11. Posted August 25, 2009 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

    I had dinner with an urban planner type person this evening, and he verified that the Detroit/Chicago high-speed rail project and the local Ann Arbor/Detroit rail initiative were two separate things. Both, however, as least as he understands it, would use the same rails. So, the new track, paid for by these federal dollars that Granholm is requesting, would help us locally. In other words, while the high-speed Detroit-Chicago train is unlikely to stop in Ypsilanti, the track it uses can also be used by our local passenger rail line. So, the $830 million going toward building new high-speed track, assuming we get it, will also be used by our Ann Arbor – Detroit line, meaning that we’ll have to invest less… So, that $100,000 that SEMCOG is asking for wouldn’t have to be put toward the laying of rail. It can be used for other components, such as the creation of local stations along the line.

  12. Posted August 25, 2009 at 10:24 pm | Permalink

    @Smyth, its only necessary to lay all new track in the parts of corridors that are very heavily used by freight. In corridors with lighter freight use, 10miles of passing track per 50 miles of corridor can allow the the HSR services to run through without imposing net delays on freight (that is, the time lost waiting for a passenger train is made up by greater flexibility in freight trains passing each other).

    @Mike want a longr name, the Ohio Hub includes Toledo/Detroit. But that’s a segment that will be much more successful when the Emerging HSR is available from Toledo to Cleveland and through to Buffalo or Pittsburgh. At the capital costs of the Emerging HSR corridors, they want to start with corridors that are likely to cover their operating costs within the first five years. Then when there are those services to connect to, the full system can be rolled out.

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