Northern Michigan Passenger Rail Study Released

October 8, 2018 |

Passenger trains between Ann Arbor and Traverse City could become a reality. Trains would likely be similar to the one shown above, though they might not be operated by AMTRAK.

The effort to establish passenger rail between Ann Arbor and Traverse City has reached another major milestone.

Groundwork is excited to release the results of the Northern Michigan Rail Ridership Feasibility and Cost Estimate Study, the first major step to developing passenger rail service along the 240-mile-long corridor.

The findings look promising: Passenger trains between Ann Arbor and Traverse City would attract 1.5 million riders a year and generate $100 million in annual revenue by 2040, according to the consultants.

The 10-month study explored track repair, operating costs, and potential revenue of a passenger rail line along an existing, mostly state-owned railroad corridor between Ann Arbor and the Traverse City and Petoskey regions.

The study assesses several operating speeds and the costs and potential ridership associated with each option.

As travel to the Traverse City region increases—tourist numbers are predicted to double in the next couple of decades—the train could keep tens of thousands of cars off the roads and provide people with a direct, downtown-to-downtown connection between Michigan’s cities. The study team says even at 60 miles per hour, trains would capture roughly 380,0000 existing trips taken by car along the corridor every year, and as train speeds increase to 110 mph, that number quadruples.

Today, the Federal Railroad Administration allows “special event,” or excursion train service, to operate on most tracks. Achieving daily 60-mph service, which would create a five-hour travel time between Ann Arbor and Traverse City, would require about $40 million in capital costs, according to the study. 110-mph trains would require nearly a billion dollars in track upgrades but would cut the travel time to three and a half hours and attract nearly five times more riders and revenue than a 60-mph train.

To test the market, the study team recommends launching low cost “special event” trains and then building the service as interest and demand grows.

The rail line would be valuable in attracting the next generation workforce that wants to live and thrive in Michigan without always depending on a car to get around. It could serve the approximately 90,000 university students who live along the route as well as entrepreneurs like Rich Sheridan and Aly Calverson, who say the distance is too far to drive, yet too close to fly.

The study was funded by a Federal Transit Administration grant program, the Michigan Department of Transportation,
the Petoskey Downtown Management Board, the Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau, the City of Traverse City, Traverse City Tourism, the
 City of Alma, and Washtenaw County. Other funding partners include Rotary Charities of Traverse City, the Les and Anne Biederman Foundation, the National Association of REALTORS® and the Traverse Area Association of REALTORS®. 

The study team will be back in Michigan next month, and Groundwork plans to have additional meetings with stakeholders along the line during the first and last weeks of November. Stay tuned for more information about those meetings. The consultants are working on the Phase II analysis, which is the economic benefits and station location analysis, and they will present their results and speak to local officials.

In 2019, the Michigan Department of Transportation is expected to repair several miles of tracks near Traverse City, which might allow special events train service to run directly to Traverse City as soon as 2020.

Rail Study Summary and Full Reports

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