Ann Arbor – Detroit passenger rail… Can Dingell deliver?

According to an article just published in Crain’s, it looks as though we should find out in a few days whether or not the Federal Rail Administration will be coming forward to invest $200 million in the Ann Arbor – Detroit commuter line that we’re all so anxious to see happen. Here’s a clip:

…The Federal Rail Administration money (via the second round of funding set aside for high-speed rail projects under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009) would be used to build new sidings, signals and make other corridor improvements, said Carmine Palombo, director of transportation planning for the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments regional planning agency.

“It would eliminate the conflict between freight and passenger trains,” he said.

The 48-mile rail project, which would start with four daily round trips, is a joint effort by SEMCOG and the Michigan Department of Transportation and could be operational — if it gets the money — by the end of 2011, Palombo said.

“Probably the most optimistic scenario is the end of next year,” he said.

Amtrak will be contracted to operate the service.

Palombo gave backers an update on the project today.

A $12 million MDOT project to eliminate a bottleneck east of Dearborn where two tracks merge into one line is scheduled to begin in the spring, he said.

That’s expected to trim five to seven minutes off the trip, making it about 50 to 55 minutes. Stops will be at Detroit, Dearborn, near Detroit Metropolitan Airport, Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor.

Work is under way on the federally required environmental assessment.

Three locomotives and nine passenger cars have been leased from Great Lakes Central Railroad, which is owned by Farmington Hills-based Federated Capital Corp., and are in the process of being refurbished and painted, Palombo said…

When the regular service begins, fares could run $6 to $8 for the full trip between Detroit and Ann Arbor, or $1.50 to $2 between stations. Those numbers could change by the time the service begins, Palombo said.

I don’t know what we can do to make it happen at this late date, but I imagine it wouldn’t hurt to drop Congressman Dingell a line and let him know how much local passenger rail would mean to Ypsilanti. Given how close his race has been these past few weeks, it seems like he’d be super motivated to demonstrate to everyone in the district that he’s still able to bring home the proverbial bacon. But, I’m sure he’s already on it, in hopes of getting one more big press release before election day.

While we’re on the subject of Dingell and his reelection bid, here’s a clip from the Wall Street Journal.

Michigan’s Rep. John Dingell, currently the longest-serving member of the House of Representatives, says he isn’t worried about losing the seat that has been in his family since the Great Depression. But a marked change in his campaign spending patterns and a volley of negative ads against his opponent suggest otherwise.

Like many other wary Democrats in races around the country, Rep. Dingell is spending more of his campaign money on himself and sharing far less with other candidates. In the 2008 campaign cycle, Rep. Dingell raised $2.7 million, giving away 30% of that money to Democratic Party efforts and Democrats running for office elsewhere, according to Federal Election Commission filings. This year, with a wealthy doctor nipping at his heels, Rep. Dingell raised $1.5 million through Sept. 30, and has given away 3% of that total to others.

Observers also took the arrival Sunday of former President Bill Clinton as a sign of Democrats’ worries about the 84-year-old congressman first elected in 1955. The two appeared together Sunday night before about 1,000 people in an auditorium at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

To be sure, the latest poll showed Dingell ahead by 17 points—after being tied in a poll two weeks earlier with his Republican opponent, cardiologist Rob Steele—but the incumbent’s shift in campaign strategy is the latest evidence that Democrats are struggling to win over Michigan voters, Despite being buoyed by federal government support through stimulus programs and the bailouts of General Motors Co. and Chrysler LLC, the public here appears increasingly skeptical of incumbents, no matter their past prowess in Washington…

Here’s hoping we win on both counts; keeping John in Congress, and getting local rail.

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  1. Aardvark
    Posted October 24, 2010 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

    I love how the yard signs say “Dr.” Rob Steele. The older I get, the less respect I have for people who use their job title outside of their job as if they are somewhat better than you.

  2. Edward
    Posted October 25, 2010 at 7:21 am | Permalink

    If it doesn’t work out, I don’t know that we can lay it at the feet of Dingell. He could use another big announcement like this going into the election, though. And this, as everyone knows, would mean a great deal to our community. I’m hopeful that it happens.

  3. Posted October 25, 2010 at 7:42 am | Permalink

    I’d rather Lynn Rivers had his job.

  4. Kim
    Posted October 25, 2010 at 7:59 am | Permalink

    I’ve got to hand it to Dingell. There’s no way I’d want to spend my every waking hour dealing with politicians at 64, let alone 84.

  5. Kim
    Posted October 25, 2010 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    From CNN:

    (CNN) – Former President Bill Clinton continued his cross-country campaign swing Sunday night to help the longest-serving member of Congress in his bid to hold onto his seat.

