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Posted on Mon, Jun 13, 2011 : 5:09 p.m.

Freight company cuts Amtrak trains' speed to as slow as 25 mph, sparking delays

By Nathan Bomey

The freight company that owns the railroad tracks that carry Amtrak trains through Ann Arbor said today that it is restricting the speed those trains are allowed to travel, cutting the rate to 25 miles an hour in some parts.

The decision means that travelers on Amtrak's Wolverine line may experience 90-minute delays on the trip from Kalamazoo to Dearborn, Amtrak said. Passengers need to check with Amtrak before heading to the station for their trips.


Amtrak's Ann Arbor station is its busiest on the route to Chicago.

Angela J. Cesere |

Trains will be reduced to traveling as slowly as 25 miles per hour in some areas, said Rudy Husband, a spokesman for Norfolk Southern Railway in an interview.

The Ann Arbor stop on Depot Street is the busiest station between Detroit and Chicago.

Husband said Norfolk would only pay the maintenance costs necessary for the tracks to handle trains traveling 25 to 60 mph between Kalamazoo and Dearborn. Norfolk owns those lines.

"If they want to make the Michigan line a passenger route with higher speeds than what freight trains run, then someone other than Norfolk Southern is going to have to pay for the increased maintenance costs," Husband said. "We have been trying to work out a solution to this for a very long time now. But in the meantime we're doing what needs to be done to be responsible to our customers and our shareholders."

The decision comes a month after the U.S. Transportation Department announced that Michigan would receive $196.5 million in high-speed rail dollars to improve the Dearborn-to-Kalamazoo tracks. Those improvements would allow trains to travel at speeds of up to 110 mph.

"The money the state’s receiving will correct this problem," Marc Magliari, a Chicago-based spokesman for Amtrak, told today.

Still, Husband said the speed restrictions would last indefinitely.

According to Amtrak's service alert, the restrictions affect passengers boarding trains 350, 351, 352, 353, 354 and 355 between Kalamazoo and Dearborn.

The Wolverine line, which runs from Pontiac through Detroit and Ann Arbor to Chicago, reported a 16.3 percent increase in passengers from October through March, according to figures from the Michigan Department of Transportation. More than 243,185 passengers traveled the line during that period as ticket revenue rose 21 percent to $9 million.

Contact's Nathan Bomey at (734) 623-2587 or You can also follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's newsletters.


Terrin Bell

Sun, Dec 4, 2011 : 7:27 p.m.

Two words. Eminent domain.

Lets Get Real

Wed, Jun 15, 2011 : 2:51 a.m.

Let's Get Real. This is all political. NS knows there is $ out there for upgrades. They want some. Their tracks are a commodity in demand. They'd love Amtrak to buy them for lots of money, then they will build nice new tracks. Until Amtrack owns the rails on which they travel, this will be a power struggle. Consistently over the past two months, trains have bee 1-3 hours late. Example: I left Chicago on a Monday morning at 7:30 CST, expected in at 1:00 pm EST. I had a 3:00 pm meeting in AA. Thought, for sure, I left plenty of cushion to make the meeting. But, instead, I was running across the bridge to get my car and fly to the meeting 15 minutes late. Slow speed and diversion onto sidings for Freight to pass are all a political power play. We need to use the rail funds to buy into the Amtrak upgrades, buy the track (or build new), and make this a non-issue. How does Chicago in 3 hrs sound to you? Pretty good to me!


Tue, Jun 14, 2011 : 8:46 p.m.

Any chance of increasing ridership with this taking place is a big fat "0"! Time for the State and or the Federal Government to step in and take a look at what is happening and why. Would this be allowed in the airline industry? I don't think so!


Tue, Jun 14, 2011 : 2:01 p.m.

Just to set the record straight. Shipping goods/materials (pound for pound) by freight train uses "less" oil than by truck. Shipping people by train (pound for pound) by passenger train uses "more" oil than by bus (current Megabus).


Tue, Jun 14, 2011 : 1:59 p.m.

The same corporate arrogance that the Moroun family has displayed in attacking the proposed new bridge to Canada is on display with Norfolk Southern. When private interests trump the public's, everybody suffers. Too bad Norfolk Southern, the Marouns and their allies with Americans For Prosperity and the Tea Party do not understand that.


