Major high-speed rail announcement expected on Monday

According to the Detroit News, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood will be in Detroit on Monday afternoon, making a “major announcement” concerning high-speed rail. As the article notes, “Last month, Michigan applied for more than $560 million in funding — including joining three other states as part of a joint request. Michigan officials expect the state will receive significant funding for some grants sought.” Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow, as well as Governor Rick Snyder, are expected to join LaHood at the Detroit Amtrak terminal for the announcement.

Here, concerning Michigan’s outstanding rail-related funding requests, is a clip from the article:

…Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s office said the state sought more than $200 million for four individual projects, including:

$196.5 million for route improvements over the next three years between Kalamazoo and Dearborn to allow trains to travel up to 110 mph.

Tim Hoeffner, MDOT administrator of high-speed rail and innovative projects advancement, said last month the improvement could be completed by the end of 2013 and shave 50 minutes off the Detroit-Chicago trip, down to about four hours.

$5.2 million for maintenance along the same route that could begin this summer.

$2.9 million for the West Detroit Connection Track Universal Crossover and a rail bridge. Amtrak trains make a slow left-hand turn from a Conrail track to a Canadian National track, and improvements could cut 10 minutes off the trip, Hoeffner said.

$3.5 million to build a station in Ann Arbor to be used for trains and buses — by Amtrak, the University of Michigan and Ann Arbor Transportation Authority.

The state is also one of four states jointly seeking $366.7 million to buy 31 locomotives and 100 coaches for use in Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin and Missouri. The award would replace train equipment on all three Michigan Amtrak lines — the Blue Water, Pere Marquette and Wolverine…

Now, let’s just hope that our Governor doesn’t fuck it up, like Rick Scott did in Florida.

[note: Perhaps if we ask real nice, our local mass transit expert, Richard Murphy, would be kind enough to sum things up for us on Monday, and let us know how Ypsi stands to benefit.]

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21 Comments

  1. Kim
    Posted May 7, 2011 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    Waiting patiently for Murph’s assessment of what this might mean for the Ypsi station and/or service.

  2. EOS
    Posted May 7, 2011 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    Who’s gonna pay the estimated $10 million a year operating expenses not covered by fares?

  3. Boy O Boy
    Posted May 7, 2011 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    EOS the liberal “answer” is “people who drive cars”.

    “the art of government consists in taking as much money as possible from one party of the citizens to give to the other.” Voltaire

    I LOVE trains. The Railroad Industry is highly profitable moving FREIGHT. If it was profitable to move people Union Pacific would be doing it but because it is a money drain count on liberal “government” to decide its a good idea!!!

  4. mSS
    Posted May 7, 2011 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

    EOS and BOB, while you pretend to be free marketeers, are you willing to call for cuts to all government transportation subsidies, all public roads included? Or do you just like cars and have no problem with people who don’t drive paying for your lifestyle?

  5. mSS
    Posted May 7, 2011 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    Beyond the $10M in operating costs, what resources will be used that can not then be used for other ventures? Are all the resources being used in excess supply, or will businesses close, or not be started, that are on the margin with regards to these resources?

  6. Teresa
    Posted May 7, 2011 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

    Federal funding has already been earmarked for both the Ypsi and the Westland commuter rail platforms, but detailed design and construction are on hold while SEMCOG/MDOT work with the FTA on an environmental assessment for the entire Ann Arbor to Detroit commuter rail project area.

    In late 2009, SEMCOG hired Quandel Consulatants, LLC to develop conceptual plans and estimate costs of a platform that would meet the basic requirements set out by Amtrak, the Federal Rail Administration (FRA) and others related to height, clearance, handicap accessibility, lighting, etc. for the proposed stop in Depot Town. The consultants envisioned two phases, Phase I would meet requirements and stay within the $500,000 available to build the Ypsilanti commuter rail platform. Phase II was their, wouldn’t it be nice, list of improvements.

    The conceptual plans and proposed budget were presented to the Planning Commission on May 19, 2010. Check out the packet to see drawings. No platform design has been approved locally or by any other regulatory agency. http://cityofypsilanti.com/boards/bd_planning/agendas/2010/5-19-2010_Packet

    Neither the High Speed Rail funds granted to Michigan in 2010 (still without state matching funds), nor a new award would provide additional funds for the Ypsilanti platform, although some of those funds could go to rail purchase and/or improvements that would benefit the commuter rail line itself.

    Carmine Palombo spoke to the Ypsi City Council last week talking about the commuter rail project as a whole. Here’s the related article: http://annarbor.com/news/ypsilanti/obstacles-funding-questions-slow-ann-arbor-to-detroit-rail-projects-roll/

  7. Boy O Boy
    Posted May 7, 2011 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

    mSS false dicothomy. Answers. Yes. No. Please tell me who you “think” is “subsidizing” cars. People who ride trains and busses?

