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State's lease of railcars costing money while they remain unused

Feb 26, 2015

Credit en.wikipedia.org

Twenty-three passenger railcars have been sitting unused since MDOT got them in 2010, raising question of whether they are a waste of Michigan money, or a good investment that could help Michigan in the future.

The state hopes to use them for the proposed commuter rails between Ann Arbor and Detroit, and between Ann Arbor and Howell.

Detroit Free Press Lansing reporter Paul Egan has been following the story and says these commuter rails are far from ready.

"These commuter services are still at least two years away from being approved. There's no one confirmed to operate the services. There's not operating funding approved," he says.

The state is only leasing the cars and the price recently increased.

"The 23 cars are now costing $1.1 million a year just in lease costs even though they're just sitting there," Egan says.

The cars are former Metra cars from Chicago's commuter service and their old age and original use poses problems. Because they're used for traveling short distances, the cars lack bathrooms. That eliminates their ability to be used by services like Amtrak without costly updates.

For Egan the question of whether or not the service is worthwhile is completely separate from the misuse of funds on the trains.

Many supporters of leasing the cars seem to be in favor of the proposed project, not how MDOT has gone about acquiring these cars. Though some have come to MDOT's defense, calling the project visionary, and saying there was no way to foresee how long the process would take. Others say the costs will be worth it once the rail is up and running.

Now, the Director of MDOT has said they are looking into a few options, including scrapping the contract completely, or subleasing the trains until the services are approved.