Tue, Jun 14, 2011 : 1:29 p.m.

Funds available for high speed rail. Current railroads suddenly have an issue with track maintenance. Expecting some of those funds now to be used for maintenance. Maybe a separate rail system is needed just for public transportation.


Tue, Jun 14, 2011 : 12:42 p.m.

When it becomes more widely publicized that the biggest foe of passenger rail is commercial rail, the public should be duly outraged. Commercial rail and their proxies spend million$ lobbying against passenger rail, joined by the airlines, road-construction and a various other enemies of the public trust. Truth is - their system is broke on many levels, not the least of which is the cheap oil needed to run their Rube Goldberg contraption. That they have the clout to consistently push the many public benefits of passenger rail to the background is only temporary as rail travel becomes more popular and sustainable. Too bad those who desperately attempt to sustain the unsustainable have deep pockets - temporarily that is.


Tue, Jun 14, 2011 : 12:41 p.m.

" the meantime we're doing what needs to be done to be responsible to our customers and our shareholders." Once again, doing what's right for our shareholders. How many times does the public have to hear this and how long do "the shareholders" think the public will actually believe it? Here's an idea: Do the RESPONSIBLE thing and maintain your property to the benefit of ALL. Imagine that. Oh wait, I forgot...that will impact profit margins. Besides, all the MBA's on the Norfolk Southern board all fly to Chicago in private jets. What was I thinking?...


Tue, Jun 14, 2011 : 12:32 p.m.

AMTRAK pays NS for the use of the tracks, right? That makes Amtrak a customer. NS is cutting customer service. Nice. Another monopoly strikes. Monopolies are not "free markets", they should not be defended like it.

Knobby Kabushka

Tue, Jun 14, 2011 : 12:08 p.m.

After reading all the comments, some of them are very informing. I kind of draw 2 conclusions - one is that NS board members must have had a meeting right after the 200 million train money was announced and agreed to ways that they could get their hands on it and slowing AT down to 25mph would be one way. 2nd one is we have a longgggggggggggggggggggggggggg way to go in this state and country before a viable and ridable passenger train system ever comes to bloom... Sad too, because it could work to the benefit of all citizens and their towns if done right, but alas it seems like private captialism will rule out any such being in this country...

John A2

Tue, Jun 14, 2011 : 5:45 a.m.

The last I heard, these rail companies charge AT for the use of the lines. They make more than enough money to run and maintain the tracks. What does the Share Holders do when the tracks can't support there much more heavier trains. The AT is light and quick, compared to the long haulers that are filled with mega tons of oil and chemicals for the big three plants, cars and coal, and so on. They must hold Shares in the airlines, or like said before, they holding the tracks hostage and in need for the gov to step in. This is just more +*%$, the corporations are trying to control us, for that top dollar. The almighty dollar.


Tue, Jun 14, 2011 : 4:35 p.m.

How do you know what they get paid and how do you know how much the increased maintenance would cost? I would bet the first time a passenger train derailed you would be screaming loudly for an investigation as to why the train was going so fast on this stretch of track or why it wasn't maintained better.

George Gaston

Tue, Jun 14, 2011 : 5:16 a.m.

I have read Chapmaja's comments with interest; they sure appear to know what they're talking about. If, as Chapmaja says is true, it will cost up to two million dollars a mile of track to purchase the rails that run between Detroit and Chicago, then perhaps it's time to reconsider the routing of high speed transportation in our nation. The present railroad tracks were laid out a long time ago, shortly after Michigan became a state, when water transportation was cutting edge technology. Maybe it's time to consider a complete overhaul of our transportation system and focus our attention on our interstate highway system. It might make a lot of sense to discuss the future of high-speed transportation in the twentyfirst century by looking at the Federal highway system and seeing how these right-of-ways can be used to create the transportation system of the future.

Charlie Brown's Ghost

Tue, Jun 14, 2011 : 5:11 p.m.

Guys, I believe Chapmaja is a single person, not a "they." Good Night and Good Grief

Craig Lounsbury

Tue, Jun 14, 2011 : 12:02 p.m.

