Holland, Michigan, train station and bus

Passenger Rail and Public Transportation: A Perfect Pairing

Cities along new passenger rail lines receive much more than just a fancy train station and new way to travel. Regular passenger train service can become a catalyst that transforms the way people get around town.

As the gateway to a city, train stations provide public transportation agencies with an opportunity to make their best impressions, and when agencies take advantage of this, riders are provided with a phenomenal experience.

Once the North-South Passenger Rail line is in service, passengers will need flexible and reliable ways of traveling to their local destination after arriving in a given city.

Some of these passengers will disembark with bikes they’d stashed away on the train, planning to pedal over to nearby trails. College students will arrive with backpacks as they make their way to campus. Others will step onto the platform with strollers on route to a family vacation, briefcases as they commute to work, and all the other items and agendas that compel us to travel.

Completing the last leg of a trip could be as simple as a stroll down the sidewalk to a hotel. In other cases, the best way may be riding a bike, a quick hop on a local bus, renting a car, or other solutions a local transportation agency may offer to help travelers to their destinations safely, efficiently and affordably.

In the coming year, towns along the line will begin planning how their local and regional transportation networks will accommodate rail passengers as a part of the Northern Michigan Passenger Rail Phase II Study process. In each community, planners will investigate how a train station can serve as a catalyst for expanding the type, range, and integration of transportation offered.

Kalamazoo train station and transportation hub

Kalamazoo’s transportation agency, Metro, manages the city’s AMTRAK station, which serves as the central transfer point for most local transportation options and is a stop for several private long-distance bus operators. Credit: Kalamazoo County Transportation Authority

I spoke with Carrie Thompson, the Executive Director of the Cadillac/Wexford Transit Authority, WexExpress, about the benefits a train station could provide to area public transportation. Carrie and WexExpress have been champions of the North-South Passenger Rail Project in part because Cadillac will see a host of benefits from the line’s completion, including improvements to its public transit operations.

Since trains stopped running to Cadillac, WexExpress has played a key role in keeping the area vibrant by helping people get around without a car.

WexExpress doesn’t have fixed routes, and instead operates on a point-to-point basis. So instead of waiting at stops on regular bus routes, riders request a bus pickup and specify a destination, which can become tricky to manage as ridership rises. Reintroducing passenger rail service “would provide us with a great station for bus transfers as we look to establish f