Lawmakers weigh rail-to-trail dilemma

Jan 27, 2012

A conversation at the state Capitol about turning an old stretch of train track in Petoskey into a public recreation trail has become a debate about the future of train transit in Michigan.

Officials in Petoskey are asking lawmakers to give them the go-ahead to purchase a section of train track from the state to add onto an existing trail. Kelly Bartlett is with the Michigan Department of Transportation, which supports the request from Petoskey. Bartlett said the state does not sell viable train track.

“These are really situations where it’s been quite a long while – years if not, frankly, decades – since there’s been significant activity on the rail,” said Bartlett. “ It’s not as if just last year there was a fair amount of traffic, but it’s down this year so we’ll pull the tracks up.”

Some state senators are particularly concerned that the track in question is a “spur” – a section of rail that leads off a main line into the city of Petoskey.

They say eliminating a spur, even if it is currently unused, could limit the future of train transit in the area. And they say they are concerned in general with getting rid of train track when the future of train travel in the state is unknown.

Democratic state Senator John Gleason told a representative of the Michigan Department of Transportation that once train track is pulled up it’s nearly impossible to get back.

“I, for ten years now, have said we pull up too many rails, and we don’t know what the future holds,” said Gleason. “We have no idea what’s going to happen 15, 50 years down the road. Once we give up this right-of-way we have some major concerns.”

Supporters argue the trails that replace the old rails attract tourism and recreation.