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After 30 years with "temporary" Amtrak station, Grand Rapids gets new digs

Oct 27, 2014

The Rapid CEO Peter Varga (right) and Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell shake hands after a ribbon cutting ceremony celebrating the new Amtrak station.
Credit Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Amtrak riders in Grand Rapids will notice a huge difference the next time they board a train. A new $6 million station opened today.

Grand Rapids' old Amtrak station was tiny, dingy and outdated.

Tim Hefner, director of Michigan Department of Transportation’s office of rail, says the old station was supposed to be a temporary one when it was built almost 30 years ago.

At the ribbon cutting ceremony Monday, state and local officials cracked jokes about the old “Am-shack."

“It’s a warm, friendly, easy place to get on the train and a safe place to be,” said Peter Varga, CEO of the regional bus system in Grand Rapids.

The new train station is right next to the main bus station downtown. Passengers can now hop from the train onto a local or Greyhound bus, or easily catch a cab. There’s more parking and better lighting at the new station too.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari says it’s just the latest in a string of improvements in Michigan.

“We’re expanding the 110 mile-an-hour service between Battle Creek and Kalamazoo,” Magliari said. “New stations being built. New stations opening.”

The new Amtrak station in Grand Rapids is right next to the central bus station downtown.
Credit Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

He says there’s a new Amtrak station under construction in East Lansing. A new station opened earlier this month in Troy and another one is expected to open right next to the Henry Ford in Dearborn by the end of the year.

“You’ll be able to get off the train in Dearborn and go to the Henry Ford, “Hefner said, “We think that opens up real opportunities for travel throughout the Midwest to come to Michigan to visit.”

Federal funds covered most of the cost of the new station. It’s named after longtime West Michigan Congressman Vern Ehlers, who got an earmark to cover the cost.

“My father used to joke that he was on the science committee because he was a scientist, he was on the education committee because he was an educator and he was on the transportation committee because he wished to be reelected,” Ehlers’ daughter, Marla Ehlers, said.

Ehlers still lives in Michigan but was unable to attend. He was able to tour the facility privately a few weeks ago.