rail

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In Lansing this week, a group hopes to lay the course for developing Michigan's railroads.

There is a growing demand for passenger and freight rail transportation. But the question is how to increase capacity on the rail lines that crisscross Michigan.

Tuesday’s conference at Lansing Community College will try to answer that capacity question.

Pasi Lautala is an engineering professor at Michigan Technological University and the director of the MTU Rail Transportation Program.   He’s also one of the co-chairs of the conference.

user Braniff747SP / wikimedia commons

States in the Midwest are moving forward with their plans to increase the speed of passenger trains.

The Federal Railroad Administration announced that several states will join together to purchase new passenger rail equipment:

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.

Kansas company has deal to buy Ann Arbor Railroad

Dec 30, 2012

A Kansas-based company says it has a deal to buy the short line Michigan rail company Ann Arbor Railroad Inc.

Pittsburg, Kan.-based Watco Companies LLC says the deal awaits approval from the Surface Transportation Board, which is expected in late January or early February.

The Ann Arbor Railroad serves southeastern Michigan and the Toledo, Ohio, areas, mainly shipping auto and other manufacturing goods. It operates 50 miles of track between Ann Arbor and Toledo and has Toledo-area terminals serving General Motors Co., Chrysler and Ford Motor Co.

All Things Michigan / Flickr

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.

Draft Michigan Rail Plan / MDOT

This was an interesting graph I came across in MDOT's draft report, Michigan State Rail Plan.

The miles of railroad we have in the state today, match what we had back in 1880.

The state went from a peak of 9,059 miles in 1909, to 3,900 miles today - a decline of almost 60%.

It makes sense.

The internal combustion engine began competing with rail at the turn of the last century. Trucks and cars began moving more freight and people.

Michigan Municipal League / Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder and federal transportation officials will speak today at a conference in Lansing on improving rail service in Michigan.

Michigan has 540 miles of publicly owned rail.

The governor has called for improving and expanding that system to move people and cargo more quickly and efficiently. He said he will seek more federal dollars and wants part of vehicle registration fees to be used for improving mass transit. 

“He believes very strongly that infrastructure is very important both to Michigan’s economy and to the future and that rail is very important to that mix, both passenger and freight," said Sara Wurfel, the governor's press secretary.

The state recently won a federal grant to purchase and upgrade 140 miles of track to be part of accelerated rail service between Detroit and Chicago. The governor’s plans for the state include making Michigan a central point in a regional business corridor that runs from Chicago to Toronto.

M1 Rail

Plans for a light rail line in Detroit got a boost with a $25 million grant from the federal government.

The money will help with the first phase of the project, which will connect Detroit’s downtown and New Center areas. That 3.5 mile stretch could ultimately extend up Woodward Avenue to the city’s border at Eight Mile Road.

The project is backed by a powerful group of business leaders in the city – including Dan Gilbert, Peter Karmanos, and Roger Penske. They’ve helped pull together about $125 million in private funding. In an unusual arrangement, the federal government agreed to match those private dollars. Normally the city would have to put up the money, but Detroit is broke.

The project is expected to break ground this year.

Amtrak train near Chicago
Steven Vance - Flickr

UPDATE 12/9/2010 3:33pm:

Michigan's been left off the list of state getting more federal money for high speed rail projects.  The New York Times reports:

The biggest winners of Ohio and Wisconsin’s money were California, which will receive another $624 million on top of the nearly $3 billion it has received so far toward the construction of a high-speed train from Los Angeles to San Francisco, and Florida, which will get another $342 million on top of the roughly $2 billion it has received to build a high-speed train between Orlando and Tampa.

The other states that will get Ohio and Wisconsin’s money will be Washington, which will get up to $161 million; Illinois, which will get $42.3 million; and Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Oregon and Vermont, which will all get less than $10 million.

Amtrak engine
Terry Cantrell / Creative Commons

A public forum on the future of trains in Michigan will be held tonight in Monroe.

John Langdon with the Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers says college students and senior citizens like trains. He says he hopes everybody else will see that increasing rail service is good for the economy, the environment and their own pocketbook.