10 slow Amtrak trains in Michigan

Sep 2, 2011

There are three Amtrak routes with trains that travel to and from cities in Michigan to Chicago.

If you ride on any of them, chances are your train will be late.

The route with the best on-time rate in the last year were the trains traveling on the "Blue Water" route between Port Huron and Chicago. On average, you'll be on-time 50 percent of the time on these trains.

The "Pere Marquette" route with trains traveling between Grand Rapids and Chicago comes in second. On average, those trains run on-time 48 percent of the time.

The most popular route is the worst.

The "Wolverine" route, which has trains running between Pontiac/Detroit to Chicago, had an average on-time rate of just 14 percent.

Amtrak provides a detailed breakdown of each train's on-time performance along with reasons for delays on their website.

Here's a breakdown of the on-time percentages for Amtrak trains in Michigan from best-to-worst:

  1. Blue Water #364 - 73.8% (Chicago to Port Huron)
  2. Pere Marquette #370 - 54.2% (Chicago to Grand Rapids)
  3. Pere Marquette #371 - 41.7% (Grand Rapids to Chicago)
  4. Blue Water #365 - 25.5% (Port Huron to Chicago)
  5. Wolverine #350 - 19.8% (Chicago to Detroit/Pontiac)
  6. Wolverine #355 - 18.7% (Detroit/Pontiac to Chicago)
  7. Wolverine #353 - 17.6% (Detroit to Chicago/Pontiac)
  8. Wolverine #351 - 11.4% (Detroit/Pontiac to Chicago)
  9. Wolverine #354 - 9.5% (Chicago to Detroit/Pontiac)
  10. Wolverine #352 - 4.4% (Chicago to Detroit/Pontiac)

When asked why there are significant delays along the popular Wolverine route in Michigan, Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said most of the delays have to do with the owners of the tracks between Kalamazoo and Dearborn - the Norfolk Southern freight company.

Amtrak and Norfolk Southern used to have an agreement that required Norfolk Southern to maintain the track for higher passenger rail speeds.

That agreement expired and Norfolk Southern said they were no longer required to maintain the track for the Amtrak trains.

Back in June, they ordered all Amtrak trains to slow down to 25 m.p.h. along parts of the route, which delayed these trains by 90 minutes or more.

Magliari says the situation should improve soon. Since the slowdown announcement, the Michigan Department of Transportation and Norfolk Southern have reached an agreement to improve the track. This from Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers:

The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) announced Aug. 8, 2011, a $4.2 million maintenance agreement with Norfolk Southern. MDOT says that passenger trains speeds will return to normal once the repairs are completed by mid-September.

MDOT received a federal grant to buy the 135 miles of track between Kalamazoo and Dearborn from Norfolk Southern. Negotiations for that sale are still ongoing between the company and the state of Michigan. Once the sale goes through, higher speed rail will be the goal.

But the trains on the Wolverine route in Michigan were slow before Norfolk Southern ordered Amtrak trains to travel at slower speeds last June. 

Mechanical error, freight traffic, and other issues can lead to slower train travel.

Last night, I had friends traveling from Battle Creek to Ann Arbor on train no. 352. I know no. 352 is the slowest train in Michigan, but this train was more than 5 hours late!

What could have caused that?

I was told that the train crew did something wrong along the way. The train was ordered to stop and wait more than three hours while a new crew was driven to to the train to take over.

Magliari would only tell me that a "non-mechanical issue" caused the five hour delay on train no. 352.

Any guesses as to what the "non-mechanical issue" might have been?

*Correction - an earlier version of this story stated that MDOT and Norfolk Southern had a maintenance agreement that expired. The original agreement was between Amtrak and Norfolk Southern. The copy has been corrected above.