Rail experts gather at the Groundwork Center office to begin the northern Michigan passenger rail cost estimate and ridership study.
The effort to reestablish passenger rail between southeast Michigan and the Traverse City and Petoskey areas reached another major milestone this month. The Groundwork Center and the Bay Area Transportation Authority (BATA) selected rail industry experts, Transportation Economics and Management Systems (TEMS), to explore costs and create a business plan for regular train service.
This step is on target with the longer-term timeline to bring modern train travel to the state-owned railroad tracks between Ann Arbor and northern Michigan.
TEMS’ six-month study will begin to answer questions about the existing railroad track conditions and potential costs of getting trains running 50 to 70 miles per hour. The project team will also estimate how many people will ride trains, based on demographics and travel patterns and preferences. That data will inform a business plan that will outline the estimated costs and revenues for various levels of train service.
TEMS is familiar with Michigan trains. The team worked with the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) on the Coast-to-Coast study, which explored passenger service between Detroit and Holland, studies for rail projects in Ann Arbor and on the Detroit to Chicago 110 m.p.h. rail corridor, as well as other rail projects all over North America.
In its initial meeting with the steering committee, TEMS described how it will recommend an incremental approach to creating service that may start with special event trains and gradually build the service as interest and demand grows. The project steering committee, which includes BATA, Groundwork, MDOT’s Office of Rail, and the Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers, will oversee and offer guidance on the project.
Funding for the study comes from a federal transportation planning grant and local matching funds from the Michigan Department of Transportation, the City of Alma, City of Traverse City, Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau, Petoskey Downtown, Traverse City Tourism, and Washtenaw County.
Groundwork will keep you up-to-date on how you can get involved in the study and participate in feedback events, surveys and public presentations.
EXISTING INFRASTRUCTURE: The tracks are still in place, they’re still owned by the state, and they’re in good shape. Often the most expensive part of a transportation project is the cost of buying land and laying new tracks.
WIDESPREAD SUPPORT: There’s tremendous public support and enthusiasm for trains to Traverse City. The number one priority that emerged from a statewide rail planning process in 2011 was a passenger connection to Traverse City.
STATEWIDE PRIORITY: A passenger rail line to northern Michigan was included as a goal in Michigan’s State Rail Plan.