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Posted on Wed, Jan 2, 2013 : 2:59 p.m.

Ann Arbor officials hope new railroad ownership could boost commuter rail, greenway plans

By Ryan J. Stanton

The Kansas-based company taking over the Ann Arbor Railroad says it's open to talking about future commuter rail service and the vision for a greenway trail system along the tracks.

After years of poor relations with the railroad's current owner, the Howell-based Ann Arbor Acquisition Corp., Ann Arbor officials are calling the promise of new ownership a positive move.

"That is great news and hopefully we can work with them to further our local rail initiatives," said Eli Cooper, the city's transportation programs manager.

Mayor John Hieftje is among the supporters of the WALLY commuter rail project and the vision for the Allen Creek Greenway. He said the Ann Arbor Railroad has been an obstacle up to this point.

"They've never been easy to work with," he said. "It's been hard at some points over the years for the city just to get a good conversation with them about this railroad that runs right through our city.


An Ann Arbor Railroad bridge over the Huron River.

Daniel Brenner |

"We haven't made much headway, and I know MDOT hasn't made much headway, over the years with the Ann Arbor Railroad on any of these issues," Hieftje added.

The Ann Arbor Railroad — a so-called "shortline" that runs from Ann Arbor to Toledo — is being acquired by a Kansas transportation company that wants to expand into Ohio.

Watco Railroad Company Holdings Inc., a subsidiary of Watco Companies LLC, has reached an agreement to purchase the 50-mile railway, which serves southeastern Michigan and the Toledo markets, focusing mostly on the automobile and manufacturing industries.

Most of the Ann Arbor Railroad's operations are in Toledo, but the headquarters is in Howell. A spokesperson for the company couldn't be reached for comment.

News of the changing ownership this past week sparked questions about whether Watco will be more amenable to talking with local officials about the proposed WALLY commuter rail line from Howell to Ann Arbor and the city's vision for the Allen Creek Greenway, which hinges on acquisition of railway right-of-way to develop a system of walking and biking trails along the tracks.

Ed McKechnie, Watco's chief commercial officer, said he hasn't yet had talks with anyone from the Michigan Department of Transportation or the city about his company's acquisition of the railroad and what it could mean, but he's hopeful there will be a good conversation.

"We're going to be in the Ann Arbor community for the next 100 years … and we want to work with people," McKechnie said. "We're always open to talking to people about opportunities. We're always interested in talking about ways to create value."

McKechnie said when he came to Ann Arbor to look at the railroad and saw how close it comes to Michigan Stadium, he knew there'd be a desire to add some type of passenger rail.

"We're not saying yes, we're not saying no," he said, suggesting Watco doesn't want to be associated with any type of passenger rail unless it can meet people's expectations for performance.

"Passenger rail business is vastly different than freight rail," he said. "We're not going to get into something where we can't exceed people's expectations. It's gotta be a real deal.


A hypothetical route for the proposed WALLY commuter rail service linking Howell and Ann Arbor with stops in between.

"The good news is MDOT is one of the premiere transit agencies in the country," he added. "We're hopeful there will be a good conversation."

McKechnie said he can't make any promises about the greenway, but he's open to hearing more about it. At first glance, he has concerns about pedestrians near the tracks, even if separated by a fence.

"We're always extraordinarily cautious when it comes to putting people right next to railroad track because trains just can't stop on a dime, and we're very concerned about people's safety," he said.

Hieftje said it makes a lot of sense to use the right-of-way along the Ann Arbor Railroad to expand options for nonmotorized transportation.

"It's just a great corridor that we could make use of to have people walking and biking," he said. "You just make use of that right-of-way. There's only a few trains a day."

City Council Member Sabra Briere, D-1st Ward, said the Ann Arbor Railroad has gained a reputation for being tough on ticketing people for walking along the tracks.

"It would be great to have somebody running that train system that was more amenable to at-grade crossings," she said. "We all want the relationships to be better."

Watco is a shortline holding company with several different lines throughout the country. It operates the line between Grand Rapids and Elkhart, Ind., under a lease agreement.

"We have a good working relationship with the Michigan Department of Transportation, so we know a lot of the folks in the transportation industry in Michigan," McKechnie said.

He said Watco is optimistic and excited about the Ann Arbor Railroad and believes there's potential to bring more business and add new jobs along the line.

"The auto industry is a significant part of the business," he said. "We did the analysis of the customer base and we believe it's there for the long-term. We're very much a long-term company."

McKechnie said there won't be any significant changes in the operations — it should continue to run just about the same as it does now. He said the Ann Arbor Railroad is "extremely well run" and the management team that's already there now will continue to help run the line.

As far as WALLY, significant work will be done in 2013 on station location studies, station design and environmental impacts.

Michael Benham, a strategic planner for the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority who is working on the project, said he has talked to folks at MDOT who have worked with Watco over the years and they give good reports about working with the company.

"Watco has expressed a prior willingness to cooperate with passenger operations (Amtrak) and they currently have trackage rights on the Michigan line in Kalamazoo, so they operate in the state on the same route with Amtrak already," Benham said, adding it seems Watco is passenger-friendly.

It's estimated about 1,300 riders each way per day would use a commuter rail service between Ann Arbor and Howell. That number has not been updated since 2007.

It's also estimated to require $19 million to $35 million in capital costs. The total estimated operating cost is about $7.1 million annually.


