Detroit-Ann Arbor commuter rail line scaled back almost to the point of non-existence

Remember how Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm proclaimed that she’d be riding the Detroit-Ann Arbor commuter line by the end of her term this fall? Well, it looks as though that might not happen. Ypsi City Council member Pete Murdock just sent me a note, letting me know that the Detroit-Ann Arbor rail project has been both delayed and considerably scaled back. The good news is, though, it doesn’t seem to be completely dead, and plans are still going forward to construct a Depot Town train platform. Or, at least the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) is still engaged with the City of Ypsilanti on the platform’s placement, etc.

The following clip comes from an article written in Crain’s Detroit Business by Bill Shea:

Metro Detroit’s regional planning agency has pushed back its goal of having a demonstration commuter train line running daily between Ann Arbor and Detroit operating by October.

Instead, the line will operate for special events, such as University of Michigan football games and Detroit’s Thanksgiving Day parade, said Carmine Palombo, transportation project director for the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments.

No new target date for the daily service has been set.

“The lack of existing funds to construct the needed projects to allow freight and passenger trains to travel safely in the corridor has altered our timeframe for providing the initial service,” he wrote in an e-mail to Crain’s on Friday.

The plan was to have four daily round-trips and three on the weekends, he said. Now, a list of events, times and costs is being worked out.

“Locomotives are being acquired, rail cars are being refurbished and station improvements are being planned,” Palombo said.

A $100 million federal transportation funding earmark for the project was made in 2005, but studies show the route’s cost-per-rider ratio of more than $70 remains too high for SEMCOG to qualify for the money….

This is extremely disappointing, but at least it looks as though Ypsi is still getting a stop on the line, and both engines and passenger cars are still being acquired. And one hopes that, once all of these pieces are in place, we’ll be able to lobby for wider use… Of course, I suppose this new announcement could just be an intermediate stop on the way to closing the entire project down.

The bottom line is that S.E. Michigan needs this, and we need to make it happen… So, what should we do? How about, at the very least, making a Facebook group for people who live along the line and want to see it happen? It seems to me that the first step needs to be to pull together all of the stakeholders into some kind of loose alliance that’s not controlled by SEMCOG. Then, once we know what we’re working with, we can start lobbying, protesting, etc.

update: I thought that I should move this comment up to the front page. It comes form Richard Murphy, Transportation Program Coordinator at the Michigan Suburbs Alliance:

I certainly appreciate the passion here, but let’s keep some perspective on what’s actually being announced:

“Purchase of trains and construction of platforms is moving forward as planned, but we don’t think we’re going to hit our goal of daily service by October 2010. We’ll get some events trains running while we iron out the remaining issues, but we don’t want to name another date-certain and disappoint you again if we miss that one.”

I remember when this project was “someday”. And then it was “five to ten years away.” And then it was “two to 5 years away.” If regular service has to be pushed back six months, well, that’s better than some Microsoft products do with their release dates, and Microsoft doesn’t even have to worry about railroad contracts or Federal environmental impact statements.

The statement by Rep. Kilpatrick is also not quite as major at this point as we’re giving it credit for: the $100m earmark mentioned is for the post-pilot phase of the project. The A2-Detroit line has to (and always had to) get up and running and produce some ridership numbers in order to get access to that funding. Besides which, Detroit-Chicago high-speed rail is not necessarily in conflict with A2-Detroit commuter rail. Many of the capital improvements needed for either one will also serve the other. (The fact that Michigan didn’t get any track funding in the high-speed rail announcements last month means much more for the commuter line’s delay than anything Rep. Kilpatrick has said.)

So, by all means, let your State and Federal Representatives know how excited you are about the train, and how important it is on Southeast Michigan (John on Forest: Ypsilanti’s equivalent to Rep. Kilpatrick is Rep. John Dingell), organize support campaigns on Facebook, and keep an eye on the project, but don’t despair. Transit needs supporters and cheerleaders (and riders), not protesters.

Meanwhile, I’ll be hopping on the events train to the UM football games even though I don’t go to football games. Just because, OMG, TRAIN!

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18 Comments

  1. Amanda
    Posted March 20, 2010 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    I guess I don’t understand what the considerably scaled back part is? We had heard in the news last month that there could be a delay in the start and the first step would be the special events, with the commuter trips coming later. So, besides the delay again, what more is scaled back? The 3-4 trips a day sounded like what we’ve heard for a long while as the target…

  2. Posted March 20, 2010 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    I guess I missed the news last month that the train would start by servicing UM football games and the like. So, I guess it’s old news, but to me it sounds like scaling back, especially if there’s no firm date set as to when real commuter service would begin. When I read this news story, I’m not getting the sense that commuter service is necessarily in the future.

  3. Posted March 20, 2010 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for posting this Mark. Regional transit is something that Washtenaw County could benefit from in a big way and this announcement is another setback in a long line of delays for this project. While other cities are securing public right-of-way and building great systems that spur genuine value, metro Detroit is struggling to run limited service on existing right-of-way.

    SEMCOG told the counties and cities that they would be running 4 trains/day in October – now they’re backing off indefinitely. Maybe if the unemployment situation gets bad enough, going to work will be defined a “special event.”

    Angry posting is like hungry grocery shopping.

  4. Jon
    Posted March 20, 2010 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

    I’m kinda surprised no one has made this connection yet:

    Switching tracks: Kilpatrick backs high-speed rail over commuter
    http://www.crainsdetroit.com/article/20100307/FREE/303079975

    Kinda coincidental she starts airing these concerns publicly when she is in the middle of a tough re-election battle and the feds are circling closer and closer to her and her family.

    Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick summoned before grand jury
    http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0310/34311.html#ixzz0ilWULHix

  5. roots
    Posted March 21, 2010 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    ARGH!
    Effin politics.
    I want trains!

    This is a cause for which I’d hit the streets, sign in hand. We need regional transit!

    (sorry for the caps)

  6. John on Forest
    Posted March 21, 2010 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    Who is our (Ypsilanti) representative (counter to Kilpatrick) that we need to get involved in this issue? It sounds like Detroit’s Kilpatrick is killing the commuter train in favor of high speed rail. We need both, not one or the other.

    What is this going to mean for City of Ypsilanti. According to Pete Murdock, everything is ok here because there are still discussions with SEMCOG about a platform in Ypsilanti. But, how long will it be before that makes no sense? A UM football game isn’t going to need an Ypsilanti stop.

  7. Lorie Thom
    Posted March 21, 2010 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    John on Forest is right. The scaled back part seems to be that it will only go for special events and they talk about those as a U of M Football game.

    It is clear that Kilpatrick is trying to kill off the commuter part which makes no sense based on ridership. Do we know why? Has anyone asked around?

  8. clear vision
    Posted March 21, 2010 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    Maybe Kilpatrick would take a bribe and make that train happen,..just thinking

  9. Posted March 21, 2010 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    I certainly appreciate the passion here, but let’s keep some perspective on what’s actually being announced:

    “Purchase of trains and construction of platforms is moving forward as planned, but we don’t think we’re going to hit our goal of daily service by October 2010. We’ll get some events trains running while we iron out the remaining issues, but we don’t want to name another date-certain and disappoint you again if we miss that one.”

    I remember when this project was “someday”. And then it was “five to ten years away.” And then it was “two to 5 years away.” If regular service has to be pushed back six months, well, that’s better than some Microsoft products do with their release dates, and Microsoft doesn’t even have to worry about railroad contracts or Federal environmental impact statements.

    The statement by Rep. Kilpatrick is also not quite as major at this point as we’re giving it credit for: the $100m earmark mentioned is for the post-pilot phase of the project. The A2-Detroit line has to (and always had to) get up and running and produce some ridership numbers in order to get access to that funding. Besides which, Detroit-Chicago high-speed rail is not necessarily in conflict with A2-Detroit commuter rail. Many of the capital improvements needed for either one will also serve the other. (The fact that Michigan didn’t get any track funding in the high-speed rail announcements last month means much more for the commuter line’s delay than anything Rep. Kilpatrick has said.)

    So, by all means, let your State and Federal Representatives know how excited you are about the train, and how important it is on Southeast Michigan (John on Forest: Ypsilanti’s equivalent to Rep. Kilpatrick is Rep. John Dingell), organize support campaigns on Facebook, and keep an eye on the project, but don’t despair. Transit needs supporters and cheerleaders (and riders), not protesters.

    Meanwhile, I’ll be hopping on the events train to the UM football games even though I don’t go to football games. Just because, OMG, TRAIN!

  10. Pete Murdock
    Posted March 21, 2010 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    Murph –

    Thanks for the further explaination on the commuter train issue.

    Pete

  11. Posted March 21, 2010 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    Thanks, Murph. I’ll move your comment to the front page.

  12. John on Forest
    Posted March 21, 2010 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    Thanks, Murph,

    But, did I read the Detroit Crains article wrong, then? Doesn’t it say that Kilpatrick favors letting the $100M expire and to instead fund high-speed?

  13. Posted March 21, 2010 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

    I saw this yesterday. I am so sad. I was looking forward to this project. I had secret plans to open a store and everything….drats

  14. Amanda
    Posted March 21, 2010 at 11:24 pm | Permalink

    anyone talked about what a ride will cost? any guesses?

  15. Tom Perkins
    Posted March 22, 2010 at 12:07 am | Permalink

    I wrote several articles about the rail for AnnArbor.com and spoke with Carmine Palombo on Friday. There were a couple points in the Crain’s article he disputed — he says there is no list of events for which the train will run, and didn’t know where the reporter got that info. Also, the cost-per-ride ratio of $70 was from a 2004 study submitted with a grant application. He said the figure isn’t that high, but responded no current figures are available when asked. I somehow doubt SEMCOG doesn’t have any idea of the cost-per-rider ratio, but, if that is the case, maybe it would start to explain a few things….

    Amanda, no price structure was available as of January.

  16. Mr.SwettyBallz
    Posted March 22, 2010 at 1:22 am | Permalink

    I guess it will cost about twice what it costs to just go ahead and buy a gas guzzler.

  17. dragon
    Posted March 22, 2010 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    • A Washtenaw Community College student asks the big question – How much it’s likely to cost to ride? SEMCOG’s Carmine Palumbo says they’ve been thinking about $1.75 for trips between stations, and $6 to go from end to end.

  18. Allen
    Posted April 6, 2010 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    I was really upset about this as well. I think if the “events” thing goes through then great but we need to be more proactive. I like the idea of a facebook group but does anyone think we need to do a little more? Seems to me if we go city to city as a group to meet personally with the mayors/city councils then we can make more of a difference. Just a thought.

    Allen

2 Trackbacks

  1. By At least one train stopped in Ypsi this year on May 23, 2010 at 9:24 pm

    […] about funding by the end of the summer. For the time being, however, it looks as though even the scaled-back Ann Arbor-Detroit line isn’t likely to start rolling until 2012 at the earliest. Or, at least that’s […]

  2. […] looks as though even the scaled-back Ann Arbor-Detroit line isn’t likely to start rolling until 2012, at the earliest. Or, at least that’s […]

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