    Democratic Rep. John Dingell of Michigan is a 28-term incumbent, but he’s in a tighter reelection battle than he’s seen in a while, hence the Clinton campaign stop.
    “Michigan was good for me and I tried to be good for Michigan,” Clinton said. “John Dingell’s been good for you and he’s been good for you in the last year and a half, as he has in his entire career.”

    Clinton also addressed the larger issues in the midterm election cycle including government spending and health care, and stressed how important it is that Democrats stay in control.

    “I’m not just here on a personal mission,” Clinton said. “I like all this enthusiasm, but frankly there are a few things about this election that have gotten me somewhere between disturbed and ticked off.”

    Although, he said he doesn’t “do politics anymore,” he got involved in this election “because I saw the American people about to trigger a movie I have seen before,” a reference to the 1994 Republican takeover of the House of Representatives two years after Clinton was elected president.

    Clinton said the Michigan event was his 102nd stop during this election season, a tour that will likely continue through Election Day.

  6. TeacherPatti
    Posted October 25, 2010 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    Aardvark, I noticed that too! For my doctorate (Jurisprudence), there are actually “rules” about how you can only use it in an academic setting and not in a place of business or the like. Therefore, when my friend got her personal checks made out as Dr. Blah Blah Blah, J.D., well, that was really not supposed to be.

    And remember, you can call yourself anything you want…you just have to prepared for everyone else to call you a douchebag. :)

  7. John Galt
    Posted October 25, 2010 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    Trains are for the poor. If they were worth a damn, they’d have cars. To hell with them. Spend the money on corporate welfare!

  8. Posted October 25, 2010 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    We don’t need a railway. Rich people have cars and poor people can just walk.

  9. EOS
    Posted October 25, 2010 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    Additional low speed rail for $200 million in Federal funds, plus another $12 million in MDOT funds, with a projected operating cost of $10 million annually in excess of revenues for what? Probably less than 50 round trips a day, most of which are currently handled with the existing Amtrak system. We could buy every poor person a car for less money!

  10. Posted October 25, 2010 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    There are only 3 round trips from A2 to Detroit, not even close to 50.

  11. EOS
    Posted October 25, 2010 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    The story said 4 daily round trips of the trains. My wag of 50 round trips referred to the number of individuals who might regularly ride those trains.

  12. Posted October 25, 2010 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    Do you have data to support that?

    Also, Amtrak costs approximately $22.00, I believe. It would be important to know how much the proposed rail is projected to be. My guess is that more people would ride Amtrak, but that cost is a serious hurdle.

    Also, has there been talk of beefing up bus service? I can see that people would get to downtown Detroit, but how do they get where they are going? All of southeastern Michigan is such a disastrous example of urban planning, that the rail itself might actually induce a number of other unaffordable modifications.

    Mind you, I know little about this rail.

    I support rail services, by the way, assuming it’s feasible. I’m sure that people more knowledgeable than me have already done the cost benefit scenarios.

  13. EOS
    Posted October 25, 2010 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    And at $22 per fare they lose money. They have done cost benefit scenarios, know the truth, and yet still advocate more rail. And they tell you that they will force people to use the rail by making the cost of driving automobiles prohibitive. It’s not about cost savings, nor is it about environmental benefits. 25 cars on the road is much better for the environment than the pollution spewing from a locomotive engine carrying only 25 people. And trains will not eliminate the need for roads and highways. Trucks, which cause the most damage to the roads, will still need to carry goods from the trains to the manufacturers or retail establishments. So who wins? The elected officials who get higher salaries to manage more employees and grow government, and the Unions who get the bids for construction and operation. And the taxpayers get the bill and lose the transportation options that they prefer.

  14. Posted October 25, 2010 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    Who is “they” and where is your data? You’ve got a lot of broad statements and nothing to back them up. I might be inclined to believe you if you had some real facts.

  15. Knox
    Posted October 25, 2010 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    Obama did not come for your guns, and he’s not going to get rid of cars. In Europe, believe it or not, somehow they manage to have both. This isn’t a conspiracy. If you don’t like sitting next to people on a train, don’t use it. No one is making you. The rest of us, who aren’t terrified of people who don’t look like us, will use it. And, we’ll be cutting down on global warming pollution. Speaking of which, I don’t know where you got your data, but I’m confident that the train, when fully functional, and running on a regular schedule, will produce less CO2 than would the cumulative cars of those riding on it.

