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Thriving Communities | September 18, 2014 | By James Bruckbauer

After nearly eight months of research, any skepticism I once had about train travel in Traverse City has disappeared.

Earlier this summer MLUI released a report that described what it would take to get some kind of train running on the 11-mile stretch of existing railroad tracks between Traverse City and Williamsburg.

Since then, I’ve presented the idea to local community groups, state transportation agencies, and to an eager audience at the Michigan Rail Conference in Metro Detroit.

Next week I’ll be talking about our report and rural transportation issues at the Railvolution conference in Minneapolis.

The more I investigate this idea, the more realistic it becomes.

While the Traverse City Record-Eagle criticized the proposal by saying the population would need to double before there is train service, state and federal transportation agencies and rail experts all over the country say the opposite: It’s a practical idea.

  • After I presented our study to the Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers meeting in July, Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT)’s Office of Rail officials indicated to us that passenger train travel here in Traverse City is indeed achievable within a five to seven year timeline.

  • Great Lakes Central Railroad, which currently leases the tracks from the MDOT, has told us that they are fully capable of converting many types of train cars for use on the tracks, and can operate passenger service.

  • Initial conversations with the Federal Railroad Administration officials suggest that the agency is ready to work with MLUI, other local groups, Great Lakes Central, and MDOT to make the project a reality.

This week’s traffic woes reveal the demand for travel between Traverse City’s downtown area and the east side of the region. Any transportation option that connects the two areas is worth a closer look.

We’ll keep you posted on our progress.