The spotlight in Marquette will soon be focused on trains.
The Michigan Rail Conference is happening at Northern Michigan University August 17 and 18, which gives us a chance to check up on how things are faring for passenger and freight trains in Michigan.
Pasi Lautala directs the Rail Transportation Program at Michigan Tech University. Lautala joined us to talk about rail transit in Michigan, how passenger and freight rail systems in America compare to those in Europe, and the opportunities and challenges rail faces in bolstering our economy.
The busiest travel days are the Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday after the holiday. Other than Thanksgiving Day, morning trains typically have more available seats than those in the afternoon and evening.
NILES, Mich. (AP) - An Amtrak train carrying more than 200 people has arrived in Chicago after weather-related problems caused it to stop for more than eight hours in southwestern Michigan.
Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari says the train's engine lost power Sunday due to cold weather. But he says heat, lights and restrooms still worked.
The train started in Pontiac, north of Detroit, and had trouble between Niles and New Buffalo in the corner of southwestern Michigan. It was later connected to another westbound train and arrived in Chicago around 1:30 a.m. CST Monday.
Magliari says passengers may have been frustrated but they were always safe on the stalled train. He says it was better to keep them on the train rather than switch to buses, even if buses were available.
The steam engine that inspired the children's book The Polar Express and provided sounds for the movie version is back in service after a four-year refurbishment project.
The Pere Marquette 1225 rolled out of the garage Wednesday in Owosso, ringing its bell and spewing steam for train enthusiasts and volunteers gathered to watch the engine take its maiden voyage following the overhaul.
The Request for Proposals (RFP) to manufacture approximately 35 new diesel-electric locomotives in America comes from a groundbreaking multi-state effort to jointly purchase standardized rail equipment to be used on state corridor routes in Illinois, Michigan, Missouri and Iowa in the Midwest and Washington, California, and Oregon on the West Coast.
The FRA has set aside $808 million for the purchase of the locomotives and for 130 new bi-level train cars.
The U.S. Department of Transportation announced today it will make available $473 million in road funds to states with pending transportation projects.
In a press release, U.S. Department of Transportation said the money comes from unspent earmarks from FY 2003-2006.
Effective today, state departments of transportation will have the ability to use their unspent earmarked highway funds, some of which are nearly 10 years old, on any eligible highway, transit, passenger rail, or port project.
The Detroit News reports Michigan has $15.8 million in 28 projects that hasn't been spent that the state can redirect.
"It will be up to Michigan how to decide to spend their money," LaHood said.
State departments of transportation will have the ability to use their unspent earmarked highway money, some of which is nearly 10 years old, on any eligible highway, transit, passenger rail, or port project.
The Obama Administration wants the money spent soon. To use the funds, states must identify projects by October 1, and must obligate them by December 31, 2012.
Update 3:15 p.m. - Workers hope to reopen rail line tomorrow
10 people were injured today when an Amtrak train collided with a semi-truck between Ann Arbor and Jackson. None of the injuries were life-threatening.
The accident derailed the train’s engine and two passenger cars. The collision also heavily damaged the tracks and the crossing.
But a company spokesman says they hope to reopen the line by tomorrow morning.
David Pidgeon is a spokesman for Norfolk-Southern, which owns and operates the railroad that runs across southern Michigan.
“Six passenger trains a day use that particular line…and another four to five trains of freight (a day) also use that line," says Pidgeon, "So we need to get that line open…as safely and efficiently as possible.”
While the section of track is being repaired, passengers are making part of their trip by bus.
2:17 p.m. - 10 injured
MLive.com reports that "a total of 10 people were injured" in this morning's Amtrak derailment in Leoni Township.
I have been traveling by air for most of my adult life, and for a few years, flew somewhere at least once a week.
Yet while I took trains in Europe and Japan, it never occurred to me to do so from Detroit. Amtrak, people said, took forever and was a fairly nasty experience; a shabby relic of transportation’s past.
However, air travel has become less and less fun, from the increasingly cramped seats and loss of anything resembling service, and more and more intrusive security procedures.
Governor Rick Snyder met with lawmakers, federal officials and the railroad industry yesterday to talk about the future of rail transportation in our state.
Rick Pluta is the State Capitol Bureau Chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He was at the Michigan Rail Summit and he joined me to talk more about this.
So Rick, what did the Governor say?
Rick Pluta: Rebecca, the governor is a big fan of rail service. He says it's a big part of the future of the state.
This is what he had to say to this rail summit:
"This isn't about a piece of rail in Michigan. This is about being the centerpiece of a broader logistical connection that goes all the way from St. Louis to Chicago to Detroit and I would like to see it continue on to Toronto and to Montreal."
The state is very close to finalizing a deal to buy almost 140 miles of railway that would complete a high-speed connection for passengers traveling between Detroit and Chicago.
The state could announce a bargain with the Norfolk Southern Railroad as soon as this week.
The cost will be about one million dollars per mile of rail. Most of the money will come from the federal government.
Hugh McDiarmid is with the Michigan Environmental Council, one of the groups supporting the project. He said the rail line could be the first leg of an eventual statewide rapid transit network.
"Right now, someone from Traverse City would have to drive down to Kalamazoo or Detroit or something to hop a train to Chicago and that’s not very convenient," said McDiarmid. "But this is moving us a little bit closer to the day when hopefully we’ll connecting Traverse City to Detroit; we’ll be connecting Kalamazoo to Traverse City to Chicago."
Once the purchase is wrapped up, the state will go to work on upgrades that will allow trains to travel at speeds of up to 110 miles per hour between Dearborn and Kalamazoo. The Kalmazoo-to-Chicago stretch is already upgraded.
Michiganders are taking the train more than they have in the past. Amtrak officials say they've seen an increase in the number of riders on all three of their Michigan lines. Two of those lines are supported by the state.
Amtrak’s Blue Water Service runs from Port Huron through Lansing to Chicago. It had one of the largest increases in ridership in the nation.
Janet Foran is with the Michigan Department of Transportation. She says some of the growth is likely from the rise in gas prices and the interest in building high speed rail in the state:
“Because of the talk about high speed rail in the State of Michigan, this has actually been a major factor in increasing the interest of people to try passenger rails.”
M-DOT said ridership usually increases during the holiday season and summer. They expect ridership will continue to grow in the state.