  8. Posted May 8, 2011 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    Boy-o-Boy, it is not that UP can’t make money running passenger trains—it is the current infrastructure won’t let them both make money operating low-speed freight trains and high speed passenger trains. As pointed out , you need different tracks for each function to be profitable.
    You know infrastructure like all those interstates we build, you know infrastructure like all those airports we build and subsidize, you know infrastructure like the port facilities, and pipeline right a ways we allow–you know taking peoples peoples property and allowing a utility to put up a power line on my property. All those evils of American socialism that makes us great.
    http://cs.trains.com/TRCCS/blogs/fred-frailey/archive/2010/10/01/up-s-lays-down-guidelines-for-new-passenger-services.aspx

  9. EOS
    Posted May 8, 2011 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    mSS,

    Trains will in no way eliminate the need to subsidize roads, merely add an additional burden. Billions of dollars for infrastructure, 10 million a year for operating costs, to benefit 100-200 commuters at best??? Decisions such as these are why EFM’s are being proposed.

  10. Posted May 8, 2011 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    It is more than a little depressing to talk about 110 miles an hour as high speed-When in France and China hi-speed is closer to 400 miles an hour. The Panama Limited and the City of New Orleans regularly traveled at 90-110 miles an hour50 years ago–the Wolverine Limited used to travel at that speed. We have allowed our rail infrastructure to deteriorate to the point where we have to “upgrade” to get to our rail beds and tracks back to a 1960 standard. Oh so sad

  11. Posted May 8, 2011 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    Mark, your trolls are getting tiresome. These points have been rehashed time and time again, both here and on the AA.com articles, and I’m not going to bother re-posting the links. Just as a reminder:

    * Roads are subsidized by everyone who owns property, everyone who has a job, everyone that buys things. Only 51% of road funding is paid for by the gas tax or tolls.

    * This subsidization of roads happens at every level – the federal Highway Trust Fund has received $30B in subsidies from the nation’s general fund just since 2008, while, here in Ypsilanti, we pay about 3 mills in property tax for road projects.

    * Not everybody drives – over a third of Americans don’t drive, due to age, ability, or income. These people still need to get to work, to school, to the doctor. Providing non-car options allows these people to participate in life and the economy.

    * Providing a robust, multi-option transportation system allows those of us who can drive to have a choice – I’d rather spend $6 on a commuter rail fare to downtown Detroit (still one of the area’s major job centers) than the $8 in gas alone that the same trip would cost me right now. (Or the $30 in total driving costs, as figured at IRS rates.) Having multiple options protects working people from gas price shocks and helps them save money to spent on things like housing or food or education or entertainment – things that have a much higher return to the local economy than buying gasoline.

    * Transit and rail have returns in cost-of-time: time spent driving is wasted on, well, driving. Time spent on a bus or train can be spent being productive. (This is why prominent right-wingers, like American Conservative magazine, support rail projects.)

    So, since we’re all required to repeat our talking points every time the subject comes up, consider it done.

  12. Posted May 8, 2011 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, Murph. Believe me, I know how frustrating it is to have to keep reminding people of facts… And do consider sending something my way on Monday, once the announcements have been made. I know that people in the audience would appreciate it.

    And thanks, Teresa, for the background. It’s appreciated.

  13. Posted May 8, 2011 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

    Mark – to your question of what this might mean for Ypsilanti: we can expect this means at least some of Michigan’s request for Florida’s rejected HSR money is going to be fulfilled – Ray LaHood would not be coming to Detroit to make his announcement if he weren’t investing in Michigan.

    Ypsilanti will not itself have a stop on a “high-speed rail” line – it’s too close between Dearborn and Ann Arbor, both larger stops. Ask an ambulance driver: the first key to going fast is not having to stop very often. However, there will be two ways that this (the HSR funding already allocated Michigan and the current application we’re awaiting announcement of) benefits Ypsilantians.

    Primarily, the track control and track upgrade issues that need to be addressed for the A2-Detroit commuter rail will mostly be taken care of by the HSR projects – basically a “buy one, get one free” situation. Second, just because the “high speed” service won’t stop in Ypsi doesn’t mean we here in town won’t be able to use it. We’ll be able to hop the commuter in Depot Town, have a 10 minute ride to A2’s train station, and switch trains to Chicago.

    It’ll be some years yet before either the A2-Detroit commuter rail is running or the Chicago-Detroit-Pontiac line finishes all the funded and applied-to-be-funded upgrades, but we’ll see incremental improvements over time. (And, as the Realtors and commercial brokers in town constantly remind me, one of those improvements will be to property values and development interest.)

  14. Posted May 9, 2011 at 5:46 am | Permalink

    Thanks, Murph. Did I manage to avoid being one of the trolls? Of course, the true free market solution is to end all gov’t intervention, at all levels, in transportation. Anything less is socialism, which is fine for you socialists, but not for liars like BOB and EOS. On that note, Murph, I would highly recommend that you look into Walter Block’s “The Privatization of Roads and Highways,” available online at the above address.

  15. EOS
    Posted May 9, 2011 at 11:52 pm | Permalink

    It will only cost $200 million dollars for “high speed rail” between Detroit and Chicago that will reduce the 5 hour 45 minute train ride by 30 minutes. This is in addition to $336 million dollars to buy rail cars, $150 million already awarded for the track between Dearborn and Kalamazoo, and another $2.8 million for engineering and environmental studies for a train station in Ann Arbor. We’ll still need money to build the station and $10 million a year in operation costs.