"I have read Chapmaja's comments with interest; they sure appear to know what they're talking about" I agree. They are well written and read like they are informed.


Tue, Jun 14, 2011 : 3:23 a.m.

This is nothing but a barginning ploy by NS to raise the price and the speed of the sale of this line. NS has made no secret about the fact they don't want this line in the first place. They attempted to spin this line off to a shortline/regional railroad company several years ago and Amtrak balked at that, so the deal did not get STB approval as required by federal law. Several years ago NS and a company called Watco came to an agreement to form a jointly owned company called the Michigan Central to operate the Michigan Line from Elkhardt, Indiana to Grand Rapids, From Kalamazoo to Wayne, Mi and from Jackson to Lansing. The deal feel threough because Amtrak balked at the prospects of poor maintainance on the line causing delays. They felt the Michigan Central would not be able to provide the level of maintainance that NS could provide thus causing slower train speeds and delays. Eventually the Elkhardt to Grand Rapids line and the Jackson to Lansing line were sold/leased off to private companies (Grand Elk which is owned by Watco) and Jackson and Lansing Railroad (owned by the Adrian and Blissfield Railroad). The main line across Michigan (Wayne to Kalamazoo) was retained unwillingly by NS after the decision. Currently the line's freight traffic is diverted so only one train goes each direction on most of the line. NS now knows that the goverment is giving Michigan huge amounts of money to purchase the line and they are trying to drive the speed and price of the transaction in such a manner as to make the most money possible for shareholders. By slowing the trains down, they are forcing the goveernment to make their move ASAP or risk pissed off customers. As the owner of the line they can do this, although it can be a public relations problem. Railroads normally aren't big on public relations when this much money is invovled. The selling price for this line will likely be in the range of 1.5-2.0 million per mile from estimates I've heard.

Tom Joad

Tue, Jun 14, 2011 : 2:41 a.m.

If you take Amtrak cross country you are in for a nightmare...I've already been unceremoniously awakened twice in the middle of the night to the P.A. announcing. THIS TRAIN IS CANCELLED. You will all be loaded onto a bus for the remainder of your journey. I paid for a train and got a bus.


Tue, Jun 14, 2011 : 2:38 a.m.

When I was in college my life depended on that train. If it was late and I missed my buss I'd have to wait HOURS for the next one to go to Wisconsin. This delay could mean that some other kids won't make that bus at all. This is so stupid! They both use the track so they BOTH should put forth money to maintain it! The point of taking the train is that it's just as fast as a car, but you don't have to drive! At that point, I'd be more willing to take a plane. Pat downs over taking 8 hours.

Charlie Brown's Ghost

Tue, Jun 14, 2011 : 1:35 a.m.

Why do you keep using phrases like, "in some parts" and "in some areas?" What parts and what areas, specifically? How much money will be needed to upgrade those areas? Good Night and Good Grief

Phil K.

Tue, Jun 14, 2011 : 2:35 a.m.

When I rode last weekend, the 25-30mph was between here and Chelsea, with increased, but still not peak speeds between Chelsea and Jackson. I was told by a conductor that the delays on the other side of Amtrak rails (Kzoo to Hammon IN are Amtrak property, hence the smoother ride and higher speeds) were equally as bad. Sad thing is, this isn't Amtrak's fault, but they shoulder the blame. 2000 gallons of high fructose corn syrup doesn't mind doing 25mph on the way to Battle Creek, but passengers do. This is especially bad for Amtrak, with proposals for the privatization of the North East Corridor being floated (which is akin to telling the Detroit Tigers to 'privatize' Justin Verlander and Miggy Cabrerra. Can't be very competitive without your core...)

the leprachaun

Tue, Jun 14, 2011 : 1 a.m.

I can understand why Norfolk southern is cutting the speed. NS mainline form Detroit to Chicago is not on this route I heads south west by metro airport and then through Milan to Ft Wayne. NS only uses this line for short hauls to Kalamazoo BC and Jackson. Amtrak just needs to buy this section of track and get the trains moving!


Tue, Jun 14, 2011 : 3:47 a.m.

