Michigan rail update by Richard Murphy

As you may have heard, the Michigan House may be voting as early as today on a Senate appropriations bill that, among other things, includes approximately $400 million in rail-related spending, with would secure federal grants, and move us even closer to the goal of having a functional, state-wide public transportation system. To mark the occasion, we have a special guest post by our friend, mass-transit analyst Richard Murphy…. Here’s what he has to say:

If you’re interested in seeing better passenger rail service in Michigan, it wouldn’t hurt to take a moment to call your State Representative and ask them to support SB 237, a supplemental appropriations bill that will (finally) allow the state to tap $360 million in Federal high-speed rail funds that we’ve been awarded over the past few years. The bill includes about $32 million in matching funds, $16 million of which is being provided by the Norfolk Southern railroad.

Obligatory boring details: This funding includes $160 million awarded in 2010, which came with a 20% match requirement–$32 million–that the last State Senate refused to consider. Earlier this year, when Florida, Ohio, and Wisconsin chose to give back their rail funding awards, Michigan won another $200 million, with no additional matching requirement.

The funds would primarily be used to purchase the rail that Amtrak uses between western Detroit and Kalamazoo from Norfolk-Southern and begin to make track and signal improvements to raise the track speed on that segment–Amtrak already owns the track from Kalamazoo to the Indiana border, with trains running 95 mph on that piece. Due to different track maintenance standards on the NS-owned section, Amtrak trains have been limited to 55 mph on large portions of that track, and this summer the tracks were downgraded to 30 mph. (As Depot Town has noticed, track work has been underway over the past two months to bring track back up to the traditional speed.) The federal funding would allow most of that track to be raised to 95-110 mph (with some obvious slowing in urbanized areas). Along with some smaller projects included in the funding package, the work is expected to cut train trip times from Detroit to Chicago to under 4 hours (compared to 5.5-6 hours now). (MDOT has a lengthier summary of the projects, including the application documents they submitted for funding.)

There’s been a lot of worry lately that the US House would clawback high-speed rail funds that weren’t yet under contract; an attempt was made this summer to tie such a clawback to disaster relief funding. While the US House was so posturing, Michigan was trying to negotiate a price for the track with NS, and get permission to use a write-down of the sale price by NS as part of the matching funds, as well as figure out where to draw the match from.

Since this has been a closed door process between Governor Snyder’s administration, the Federal government, and NS, there hasn’t been a lot for anyone outside the formal process to do. With much of that finally figured out, though, the administration has pushed to get the funds secured in the current fiscal year (ending, uh, Friday–but for the first time in a while, the legislature doesn’t have a budget to worry about at the final hour, so actually have time for business). The State Senate approved the bill last Wednesday, on a 30-6 vote, and the House will be taking it up either tomorrow (Wednesday) or Thursday.

For the action-minded, a call to your State Representative never hurts–Ypsilanti’s is Rep. David Rutledge, (517) 373-1771 / DavidRutledge@house.mi.gov. The rest of Washtenaw County is represented by Rep. Jeff Irwin (Ann Arbor), (517) 373-2577 / JeffIrwin@house.mi.gov; Rep. Rick Olson (Pittsfield and south), (517) 373-1792 / RickOlson@house.mi.gov; and Rep. Mark Ouimet (Dexter, Chelsea, Manchester), (517) 373-0828 / MarkOuimet@house.mi.gov.

If the bill passes, the actual work is likely to be phased over a few years, but the State will be able to obligate the money, securing it against clawback attempts by the US House. While this is not specifically related to the Ann Arbor-Detroit commuter rail project, much of the capital investment needed for that project would be covered by the high-speed rail work. (Incidentally, SEMCOG yesterday issued the first update on that project since April.)

I know the AnnArbor.com article I linked to above said that it was likely to pass the House, but I’d encourage you to call or write your Representative, and let them know how important mass-transit is to the future of our state.

update: There are still a few issues to be worked out between the House and the Senate versions, as I understand it, but the appropriation bill has now passed both chambers, so it looks as though Michigan has secured the federal rail funding.

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  1. Edward
    Posted September 28, 2011 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    Glad to see that Snyder is on the right side of this thing, and that he’s apparently having some success converting the wing nuts of his party who were dead set against rail a year or so ago.

    Now if he could just get the Michigan House to drop their assault on gay Michiganders.

  2. Fred the Savage
    Posted September 28, 2011 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    In related news, I thought I’d share this Facebook note from Councilman Pete Murdock.

    Here is the latest update on the SEMCOG Commuter rail train proposed to stop in Ypsilanti. Funding is secured to construct the platform in Ypsilanti and is awaiting final environmental clearances in order to proceed. With High speed rail match funding moving through the state legislature the project continues to move forward.

    Also, if you didn’t see your Rep’s contact information above, you can find it here:


  3. wetdolphinmissile
    Posted September 28, 2011 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    This is the best news! I especailly love it that we got Fl, OH & WI $$, somehow that makes it sweeter.

  4. Keneral
    Posted September 28, 2011 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    Maybe if this had happened sooner, we wouldn’t have lost Thomas.

  5. Posted September 28, 2011 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    Word from an observer at the Capitol, five minutes ago = declare victory:

    The House Appropriations committee voted SB 237 out of committee
    earlier this morning.

    I just watched the floor vote in the full House. It passed; given
    immediate effect — Yeas 101 Nays 8

    There is a substitute, so the Senate has to resolve it. Stay tuned,
    the word is that the substitute has something to do with human
    services, not trains :)

    (The mention of human services is due to the fact that the supplemental also included some changes to the state’s human services, state police, and a few other budgets, which I don’t know all the details of.)