    For a trip that takes 4 hours by car.

  16. wetdolphinmissile
    Posted May 10, 2011 at 5:38 am | Permalink

    Yeah and how much have we invested in roads year in and out…that trucks just destroy in a season. We give all kinds of tax breaks for oil. It is time to re-invest in rail, and too bad we let it deteriorate to the extent we have. A car can make the trip in 4 hours, and how many cars make the trip…rail is more efficient.

  17. Posted May 10, 2011 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    As an update – Secretary LaHood presented a Big Check to Governor Snyder yesterday at the Detroit Amtrak station, and the Governor made a strong statement in support of passenger rail travel. He said the funding would support “safer, faster, better” travel options for Michigan residents, and would drive economic development not only through the actual construction work, but by supporting development near the rail line – he referenced his own corporate experience to say that passenger rail is an important amenity for businesses’ locational decisions. (I know many here, including me, have some concerns about the Governor’s actions towards other amenities, but let’s not go too far into those.)

    The majority of the funding announced in Detroit was for track and signal improvements on the Kalamazoo-Dearborn segment of the Chicago-Detroit-Pontiac corridor – this work alone is estimated to increase average speeds on the segment by 20-some miles per hour, cutting about 30 minutes off of current travel time, as well as reducing delays by an average of 12 minutes per trip.

    However, that statement radically underestimates the benefits: those time savings are measured against *current* speeds, but the alternative to this funding is not staying at current speeds – it’s slowing down, substantially. Norfolk-Southern only runs about 8 trains per day on this corridor (compared to Amtrak’s 6), and nothing that’s time-critical. They’ve filed to reduce track speeds on large portions of this route to 25 mph, and on the rest to 60 mph. So this funding lets us improve the route and increase speeds rather than letting it continue to degrade to complete un-usability.

    This funding is 100% Federal, no state matching funds required, and construction work will likely begin sometime next year, going into 2013-14.

    Meanwhile, $268m was allocated to the Midwest applicant coalition of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, and Missouri to purchase new locomotives and rolling stock for those routes that would both address current issues with the equipment (A lot of the stock in use now are 40+ years old), as well as providing trains capable of running at higher future track speeds.

    All of the high-speed rail funding includes Buy American requirements – you may recall that Spanish manufacturer Talgo was in the process of building a new manufacturing plant in Milwaukee until Governor Walker declined high-speed rail funds; I’ve not heard any announcement of where they’ll land instead.

    Elsewhere in high-speed rail, work is underway on the south side of Chicago on the “Englewood Flyover” project, to construct a new bridge that would take one rail over another, rather than having them cross each other at ground level. This project will eliminate the single biggest source of delays on all of Michigan’s Amtrak lines – 140 trains cross each others’ paths here daily, including two freight carriers, Amtrak, and the Metra commuter line, and that number is growing, so intersection conflicts are frequent.

    Michigan still has $161m in high-speed rail funding allocation sitting out there from previous funding rounds, which required a 20% State match (about $30m). I believe that some of yesterday’s funding replaces some of that amount (as a re-application for the same work at a higher % of funding), but not all of it. I’m still trying to determine a clear answer about what is in that proposal that’s not in the newly funded package, but I believe it includes a new switching track in Southwest Detroit, which would cut 10-15 minutes off the Dearborn-Detroit segment and be critical to establishing A2-Detroit commuter rail, as well as purchase of the track from Norfolk Southern.

  18. Posted May 10, 2011 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    Finally, as far as the cost question goes, a little comparison so that we can keep track of the relative costs involved:

    * the $200m announced yesterday would cut travel time (speed increase plus delay decrease) by about 40 minutes on a route that has ridership growing at almost 20% annually.

    * commuter rail on the A2-Brighton-Howell corridor is estimated at $50m., a new travel option for north-south commuters to skip traffic and turn their commute into productive time.

    * and, just for fun, providing rail service from Ann Arbor to Traverse City (yes, Traverse City) via Lansing is estimated to cost about $250m in construction costs.

    For that same total cost, $500m, we could expand US-23 from 14 to 96 by one lane. This would neither reduce travel time by any significant amount, nor provide a new travel option, nor provide any other substantial benefits. Nor could we expect either construction nor maintenance to be paid for by the gas tax.

    There’s a far-future project on the books to expand I-94 within the city of Detroit by a lane in each direction – 7 miles of work with an estimated cost of $3.2 Billion. So the three rail projects above would cost the same amount as one single mile of this highway project.

    And yet some would like us to believe that rail is somehow “expensive”.

  19. EOS
    Posted May 10, 2011 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    Expensive? Extremely. Especially when you consider the small number of people who will ride on a few rail cars versus the millions who travel by car each day.

  20. Maria
    Posted May 10, 2011 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    EOS you should travel.

  21. Jules
    Posted May 10, 2011 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    Thanks, Murph. I appreciate your taking the time to put these posts together. And can’t we all just ignore the trolls from now on? They contribute nothing of value and are just a distraction, meant to derail (pun intended) the constructive conversation going on.

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