Actually the line you mention is not the NS mainline between Detroit and Chicago. That is the mainline from Detroit and Kansas City. That line passes through Butler, In where it crosses the mainline from Toledo, Chicago. There is a connecting track between these lines but that is not owned or used by NS. It is owned by Canadian Pacific who uses that line for trains from Canada (via Detroit) to Chicago. CP has an agreement to operate trains between Detroit and Chicago over this line and built the connecting track themselves in Butler, In. The NS route from Detroit to Chicago is actually from Detroit through Downriver and Monroe to Toledo and then west from Toledo across northern Ohio and Indiana to Chicago. The majority of the NS trains you see heading from Detroit through Belleville and Milan are actually bound for or comiing from the autmobible plants in the KC area or are trains from connecting railroads in the KC area. The best line from Detroit to Chicago was actually the line that went from Detroit to Jackson, then went SW from Jackson through places like Three Rivers and Niles before going into the Chicago area. This was a high speed mainline up through the 1950's however when the Penn Central was formed this line was deemed duplicate and was downgraded despite it's straight tracks and level grade. It was then abandoned completely either under the Penn Central ownership or when Conrail was created.


Tue, Jun 14, 2011 : 12:56 a.m.

Making a mental note.... 5.5 - 6 hours (with delay) to take the train -- and lowest cost tickets are 35.00 lately for cheapest seats in each direction... So, 70.00 for 12 hours of sitting in a train.... 3 hours (with delay) to drive my own 1.5 tanks of gas to get all the way there and all the way 55.00.... So -- I save 15.00 (minimum) and 6 hours of sitting in a train.... Um, yeah, let me take the train to Chicago.....


Tue, Jun 14, 2011 : 2:15 p.m.

except that you can be productive on the train, rather than wasting your productivity driving.


Tue, Jun 14, 2011 : 4:21 a.m.

3 hours with delays??? <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>

George Gaston

Tue, Jun 14, 2011 : 2:01 a.m.

If the city ever goes ahead and builds Amtrak a new train station on Fuller Park, underneath a large University Hospital Parking Deck built on Fuller Park, you can be well assured that you will be paying top dollar to park your car at the station when you take the train to Chicago for the weekend. You might as well pay to park your car at the Drake or Palmer House in Chicago. Free parking at the train station will only be a memory here in Ann Arbor.


Tue, Jun 14, 2011 : 1:35 a.m.

Don't forget the cost of parking while you are in Chicago. That's where you get hit.

Knobby Kabushka

Tue, Jun 14, 2011 : 12:51 a.m.

The more you think about it the more sense a seperate amtrak rail system makes. Cut the 4 billion yearly subs to oil companies, apply that to building an Amtrak system which would put many thousands to work, have it so only American made and produced rails and cars are used. Towns otherwise that are passed by due to the expressways, could start to regrow due to train tourism.. All this win-win and our politicians can't even see it because of their corporate sponsorships...


Tue, Jun 14, 2011 : 12:45 a.m.

This sounds like a great reason to take Megabus. If our government doesn't have the tools to generate a compromise on a monopoly like a railroad, it's time to look for low cost third world solutions like buses. We should be thinking small and cheap to compete at our level in the world.

Nathan Bomey

Tue, Jun 14, 2011 : 12:14 a.m.

@Tru2Blu76 To your point about the increased costs of maintaining the tracks, I asked Norfolk Southern to provide details and the spokesman said he did not have any.


Tue, Jun 14, 2011 : 3:38 a.m.

The costs are simple. Each class of trackage has different maintainance requirements. These include the number of spikes per tie plate, the number of spike per section of track, the quality of the ties in each section and the quality of the rail itself. The higher the class of rail, the more often it needs to inspected, ground and generally maintained. All of this costs money. With the very limited amont of freight traffic over this line (1 per day each direction through AA) there is no business reason for NS to maintain the trackage to a level no needed by the service they are providing. Railroads will maintain trackage to the level that they need for the services they provide on each line. NS maintained the line across Northern Ohio to the highest standard because it sees 60 trains per day roughly and many of those are hotshot trains that depend on speed to make them competitive with trucks for the service. The Michigan line does not have any such needs and therefore NS doesn't need to maintain them for speeds higher than 25 mph. If Amtrak wants speeds higher they can start shelling out the costs, or buy the line. What you will see happen in the next couple years is NS will sell the line to the State of Michigan or Amtrak, and the owner will likelly desgnate a new freight operator over the line. The operator will likely be either the Jackson and Lansing Railroad (runs former NS tracks between the two names cities), the Grand Elk Railroad (between Grand Rapids and Elkhardt, In) or possibly the Ann Arbor Railroad which runs from Ann Arbor to Toledo. The owner will be responsible for the maintainance of the line and the freight operator will pay a trackage rights fee over the line for the amount of use they have of the line.


