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Posted on Wed, Oct 17, 2012 : 2:59 p.m.

Amtrak ridership in Ann Arbor and along Detroit-Chicago corridor picking back up

By Ryan J. Stanton


Boardings and de-boardings in Ann Arbor went down by 2.7 percent this past year, while total ridership along the Detroit-Chicago corridor went down by 3.9 percent.

Angela J. Cesere |

After a drop in train ridership along the Detroit-Chicago corridor this past year, including fewer people boarding and de-boarding in Ann Arbor, Amtrak officials say things are looking up.

"The disruptions we had earlier this year with the speed restrictions that slowed the trains affected ridership in the early part of the year," said Marc Magliari, a Chicago-based Amtrak spokesman. "We are recovering from that now and we saw high ridership gains in September."

Despite setbacks on the Wolverine line that passes through Ann Arbor, Amtrak just reported its ninth year of record-breaking ridership nationwide. For the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, Amtrak carried 31.2 million passengers on more than 300 daily trains between 46 states.

Ridership was up 3.5 percent from the previous fiscal year, ticket revenue jumped 6.8 percent to a best-ever $2.02 billion, and Amtrak's on-time performance increased to 83 percent.

But the story was different locally.

After seeing ridership along the Detroit-Chicago corridor — including in Ann Arbor — tick up by almost 40 percent between 2004 and 2011, it dropped off this past year.

Boardings and de-boardings in Ann Arbor went down by 2.7 percent, while total ridership along the Detroit-Chicago corridor went down by 3.9 percent.

A total of 483,772 passengers boarded trains along the Detroit-Chicago corridor. Boardings at the Ann Arbor station totaled 70,911, and another 70,974 people de-boarded in Ann Arbor.

The month-to-month statistics show station activity was down in seven of the 12 months compared with the previous year, but the numbers are ticking up again.

Boardings and de-boardings in Ann Arbor this August were up 15.7 percent from the previous year, and in September they were up 23.9 percent. At this rate, Amtrak officials are confident the numbers for calendar year 2012 — though not fiscal year — will beat calendar year 2011.

Across the entire Detroit-Chicago corridor, ridership was up 5.3 percent in August and 19.7 percent in September compared with the previous year

Anticipating continued increases in demand for passenger rail, the Ann Arbor City Council this week voted to go forward with the next phase of work on a new Amtrak station in the city. The upcoming work will determine the location, but city officials have preferred a site on Fuller Road.

Eli Cooper, Ann Arbor's transportation program manager, agreed with Magliari that the drop in ridership along the Detroit-Chicago corridor was because of service disruptions. He considers it a short-term hiccup and not indicative of a trend going forward.

Amtrak was forced to alter its schedules earlier this year for some trains, including one traveling through Ann Arbor, and made temporary route adjustments to deal with lower speed limits imposed because of poor track conditions. The slowdown order, announced March 15, required trains to slow to 25 to 30 mph, far below the 70-plus mph at which the trains normally can operate.

Trains were regularly running 45 to 90 minutes late in the affected areas after Norfolk Southern ordered the slowdown between Kalamazoo and Ann Arbor.

"There were a number of maintenance-related slow orders and our service deteriorated substantially over this last period," Cooper said. "Trains were delayed for hours."

Cooper said he understands negotiations are continuing for the state of Michigan to purchase the tracks from Norfolk Southern and some of what happened might have been posturing.

"The railroad that's trying to sell might be trying to encourage the buyer by making the conditions not to the liking of the buyer," Cooper said.

Cooper said he remains confident that many more people will be riding the rails as continued improvements are made to the tracks and speeds eventually increase to 110 mph.

"The long-term picture is for an enhanced, accelerated, more reliable and more-amenity service," he said. "If you put a stronger product in the marketplace, ridership will be stronger."

Cooper said that reinforces the need to make sure Ann Arbor replaces the current Amtrak station on Depot Street with a new station that can meet the higher passenger volumes of the future.

Magliari said it's clear in the case of Ann Arbor that passenger volumes have exceeded the size of the current station and its parking, particularly the difficulty passengers face when using the parking lot on the opposite side of the tracks from the station.

"The logistical problem with the parking on the other side of the tracks is very difficult, and there certainly is not enough parking on the station side," he said.

In anticipation of its busiest travel week of the year, Amtrak announced this week it is adding more trains between Chicago, Kalamazoo and Ann Arbor around Thanksgiving. Amtrak is encouraging passengers to plan ahead and book their tickets now for best availability and pricing.

