Mt. Pleasant, MI tracks

Rail Project Still on Track

November 20, 2020 |

The Ann Arbor to Traverse City passenger rail effort is about connecting job and educational centers along the route between Ann Arbor and Traverse City. Not only is this project about creating better freight and passenger mobility connections throughout Michigan, it’s about connecting students with universities and about the next generation workers who want to live and thrive in Michigan without depending on a car to get around.

Even though news of passenger rail has been quiet over the past couple of years, the work has been getting done.

In 2018, the project team completed an initial study that looked at costs for upgrading tracks to run trains at higher speeds along the corridor. You can find a summary of those finding here.

Since that initial study, I’ve heard lots of feedback about the A2TC passenger rail, both good and bad.

I hear from people who love the idea of being able to get around Michigan and travel between some of the best cities in the Midwest, especially college students and younger workers who want to live in Michigan, without depending on a car to get around.

I’ve also heard from plenty of people here in the Traverse City region who have expressed serious concerns over the projected increase in visitors. I understand that concern. We would love to be part of a conversation about responsible tourism and this area’s unchecked growth in visitors.

The study concluded that, in order to justify 110 MPH trains, Traverse City would need a tremendous amount of tourism growth. However, we’re not interested in a tourist train. We believe that even 60 to 80 MPH service could attract everyday travelers like the students, workers, and retirees that need to get around Michigan. We don’t see it as a tourist train but simply as a way for people to travel without a car.

In 2019, crews repaired 8 miles of track in the Traverse City area.

The state—thanks to legislators including Traverse City’s Senator Wayne Schmidt—has been investing in track repairs along the corridor to improve the speeds and efficiencies of freight and passenger trains. Those repairs are happening in and around the Traverse City region, where the tracks were in no condition for approved passenger rail.

So what’s next for the project?

The project team is working on moving forward the next phase of the project, which includes:

  • Advancing the next formal studies that need to be completed before there’s any regular, fast passenger service. These include the environmental and engineering studies that dig deep into the details of the potential service.
  • Exploring potential operating structures. We are looking at the various models for rail service and whether or not this could be a nonprofit or for-profit entity that manages the project.
  • And, Developing test runs along the line. We hoped we would be able to test potential service this year, however, due to COVID-19, we’ve set aside those plans. As soon as there’s less uncertainty about event and passenger travel, we’re hopeful we can organize test rides.

Thanks for checking in on our progress. We’ll try to keep you up-to-date as we move forward with this next phase.

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