Transportation
5:00 am
Mon March 4, 2013

Study: Amtrak ridership in Michigan is up

A new report from the Brookings Institution says more people in Michigan are riding the rails to Chicago and back.

The three rail lines in the state connect the Detroit area, Grand Rapids and Port Huron to Chicago. All three routes have experienced double digit increases in ridership since 1997. The report says shorter lines between major metropolitan areas, like the ones in Michigan, are driving Amtrak's growth nationally.

The Pere Marquette line, which runs from Grand Rapids to Chicago, has experienced a 68 percent increase in ridership over the 16 years of the study. The Blue Water Line that originates in Port Huron had a 53 percent increase, and the Wolverine Line which runs from the Detroit area grew 16 percent.

Adie Tomer, one of the report's authors, said government investment in improving tracks has helped increase ridership in Michigan.

"These are really strong gains, and really evidence that the federal government in Michigan is making a smart investment in passenger rail, especially since 2008 and the stimulus act," he said.

Tomer also said rail ridership is increasing because many people find it more convenient than flying or driving, as the trains often drop riders off right in the heart of a city. He added that Amtrak's timeliness will likely improve because the state has bought tracks from freight rail lines for the passenger trains.

"So they now own more of the track, particularly between Kalamazoo and Dearborn," Tomer said. "Which helps passenger rail then have more certainty in travel time and also can make the service run faster, which they're also making those kind of track investments in Michigan."

Michigan also ranked fourth nationally in state support for Amtrak. The state spent $35 million between 2007 and 2011.

-- Joseph Lichterman, Michigan Radio Newsroom