More than 724,000 passengers traveled on Amtrak trains for the Thanksgiving holiday in 2011, the most ever for the holiday.

According to Amtrak, the busiest travel days that are likely to sell out around Thanksgiving are the Tuesday and Wednesday before and the Saturday and Sunday following the holiday. Amtrak recommends passengers consider traveling on less-busy days such as the Monday before or the Friday and Monday following the Thanksgiving holiday.

Amtrak will offer two additional eastbound and one additional westbound Wolverine service trains between Chicago, Kalamazoo and Ann Arbor on Thanksgiving Eve, Nov. 21. Amtrak also will operate two additional Wolverine service roundtrips daily between Chicago, Kalamazoo and Ann Arbor on Friday, Nov. 23, on Saturday, Nov. 24, and on Sunday, Nov. 25.

Amtrak ordinarily offers three daily roundtrips through Ann Arbor and four daily roundtrips through Kalamazoo. The trains operate at top speeds of 110 mph through parts of Indiana and western Michigan, and the long-term goal is to have the same speeds passing through Ann Arbor.

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's email newsletters.


Christine Moellering

Thu, Oct 18, 2012 : 2:38 p.m.

It is so sad they don't have a train from Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti into Detroit. I know quite a few people who drive this commute daily (including my husband). We would be thrilled to pay to use the train instead of putting wear and tear on the car. When is Amtrak going to figure out there are more people who go from the suburbs into the city instead of vice versa? I know there are trains running from Detroit out but why not in?

Tex Treeder

Thu, Oct 18, 2012 : 5:24 p.m.

Ann Arbor is a suburb of Detroit? Boy, Detroit must really be growing.

Joel M. Batterman

Thu, Oct 18, 2012 : 1:21 p.m.

The most important story here is the State of Michigan's impending purchase of the railroad tracks from Norfolk-Southern, referenced by Cooper in the article. When that's finally finished, the purchase will set off a major improvement program to end the delays that have plagued this route for decades. For the first time in recent memory, the line will be run to serve passenger trains first, instead of freight. The Michigan Department of Transportation has more information at

Kai Petainen

Thu, Oct 18, 2012 : 4:14 a.m.

i'm slowly catching up to speed on this not so high speed issue (bad pun) according to MDOT "The federal Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 will require Michigan to provide the operating subsidy for the Wolverine starting in fiscal year 2014 at an estimated cost of $25 million per year." so this line will cost $25 million per year to Michigan? "Federal funding for passenger rail is uncertain because it requires ongoing congressional appropriations." in a baseline scenario: "Wolverine service cannot be maintained" they recommend: "Pursue federal passenger rail funding opportunities that will also benefit freight rail." so... if they buy the NSC railway.... will that benefit freight rail? and MDOT recommends selling state owned lines, but they want to buy this large section? "Continue to sell state-owned rail lines and seek legislative permission to expedite selling the larger rail systems. " they do "Encourage local communities to participate in funding of station improvements" but don't forget marketing.... MDOT also states that Michigan needs to... "Develop strategies to increase ridership and revenue"

Kai Petainen

Thu, Oct 18, 2012 : 3:45 a.m.

sorry... stupid question here. freight traffic goes on the track, right? once NSC sells the track to MDOT, then is it correct to presume that freight travel won't go on the tracks? if so... what company uses the tracks for freight? and if so... how is that company linked to NSC?

Kai Petainen

Thu, Oct 18, 2012 : 3:01 a.m.

"Cooper said he understands negotiations are continuing for the state of Michigan to purchase the tracks from Norfolk Southern" I got the impression from the city council meeting this week, that this was a done deal. NSC is a public company, it'll be worthy to note to investors / financial press as to how much NSC makes on this deal.

Kai Petainen

Thu, Oct 18, 2012 : 5:01 a.m.

i'm so dumb... i just realized what the $200 million federal grant was for. all along i thought it was for improvements... but it's not... it's to buy the $200 million line from NSC. MDOT said it was worth $200 million, the federal government gives $200 million to buy it. so, when people talk about how the federal government gave money.... that was towards the purchase of the track. ($197 million to buy it and $3 million for the train/bus station in ann arbor) so... what if NSC turns around and says that... that's not enough?

Kai Petainen

Thu, Oct 18, 2012 : 4:43 a.m.

i got more clarity on the 61 mile transaction "CSX will invest its entire proceeds from the SunRail transaction - $432 million – in freight infrastructure within the state of Florida" so if the state buys the track from NSC, will NSC turn around and invest the $200 million back in Michigan like CSX did in Florida? from NSC's perspective, I'd think they would be getting ripped off at $200 million for that track?

