A slow train to Chicago, Amtrak ordered to cut speeds

Jun 14, 2011

On the heels of the federal government's announcement that it plans to increase the speed of Amtrak trains traveling between Detroit and Chicago, comes a slow-down order from the freight company that owns much of the track.

Norfolk Southern railroad says Amtrak trains will have to travel at speeds of 25 m.p.h. on some parts of the line between Dearborn and Kalamazoo.

More from Annarbor.com's Nathan Bomey:

The decision means that travelers on Amtrak's Wolverine line may experience 90-minute delays on the trip from Kalamazoo to Dearborn, Amtrak said. Passengers need to check with Amtrak before heading to the station for their trips.

A 90-minute delay is a big deal for trains working to improve their on-time performance, which has been notoriously bad in Michigan.

Amtrak Train number 351, for instance, travels between Chicago and Grand Rapids/Port Huron/Detroit - Pontiac. In the last twelve months, it's been on-time only 17.1% of the time.

Last month, officials from the federal government announced plans to invest $196.5 million to improve the 135 miles of rail line between Dearborn and Kalamazoo. The improvement, officials from the government say, will allow trains to reach speeds of 110 m.p.h., cutting 30 minutes off the time it will take to travel between Detroit and Chicago.

The freight company who owns the line, says they won't be responsible for maintenance on the improved track. Rudy Husband, a Norfolk Southern spokesman, was quoted in Annarbor.com:

"If they want to make the Michigan line a passenger route with higher speeds than what freight trains run, then someone other than Norfolk Southern is going to have to pay for the increased maintenance costs," Husband said. "We have been trying to work out a solution to this for a very long time now. But in the meantime we're doing what needs to be done to be responsible to our customers and our shareholders."

So before the trains speed up, they'll have to slow down.