  16. EOS
    Posted October 25, 2010 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    Murph has posted info on Arbor Update and Arbor Wiki for the 2006/2007 years. Ridership on the Amtrak Wolverine in Ann Arbor is about 140,000 annually, or about 383/day. With 6 trains running through Ann Arbor between Detroit and Chicago each day, that’s an average of 64 persons/train. I think it is safe to consider the majority of riders are using the train to get to points west of Ann Arbor, which the new proposed trains won’t cover. So I think it is a generous estimate that 25 riders per train are commuting between Detroit and Ann Arbor. Do the numbers justify adding 4 more trains exclusively between Detroit and Ann Arbor? Are the new trains going to be significantly faster? (No – they’ll be slower with added stops in Ypsi and Westland.) Will 4 routes a day make it more convenient for workers to use the train for commuting? More so than the current trains do but clearly 2 options for departure will be significantly less convenient than jumping in a personal vehicle at the time of your choosing.

  17. Posted October 25, 2010 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    Probably not. I very much support a rail line just because I’m a communist, but question whether it can be truly effective in southeast Michigan. I personally would not take a train to Detroit, as there is no way to walk once you get there.

    I support the expansion of public transportation systems in Detroit, Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor, however, and wonder if the money might be better spent there. Obviously someone besides EOS, who, of course, failed to provide a link where we can verify her claims, has to have thought of all this.

  18. EOS
    Posted October 25, 2010 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    Try a search: AMTRAK ridership ann arbor and detroit. If you post a link there is a several hour delay at most times.

  19. Posted October 25, 2010 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    I was hoping that you would. You’re the one making wild claims:

    1. At $22 per fare they lose money.

    2. “They” have done cost benefit scenarios, know the truth, and yet still advocate more rail.

    3. And they tell you that they will force people to use the rail by making the cost of driving automobiles prohibitive.

    4.It’s not about cost savings, nor is it about environmental benefits. 25 cars on the road is much better for the environment than the pollution spewing from a locomotive engine carrying only 25 people.

    5. Trains will not eliminate the need for roads and highways. Trucks, which cause the most damage to the roads, will still need to carry goods from the trains to the manufacturers or retail establishments.

    6. Elected officials get higher salaries to manage more employees and grow government, and the Unions who get bids for construction and operation.

    7. Taxpayers get the bill and lose the transportation options that they prefer.

    Not a shred of evidence.

  20. EOS
    Posted October 25, 2010 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

  21. Pete Murdock
    Posted October 25, 2010 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    Michigan has been awarded a $150 million grant for high speed rail improvements between Kalamazoo and Dearborn. These include necessary improvements for the Detroit commuter rail between Detroit and Ann Arbor with a stop in Ypsilanti. This is great news and one more piece to moving this project to completion.

  22. Ted
    Posted October 25, 2010 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    How could the government have done this over the protests of EOS?

    Dingell couldn’t have asked for better timing.

    The caption reads, “Dingell’s office announced more good news for Ann Arbor today.”

    Here’s the rest of the text-

    U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Dearborn, announced today the state of Michigan will receive $150 million to develop a high-speed rail corridor between Kalamazoo and Dearborn, passing through Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti.

    The funding was awarded through the fiscal year 2010 High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Grant Program, Dingell’s office said. The U.S. Department of Transportation also announced a second grant for $3.2 million that will pay for planning involved in the project.

    “This announcement is another positive step forward towards developing high-speed rail in Michigan,” Dingell said in a statement. “While Michigan has the infrastructure necessary to support rail transit between Detroit and Chicago, high-speed rail will never be a reality without the service upgrades that will be made possible through this grant.”

    Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje said the improvements that will be funded through the grant are a major step forward for the proposed Ann Arbor-to-Detroit commuter rail line project, as well as eventual high-speed rail all the way from Detroit to Chicago.

    “The track improvements needed to enable higher-speed rail to run this line are the same ones that have been holding up MDOT’s east-west commuter rail project that we have been working on,” Hieftje said, calling the announcement “very good news” for the regional economy.

    “MDOT’s already put millions of dollars into the commuter rail, and this is the piece that makes it all work,” he said. “What the east-west commuter rail has needed is some track improvements in the Detroit area that will allow spaces for the freights and the passenger trains to pass.”

    Hieftje noted last year’s round of federal funding provided money to make high-speed rail improvements in northern Indiana. He said Amtrak already owns the portion of the track from Kalamazoo to Niles, which has been approved for speeds up to 110 miles per hour.

    Being able to improve the Kalamazoo-to-Dearborn portion, he said, is one more piece of the puzzle to allow trains to nearly double their speed between Detroit and Chicago.

    “This is huge for us,” said Terri Blackmore, executive director of the Washtenaw Area Transportation Study. “This will allow this portion of the railroad to get to the higher speed.”

    Blackmore said the money will allow either the state or Amtrak to purchase a portion of track between Ypsilanti and Kalamazoo from Norfolk Southern and make improvements.

    “It’s a big win for our state, as well as for the city,” Blackmore said.

    Eli Cooper, the city of Ann Arbor’s transportation program manager, noted the significance of the additional $3.2 million planning grant.