Kai Petainen

Thu, Oct 18, 2012 : 4:28 a.m.

so Michigan figures the track is worth $200 million. for a comparison, look what happened in florida. CSX sold a 61 mile track to Florida. and then... this... Over the next eight years, CSX and its affiliates plan to invest $500 million into Florida rail infrastructure to support economic growth and job creation in the state. This investment is primarily supported by proceeds from the transaction.


Thu, Oct 18, 2012 : 1:47 a.m.

Mega Bus is also good alternative to Chicago. Early enough, the price is fantastic. Parking is good in A2. Drop off in Chicago is very convenient downtown.


Wed, Oct 17, 2012 : 11:25 p.m.

Oh man, where to begin. Seller undermines product to encourage buyer - ummm no. Parking logistics 50 feet waaaay waaay over the other side of Broadway bridge are too difficult. Try Ann Arbor at 110mph and the conductor would have to fight the traffic going up Main St. "If you put a stronger product in the marketplace, ridership will be stronger." - yep, good old demand and supply muscles- build it and they will ride. Like a Ferris Wheel - to Chicago. Mr Cooper is too much!!! Where's my free Tesla?

Ron Granger

Wed, Oct 17, 2012 : 11:12 p.m.

So.. For the month of July 2012, 6,664 people boarded a train in Ann Arbor. That is an average of 222 per day. Their rides were subsidized by an average of $51. The whole train line, from Detroit-Chicago, had only 48,589 boardings in that month. That is a paltry 1619 people a day. And they want to spend how many billions on this?

Ron Granger

Wed, Oct 17, 2012 : 11:09 p.m.

Fantasy sales pitch: "Cooper said he remains confident that many more people will be riding the rails as continued improvements are made to the tracks and speeds eventually increase to 110 mph." Reality: "The slowdown order, announced March 15, required trains to slow to 25 to 30 mph, far below the 70-plus mph at which the trains normally can operate."

Ron Granger

Thu, Oct 18, 2012 : 1:03 p.m.

Reality: always an excuse for non-performance Reality is often disingenuous.


Thu, Oct 18, 2012 : midnight

Reality: The slowdown occurred under NS ownership, which had every incentive to disrupt passenger traffic to force Michigan's hand in buying the tracks. Now that they are being bought by the state, there will be no incentive to prioritize freight over passengers or to slow traffic rather than rapidly effect needed repairs. Your comment is disingenuous.


Wed, Oct 17, 2012 : 10:55 p.m.

Q: How do you get to Chicago from Ann Arbor in 7 hours? A: Take the train.


Wed, Oct 17, 2012 : 11:42 p.m.

You could try the Mayor's favorite mode of transportation. Bike.


Wed, Oct 17, 2012 : 10:51 p.m.

GO AMTRAK!! Good job and keep up the positive numbers!


Wed, Oct 17, 2012 : 8:59 p.m.

At $456.00 to get two adults and two children round trip to/from Chicago via train, vs the roughly 20 gallons of gas to get there and back (500 miles / 25mpg), it still makes NO sense to take a train. Granted, parking can get expensive, but still doesn't close the gap. When going alone it is still more reasonable to take megabus. I love trains, but I'd sure think the number of riders would shoot up if they'd just offer a competitive price.


Wed, Oct 17, 2012 : 10:57 p.m.

Competitive price? Plenty of people fly to Chicago without issue. Get me there at the stated time, which should approximate driving. 5 hours - yes. 7.5 hours - no.


Wed, Oct 17, 2012 : 10:53 p.m.

By 21 days in advance and there's no way four tickets to and from Chicago/A2 is over $400.00 and more like between $150-$250 instead.


Wed, Oct 17, 2012 : 10:37 p.m.

To offer a more competitive price, there would have to be more subsidies or more riders and cars per train.

Larry Baird

Wed, Oct 17, 2012 : 8:58 p.m.

As Mr. Cooper pointed out to City Council Monday night, Amtrak is also shifting the annual operating costs of running the Wolverine line over to the state by the end of next year. What he forgot to mention is the cost to MDOT will be around $25 million per year at today's level of service. Any expanded levels of service will undoubtably increase the required operating subsidies provided by MDOT. Since ticket prices do not cover the full cost of service ($25 millon annual cost divided by 483,772 FY 2012 boardings = approx. a $51 state subsidy per train boarding. Assuming a boarding is one-way, that would be a $100 state subsidy to take the train to Chicago and back. Mr. Cooper also failed to mention where in MDOT's budget all this money would come from??


