train station

Michigan Central Station Preservation Society / Facebook

Detroit’s Michigan Central Depot is looking a little more cheery today.

For the second year in a row, the former train station which now serves as the quintessential symbol of Detroit's urban decay, is decking the halls with holiday lights. According to The Detroit News, Matty Moroun, who bought the building in 1996, came up with the idea of sprucing up the 18-story abandoned station with the help of his family.

“Since we’ve put electricity back in, we decided to light it up, and it looks really nice,” President of the Detroit International Bridge Co. Dan Stamper said. “We’ve gotten a lot of nice comments and we just hope everyone has a happy holiday.”

Electric lighting has returned to the building as part of an effort to (slowly) give the station a facelift. Back in 2011, the International Bridge Co. began to replace windows and stairwells in MCD. 

- Melanie Kruvelis, Michigan Radio Newsroom

user smaedi / Creative Commons

DELTA TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) - Officials say the driver of a car who was killed in a collision with an Amtrak train near Lansing drove around lowered gates at a road crossing.

The Eaton County Sheriff's Office continued to investigate the accident Friday.

The driver of the car who was killed was identified as Hermes Fernandez-Lopez. The 39-year-old was from Lansing.

No one on the train was reported injured in the Thursday night accident.

The train was travelling from Chicago to Port Huron with about 145 passengers when it struck the vehicle shortly after 9:10 p.m., authorities said. Train passengers left the scene on buses.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Jackson will be the place to be this weekend for Amtrak aficionados. 

The national passenger rail service is marking its 40th anniversary this year.  This weekend, Amtrak is bringing a rolling museum of its four decade history to Jackson’s rail road station. 

Christina Leeds is an Amtrak spokeswoman.  She says passionate lovers of all things Amtrak have been flocking to the rolling exhibit’s previous stops around the country. 

Here’s the problem with selling people on local mass transit: Everyone is in favor of it, and everyone thinks that everybody else should take it. Everybody, except for them, that is.

You understand, I really need to take my private car, because  uh, I might have an important stop to make. But when it comes to longer distances it’s different. People love trains.

Airline travel ceased being fun a long time ago, unless you like being groped by strangers before being packed in a sardine can. Driving gives you freedom, but not the freedom to read or surf the internet. Plus, it can be nerve-wracking and exhausting.

Compared to everything else, trains are relaxing and civilized. Yet for years, during the rise of the airliner and the expressway, we sort of forgot about train travel. Lines went out of service; some sections of track weren’t maintained.

Now, there’s a renewed interest in trains, so much so that the governor has made former Congressman Joe Schwarz his special advisor on rail, a job for which the emotional rewards are sometimes great and the salary is non-existent.

Michigan still has more than three thousand, five hundred miles of track. Schwarz told me that, by the way. Back when he was in the state senate, he was known for his expertise on higher education, but the insiders knew if you had a question about rail, Joe was the man.

Right now, Job One is improving the route from Detroit to Chicago.  Can you believe that six hundred thousand people may have traveled that route by rail in the last fiscal year?

If you’ve ever been hung up in a traffic jam on I-94 outside the city, you probably wished you were on a train instead.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

The future of Michigan’s passenger and freight rail services is the subject of a series of public hearings next month. Michigan has thousands of miles of rail lines. Much of it is owned by freight haulers. But the state has some input about the future of those rail lines.

The Michigan Department of Transportation is holding a series of six public hearings in June from Grand Rapids and Battle Creek to Detroit and Flint. 

Larry Karnes is with the Michigan Department of Transportation. He says they want the public’s input on what the future of Michigan’s rail service should look like.

 “It will include a look at some of the issues….and challenges facing the rail system…and needs….and then come up with some strategies for addressing those needs…in the future.”  

High speed rail will play some role in Michigan’s future rail planning. The federal government has committed about $400 million toward high speed projects in Michigan.

user amtrak_russ / Flickr

Passenger rail in Michigan will get some upgrades because of a grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Most of $199 million granted to the state will go toward improving the rail lines between Detroit and Chicago so passenger trains can travel faster.

The improvements are expected to allow trains to travel at top speeds of 110 m.p.h. rather than 95 m.p.h. The Department of Transportation says the improvements will cut 30 minutes off the time to travel between Detroit and Chicago.

Senators Levin and Stabenow put out a press release this morning with some of the details of the plan.

They say the track will be improved between Kalamazoo and Dearborn:

[the] rail project will rehabilitate track and signal systems to allow trains to travel at 110 mph for the 135-mile stretch. The current obsolete signal system will be replaced with a positive train control system, improving safety. The grant fully funds the state's request.

Levin and Stabenow say $2.8 million in Recovery Act funds will also be used to start the process of building a new train station in Ann Arbor:

The Ann Arbor Station's $2.8 million will be used to complete a preliminary engineering and environmental study required to design and construct a new high-speed rail station in Ann Arbor. Ann Arbor Station is the busiest Amtrak station in Michigan, but only has single-tracking capacity, forcing intercity trains to block the mainline while serving the station. By constructing a passing track, more than one train will be able to service the station while others can pass unimpeded.

The money being spent in Michigan is part of $2 billion in new spending on rail service across the country. The U.S. Department of Transportation made the spending announcements today.

Rail passengers in Michigan will see new locomotives and passenger cars as a result of the spending. Seven higher-speed locomotives and 48 new passenger cars will run between Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri.

Michigan Radio's Sarah Cwiek is attending the press conference with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood scheduled for today at 2:30 today in Detroit. We'll hear more from her later.

cbassweb / MorgueFile

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.

MichaelNPatterson / Flickr

It’s being reported this morning that Manuel (Matty) Moroun, owner of the Michigan Central Depot in Detroit, plans to replace the roof and windows of the tattered train station. From the Detroit News:

After decades of looking like a bombed-out relic, the iconic Michigan Central Train Depot is set to receive a mini face-lift…

Created by the same architects who designed Grand Central Station in New York City, the building at one time was the largest train station in the world and known for its rich décor.

Decline and decay pulled into the station soon after the last train departed in January 1988. Scrappers looted the building.

Over the years, several ideas have been pitched for the building, including a new police headquarters. None has panned out. Nor has a 2009 resolution from the City Council to demolish it.

Because of its look of urban decay, the depot has been used in several films, including "Transformers," "The Island," "Four Brothers" and "Eight Mile.”

Moroun also owns the Ambassador Bridge that connects Detroit to Windsor, Ontario. The Detroit News quotes Bridge Company President Dan Stamper as saying, “We're applying with the city to replace the roof and the windows…We're doing it because it would be much easier to help a developer to come up with a package to use the depot if some improvements were made … so that's what we're doing.”