Tue, Jun 14, 2011 : 12:23 a.m.

Surprise surprise. A company decides this is a way for Norfolk to make a money grab, but can provide no data to back up their claim.


Tue, Jun 14, 2011 : midnight

The argument is that Norfolk Southern will not pay the additional cost of maintaining high speed track vs &quot;freight train&quot; (quality) track. But the spokesman gave no comparative cost details - I guess we're supposed to take that company's word without question. (Yeah, like that works every time.) Even though federal money is coming to make up the difference, we still have no information on how much this upgrade will cost. And - I'm sure everyone is not happy to hear, &quot;the speed restrictions would last indefinitely.&quot; - WHY? I'm all for a high speed rail system, but it looks like we'll remain way behind Japan, France and other countries - indefinitely. The big puzzle is, if other countries are doing so much better and having success with rail transit: then why the heck is the United States still sticking us with a shoddy rail system? Oh wait - I just remembered the Republicans have &quot;proven&quot; that &quot;only&quot; a private enterprise system can work. ROFL!


Tue, Jun 14, 2011 : 12:12 p.m.

Because the US 15 times the size of France and 25 times the size of Japan. Thus, providing coverage is vastly more expensive.

Craig Lounsbury

Tue, Jun 14, 2011 : 11:47 a.m.

chapmaja, a very interesting and informative post. Thank you.


Tue, Jun 14, 2011 : 3:30 a.m.

The reason is simple. At one time this line was a major Detroit to Chicago line for both passenger and freight traffic. Since the formation of Conrail in the mid-1970's, the importance of this line has decreased to freight traffic. At one time trailers on flat cars were common on this line. That traffic was lost to trucks on I-94. At one time the line served a large number of customers, not it only serves about a dozen between Wayne and Kalamazoo. Now the majority of commodities transported on this line are bulk loads such as plastic pellets, grain and metal which are not time senstive commodities. All of this means that what at one time was a 2 track mainline with freight speeds that needed to be fast is now a branch line with speeds needed to be run no more than 25-35 mph. As times change the need to this line as a freight avenue has changed. As this has changed the funding for maintaining the line hasn't changed. NS is simply doing what they need to do to make a profit while forcing the hand of the State of Michigan when it comes to this line. It makes no sense to for NS to maintain the trackage at 79 mph standards when they only need 25 mph standards and Amtrak is still paying the share of costs as if NS still needed 70 mph trains. This is an unfortunate business decision, but it is very understandable to those who have an idea how the railroad industry really works.

Knobby Kabushka

Mon, Jun 13, 2011 : 11:57 p.m.

I rode for the first in middle of May on the train from AA to Chicago and have to say, was not bad at. Took about 5 - 5 1/2 hrs and didn't have to go through xrays, gropers, had some coffee and donuts - overall I give a thumbs up to Amtrak. I would fully suuport a much better upgraded train system in this state and country...


Mon, Jun 13, 2011 : 11:15 p.m.

This is tantamount to blackmail.

Joe Hood

Mon, Jun 13, 2011 : 11:13 p.m.

Which sections of track will be reduced to 25MPH? That speed is still better than going between Gary, IN and Chicago.


Mon, Jun 13, 2011 : 11:08 p.m.

&quot;Because Norfolk owns the lines, the company's freight trains are already given preference over the Amtrak trains.&quot; This is not true. Federal regulation requires that Amtrak trains get &quot;preference&quot; over freight trains, at least as long as they are within designated time intervals. Amtrak pays the companies owning the lines, and this is part of the deal. However, the regulations are vague about what &quot;preference&quot; means, and give Amtrak little power to push back if freight companies don't give &quot;preference.&quot; When, in 2008, Congress finally gave the Federal Surface Transportation Board some limited power to fine freight companies for delaying with Amtrak trains, Amtrak on-time performance promptly improved.