    “I think that’s as important. When the feds fund plans, that’s an indication that they understand that there’s more work to be done,” he said.

    Today’s announcement from DOT follows the announcement in January 2010 that Michigan will be receiving $40 million in high-speed rail funding for train station development.

    Dingell has been on the forefront fighting for high-speed rail development in the United States, and was one of the authors of the High- Speed Rail Development Act of 1994.

    Dingell said the latest grant will enhance alternative transit options and will help Michigan and the United States compete in the global economy.

    “The United States has fallen behind in the development of our transit corridors, witnessing China and Japan take the lead in developing successful high-speed rail corridors,” he said. “Rail lines in China, Japan and other countries, have brought added benefits from making communities more livable to attracting new industries and companies. If we are to continue to compete with our neighbors, we must make these critical upgrades in our infrastructure.”

  23. Posted October 25, 2010 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    I appreciate that EOS has lent his considerable expertise in, well, apparently everything to helping us think about the idea of commuter rail. But I think he’s missing a few points.

    The idea of “commuting” is a fundamental difference between intercity rail (like Amtrak’s Wolverine) and, you know, /commuter/ rail.

    The Wolverine does three roundtrips daily on a regional scale – making the timing completely wrong for commuting. Looking at the Ann Arbor and Detroit sections of the timetable, you’ve got eastbound trains through A2 at 1pm, 5:45pm, and 11:30pm; westbound through A2 at 7:45am, 12:30pm, and 7:15pm. Figuring out a workable commute from those times on a typical schedule is left as an exercise for the reader.

    If you think about a commuter rail as, minimally, trips in each direction starting at 6:30am, 7:30am, 5:30pm, 6:30pm, or something similar, you may be able to imagine how the commuter system might be able to draw higher commute-oriented ridership than the existing Amtrak service.

    It’s a matter of systems design – they’re built for different purposes. Trying to say “Amtrak doesn’t serve many commuters on this route, so the commuter line won’t either,” is like saying, “My VW Beetle isn’t very useful for hauling drywall home from Lowe’s, so my F-150 won’t be good at it either. (Though some riders may find it convenient to be able to use the Wolverine trains as extra options if they have to tweak their schedule a bit – just like the Beetle might be good for the second trip to Lowe’s when you need to pick up more tape and mud.) Another example, perhaps, “Few people commute from Ypsilanti to Detroit via Ecorse Road, so why should we expect anybody to make the trip via I-94”?

    That’s even without getting into the fallacies about roads paying for themselves via gas taxes (nationally, gas taxes pay a mere 51% or so of the costs of road construction), the paranoia about “they” hiding the truth, or whatever else, but I’m not too inclined to spend much more time arguing with EOS.

  24. Posted October 25, 2010 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

    What a great post, Murph!

    How many stops are planned between Ann Arbor and Detroit? Are there any plans to beef up public transit in the Detroit metro area?

    I’m sorry to say that I just really don’t know enough about the project. Is there anywhere someone can go to find out more detailed info?

  25. Posted October 25, 2010 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

    I found all my own answers, even without any help from EOS.

  26. Posted October 25, 2010 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, Murph… And, Pete, if you’re looking for background, there’s quite a bit here on the site. Just search for Ann Arbor Detroit Rail, or something along those lines. I’ve been following the story for years.

  27. EOS
    Posted October 26, 2010 at 4:41 am | Permalink

    My expertise? Murph – I linked to your graph and used your numbers. “They” is SEMCOG and haven’t hidden anything – it’s all in print and can be researched easily online. Mark has been following this story for years and discussing it on this blog. The $150 million approved yesterday is in addition to the $212 million still under consideration. When the Fed decides to print more money and create inflation, we won’t even be able to pay the interest on our debt.

  28. Posted October 26, 2010 at 6:33 am | Permalink

    I just went through the SEMCOG site and browsed some of the reports. This is a great idea and will only provide benefits for Michigan’s future.

    It’s about time.

  29. Knox
    Posted October 26, 2010 at 6:44 am | Permalink

    I think this pretty clearly demonstrates what happens when a tea bagger attempts to make sense of a complex issue, trying to make it fit his/her narrative.

  30. Dudley
    Posted October 26, 2010 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

    Ha! dingle can’t get anything done. He’s a washed up old geezer…. Move on old dude and let some new blood and new ideas into office.

  31. anonymous
    Posted October 26, 2010 at 10:29 pm | Permalink

    Murph said: “That’s even without getting into the fallacies about roads paying for themselves via gas taxes (nationally, gas taxes pay a mere 51% or so of the costs of road construction)”

    I’ve heard figures like that before. Does it include diesel taxes, or just gas? Do you have a source handy so I can go read the report myself? Thanks!

  32. Posted October 28, 2010 at 7:16 am | Permalink

    Dingel needs to retire…

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