  6. Mr. X
    Posted September 28, 2011 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    Good work, Michigan!

  7. A voice from History
    Posted September 28, 2011 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    Remember, this all has to be done by the end of Granhom’s administration, as she wants to ride on the Ann Arbor – Detroit line as Governor.

  8. gary
    Posted September 28, 2011 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

    having high speed rail will make it much easier for people to leave ypsilanti for better places.

  9. Posted September 28, 2011 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

    It hadn’t occurred to me, Gary, but I think you’re right. We should invest our tax money in tearing up the highway system, turning the airport into a skatepark, and blowing up the bridge to Canada.

  10. gary
    Posted September 29, 2011 at 7:49 am | Permalink

    i don’t know where you get your ideas mark, but doing what you suggest would be stupid.

  11. Ralphy
    Posted September 29, 2011 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    I think he was making a joke, gary.

  12. Edward
    Posted September 29, 2011 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    Better yet, we could fuck with the highway signage in other states that that, regardless of where people wanted to go, they’d be directed toward Michigan.

  13. TaterSalad
    Posted October 3, 2011 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

    Rail? Your President will just give the work to the Chinese like he did in California:

    It is not why, where and how but it is WHEN will Barack Obama and his cronies be indicted. Barack Obama and his crooked buddies are “finally” being exposed.

    …..and now we have new meaning to the term “shovel ready” jobs by the Obama regime while there 9.1% unemployment and California is in debt with even higher unemployment numbers: http://www.businessinsider.com/china-construction-san-francisco-oakland-bridge-built-in-china-will-span-san-francisco-bay-2011-6

  14. Pete Murdock by Proxy
    Posted October 6, 2011 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    MDOT finalizes purchase of track from Norfolk Southern between Dearborn and Kalamazoo moving us closer to High Speed Rail and the Detroit to Ann Arbor commuter train with an Ypsilanti stop. MDOT has also agreed to double track a portion east of Ypsilanti to accomodate both passenger and freight train service.

    In the one step back category – Although there is funding for the Ypsilanti rail stop platform, the Federal Transit Authority is requiring a full blown Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that may take as long as 12-18 months. They have been asked to review their decision.


  15. Meta
    Posted October 10, 2011 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    The Governor and a host of others will be speaking about rail on Halloween.

    Save your seat at the Michigan Rail Summit 2011 featuring keynote speaker, Governor Rick Snyder on Monday, October 31!

    Across the state, leaders are focusing on initiatives to help move Michigan toward a prosperous future. On October 31st, the Michigan Environmental Council, Michigan Chamber of Commerce, Michigan Railroads Association, Michigan Municipal League, Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers and The Right Place Inc., will host a summit focused on statewide passenger and freight rail development and provide an opportunity for national and state leaders to share their thoughts and expertise on an array of topics related to rail transportation in Michigan.

    The Michigan Rail Summit 2011 will be held on October 31, 2011 at the Lansing Center in downtown Lansing from 11:30AM-5:00PM.

    Join us from 11:30AM-5:00PM as we explore questions and topics related to Michigan’s rail future. Keynote speaker Governor Rick Snyder will discuss the importance of freight and passenger rail in the state’s economy.

    US Department of Transportation Deputy Secretary John Porcari will present a federal perspective on the need for investment in rail transportation and infrastructure.

    Make plans to come explore how rail development affects Michigan business and the economy and hear presentations by industry experts, including Michigan Department of Transportation Director Kirk Steudle and former mayor of Meridian, Mississippi John Robert Smith. There will also be a panel discussion of elected officials, including Senator John Proos and Representative Wayne Schmidt. This is an opportunity for you to engage with leaders across the state to identify an agenda for Michigan’s future prosperity and transportation sustainability.

    Seating is limited, so you are urged to register. Registration, including lunch, for the event is free and required for admission to the Michigan Rail Summit. Logistics and agenda information are also available on the website.


  16. Meta
    Posted December 12, 2011 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

    SEMCOG has released a status report on the Detroit – Ann Arbor line.


  17. Meta
    Posted November 14, 2012 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    According to annarbor.com, rail cars were tested Monday on the Ann Arbor – Detroit line.

    Ann Arbor officials are welcoming the news that commuter rail cars between Ann Arbor and Detroit are slated for testing starting Monday.

    The realization of commuter rail service in Southeast Michigan is something that local officials and many residents have been anticipating for years, and next week’s testing of six newly refurbished, bi-level, stainless-steel commuter rail cars is an indication the initiative is making progress.

    The Michigan Department of Transportation said in a news release Friday the rail cars will be run all the way from Pontiac to Jackson. It’s expected the cars, which were refurbished by Great Lakes Central Railroad in Owosso, eventually will be used by two proposed commuter rail services.

    MDOT said last year it already had this train for a commuter rail line running from Ann Arbor to Ypsilanti, Metro Airport, Dearborn and Detroit, where it would link with the new Woodward Line. Now it has six newly refurbished rail cars that are slated for test runs next week.

    Because it’s strictly a test of the equipment, MDOT officials said the public is not invited to board the train at this time. Amtrak will operate the test train using its own locomotive, while Amtrak, Great Lakes Central Railroad, MDOT consultants, and the Federal Railroad Administration conduct the testing.

    Read more:

  18. From Facebook
    Posted November 14, 2012 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    There are photos on Facebook of the train as came through Depot Town.


One Trackback

  1. […] I don’t lavish much praise on our Governor, but, given this announcement, and the fact that he’s been able to secure the funding for high-speed rail where his predecessor wasn’t, I’d say that he deserves a quite a bit of credit. As much […]

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