Nathan Bomey

Mon, Jun 13, 2011 : 11:24 p.m.

That paragraph of the story has been removed to avoid confusion. Thanks.


Mon, Jun 13, 2011 : 10:39 p.m.

So much for high speed passenger travel. We'll need even more of your tax dollars to fix this problem. Raise the gas taxes by $3.00 per gallon and people will beg for trains and be willing to pay dearly at that. Sprinkle a few tax increases around on our cable bill, phone bills, internet, etc. That should do the trick. And don't forget to raise the debt ceiling, and taxes to pay for our voracious spending appetitie

Willie Green

Mon, Jun 13, 2011 : 10:38 p.m.

If Norfolk Southern refuses to maintain their tracks in safe operating condition, the government should condemn the tracks and turn ownership rights over to Amtrak. The track can then be upgraded for passenger service only and freight can be hauled by truck or on another line.


Tue, Jun 14, 2011 : 3:12 a.m.

There are several reasons you are wrong in your thinking. First, as a privately owned property it isn't anywhere close to that easy to take the line for the government's own use, even if they think it is. Second, there is absolutely no purpose to removing all freight from the line. In fact removing the freight traffic that is on the line would likely cause substantial hardship to companies from Chelsea all the way to Lansing and over to Kalamazoo. The reason is simple. For some commodities shipped on the line it very costly to ship by truck compared with shipping by train. On the line from Chelsea to Jackson you only have a couple customers. Chelsea grain company ships carloads of grain from a facility between Chelsea and Dexter. One carload of freight equals 3 to 4 truckloads on the roads. If they average 7 carloads per week, that's 21 to 28 truckloads off of the roads. That means a lot less wear and tear on Dexter-Chelsea Road, Main St, and Baker Rd through Dexter or the roads through Chelsea. The next customer is Chelsea Milling Company in Chelsea (Jiffy Mixes). They get a lot of inbound products for their mixes as well as shipping product outbound occassionally. It would signficantly increase their costs, as well as the cost of the products on the shelves to swtich to truck for the inbound goods. Even if these two companies did get the traffic from a differt line it would mean trucks on the road from either Lansing or Adrian with the product to meet with an adjoining railroad line, or truck traffic in Ann Arbor to meet with the Ann Arbor Railroad. If you prohibit freight traffic on the line you also nearly put the Jackson and Lansing Railroad out of business. Do I agree with what Norfolk Southern is doing? No, I think it's a ploy to get the State of Michigan to quikcly and expensively buy the trackage from Wayne to Kalamazoo (Amtrak owns west of Kalamazoo). NS will not sell the line from Wayne east because of traffic at the Wayne Ford plant.

5c0++ H4d13y

Tue, Jun 14, 2011 : 2:43 a.m.

Where's Amtrak doing to get the money to maintain and upgrade the line?

Craig Lounsbury

Tue, Jun 14, 2011 : 12:57 a.m.

they keep the tracks safe enough for their freight trains. Just not for somebody else's passenger trains. I think the government should take your house away if i can't put golf balls on your lawn.


Mon, Jun 13, 2011 : 10:29 p.m.

Just another Federal Treasury holdup.

Macabre Sunset

Mon, Jun 13, 2011 : 10:16 p.m.

It is a private company, and in this litigious society private companies have to follow the guidelines set out by lawyers, not by customers. The delays while freight trains pass are far worse than speed delays.


Mon, Jun 13, 2011 : 10:01 p.m.

It sounds like Norfolk Southern RR does want to save the planet! &quot;someone other than Norfolk Southern is going to have to pay for the increased maintenance costs&quot; Maybe GreenPeace or the Sierra Club can get a VOLUNTEER group that will do the track maintenance so the trains can go faster and more people ride them.


Mon, Jun 13, 2011 : 9:37 p.m.

What a guy. Feds pass him by? Sounds like a real team player with a mouth full of sour grapes. Trying to help? Huh?

Rod Johnson

Mon, Jun 13, 2011 : 9:44 p.m.

What? Feds pass who by how?