Wed, Oct 17, 2012 : 11:55 p.m.

I assume you are equally concerned about subsidies to auto traffic? Simply an oversight that you didn't do an apples-to-applies comparison of to subsidies for various forms of mass transit? Because otherwise one might conclude that you simply cherry-pick facts to support your unacknowledged bias.

Larry Baird

Wed, Oct 17, 2012 : 8:48 p.m.

The parking problems highlighted are of Amtrak's own making. The south side parking lot extends west all the way to N. Fifth Ave. The north side, parallel parking lot only extends half that distance. There is space available to expand parking on the north side (not including the Michcon site) and under the bridge on the north side (similar to the under the bridge parking between the Gandy Dancer and the train station). As for accessibility, Congress has mandated that Amtrak bring all stations and parking lots owned by Amtrak (as is the case in Ann Arbor) up to ADA compliance within a couple years. Amtrak is trying to shift part of that financial burden onto the city.


Wed, Oct 17, 2012 : 8:24 p.m.

I can drive to Chicago in 3 1/2 hours. I wish the train could keep up. (Of course, the last 5 miles on the Dan Ryan can take another hour if you don't time it right)


Wed, Oct 17, 2012 : 11:40 p.m.

Transporter 3 1/2.


Wed, Oct 17, 2012 : 10:35 p.m.

Drive to Chicago at night and (if you need to drive through the downtown confluence of freeways, arrive around midnight).


Wed, Oct 17, 2012 : 8:20 p.m.

In 2008 gas was about $2 gallon, today it is $3.50. Ridership is up about 2.5% Why is it we need a new train station and a new mileage to support rail transit? This appears to be a case of field of Dreams. If you build it they will come. But how do we pay for it if they do not??


Wed, Oct 17, 2012 : 7:58 p.m.

The parking lot west of the station is always full. What with the Gandy Dancer and Caseys, there is very rarely a place to park. I pick up my son once a month and usually have to drive around for ten minutes to find a place to park to wait for the train. At least on Fuller, there are not two restaurants that have much business and little parking.


Wed, Oct 17, 2012 : 11:35 p.m.

Hint. Cellphones make for nice gifts. Good for traveller pickup arrangements, too.


Wed, Oct 17, 2012 : 8:50 p.m.

So, if we put the station where there are fewer people, it will be far more convenient? or, more convenient for temporary idlers of vehicles? or, more convenient for you? At present, the station is proximate to the north of downtown and the northwest side. Moving it to near the hospital will make it near the hospital and a small number of citizens who are proximate to what is now hospital overflow parking, the public pool and some athletic fields.


Wed, Oct 17, 2012 : 7:36 p.m.

I wonder if $4 per gallon has anything to do with increases. If you follow the gas prices that will dictate overall business. Pretty much how the economy is fairing, I guess they like to keep you guessing.


Thu, Oct 18, 2012 : 1:37 p.m.

High cost for gasoline may be a factor increasing rail travel from Ann Arbor to Chicago. However, travelers must arrange for transportation once in Chicago which could involve the costs of rental vehicles and public transportation. While the latter is excellent in Chicago using CTA transportation will add time for traveling. Cab rates are high in Chicago (but so is parking).

Ryan J. Stanton

Wed, Oct 17, 2012 : 7:31 p.m.

Here are some of the ridership reports I used for this story:

Vivienne Armentrout

Thu, Oct 18, 2012 : 2:12 a.m.

Thanks for the links, Ryan. The data-obsessed among us love this.

Vivienne Armentrout

Wed, Oct 17, 2012 : 7:21 p.m.

I find it interesting that advocates of a new station mention the parking as one of the problems. Yet to build a station at Fuller Park would surely require a new parking structure. How would passengers compete with hospital employees for parking? Currently parking at the station is free, but unless heavily subsidized (by whom?) a substantial cost for parking over a weekend's trip is likely. Additional auto traffic and parking pressure will also doubtless impact the rest of Fuller Park in ways we haven't even considered yet.


Thu, Oct 18, 2012 : 5:45 a.m.

I agree. I parking in the discount lot as a University of Michigan Medical Center employee and would be adversely affected by the Fuller station. I beg the city officials to consider other sites, or improve the one at the Depot.