The plan for the Allen Creek Greenway following along the Ann Arbor Railroad.

Courtesy of Friends of the Ann Arbor Greenway

Benham said much of that would be covered by passenger fares plus an assumed level of state operating funds, resulting in a local share of about $2.2 million. So-called "wild cards" that could affect operating costs are insurance and trackage rights, he said.

Supporters of a north-south rail line bringing commuters into Ann Arbor argue it would be significantly more costly to add extra highway lanes for automobile traffic on US-23. MDOT previously estimated that adding a third lane to US-23 would cost about $500 million.

Hieftje said the WALLY commuter rail project emerged around 2005 or 2006 as an alternative to adding more lanes on US-23.

"We recognize there's a big traffic jam every morning (on US-23) with people trying to come into Ann Arbor," he said, but he doesn't think adding lanes solves anything.

"WALLY is so much better than new lanes on US-23. What would more lanes do? They would just put more cars on those roads. It wouldn't help at all. They'd still be backed up."

Hieftje noted the University of Michigan has offered to subsidize the cost of WALLY tickets for its employees who want to commute to work by rail.

While he supports the WALLY concept, Hieftje is quick to point out the city doesn't have any money to spend on it. The funding would have to come from somewhere else.

Hieftje also said it's not his highest priority when looking at rail travel. He's more excited about Ann Arbor-to-Detroit commuter rail.

Making a case for rail, Hieftje said about 3,000 new parking spaces have been built in Ann Arbor in about the last decade, counting both the city's public parking and U-M parking spots.

"If we're going to continue to grow jobs here — the university is adding about 900 jobs a year, and then there's private job growth — we're going to have to figure out ways to get people here without their cars, or we're going to have more parking structures and more traffic congestion."

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.



Fri, Feb 8, 2013 : 3:55 a.m.

I am a huge advocate of the new "rails and trails" movement taking place around the country where a mixed use trail is next to an active rail line. I am also a proponent of commuter rail. However, based on some of the quotes in the story and comments, I would like to remind people that railroads are private property. Tresspassing on railroads is a dangerous choice. Fourteen Michiganders were killed tresspassing on Michigan railroads last year.

Roger Kuhlman

Fri, Jan 4, 2013 : 9:17 p.m.

Commuter rail is a very expensive boondoggle that will serve a tiny porportion of the Public. In a time when our Federal government is having tremendous problems with Debt, it is irresponsible to throw away federal funds on such projects. Every last proposed commuter rail project for Ann Arbor is a money loser but we keep going on as if the money to pay for them is free. Where is the public accountability? I ask how many of these projects would even receive a minute of consideration if the sponsors of these plans had to raise money to bring them to fruition and put significants amounts of their own money at risk


Fri, Jan 4, 2013 : 2:15 p.m.

The WALLY report clearly states the taxpayers are on the hook for $2.4 million a year in subsitities. It would be interesting to know how many people in Howell are willing to pay minimum of $12.61 a day to take a train to AA. Then pay to ride bus. I realize they are claiming about 1000 a day, but that seems like fantasy land to me. If you live in Brighton you need to drive 15 min to Howell to get the train, might as well drive to AA.


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 3:57 p.m.

If you build it, they will come. Traffic jams are not caused by Livingston County resdents on US-23, they are cause by heavy trucks and inexperienced or unaware or selfish or uneducated driers merging into the right of way at speed well below that of flowing traffic. There are a few entrances on 23 and 94 and 14 where even the best drivers have a hard time getting up to speed. Maybe they should be closed off. The placement of the rest area on SB 23 just north of Ann Arbor was foolish. Trucks slowly rolling out of there in the a.m. are nothing more than road blocks. Make these roads toll-ways and use the money to run inter-urban trains along N/S and E/W rails. Pass a law requiring heavy trucks to travel only in the far right lane (as in Germany). Slow pokes will be regulated by their peers. More lanes don't provide a solution to this problem. This only shifts the blockers to somewhere else.

John Q

Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 8:08 p.m.

In other words, subsidies for me but not for thee.

Macabre Sunset

Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 6:13 p.m.

We can't magically have better drivers than any other road in the country. I agree that trucks don't belong in the left lane - especially since they aren't allowed to drive 70. Toll roads make winners and losers out of people who already pay taxes. We don't have the job or home densities required to make even remotely viable inter-urban trains. It would be a money-suck of economy-changing proportions to try and it would drive business out of the area.


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 2:40 p.m.

1300/day my butt. The boondoggle advocate "consultants" are telling Heaveho what he wants to hear, so cut that number by 50 or 60%, and you might have a more accurate estimate. Widen 23 and be done with this enviro-fascist fantasy.

Nicholas Urfe

Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 2:02 p.m.

1300 riders a day is Nothing. That is only 325 loaded cars a day. Or 162 vans. And that is a bogus 2007 number, before the economic meltdown. Many have observed that roads are more empty now. The trend is for statistics to show that car use is on the decline - both on car counts, and number of young people getting licenses. They should be forced to run a bus line on this route to validate their ridership participation claims. Very often, the bus lines are faster than the rail. That becomes very inconvenient for the rail heads. Someone needs to make a strong case for rail over buses.

Nicholas Urfe

Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 1:54 p.m.

What is the big attraction to Howell, and spending all this money to an area that is extremely well served by highways? It's a "fly-over" city. Look at Adrian - it is poorly served by highways. But like Howell, it is a fly-over.


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 1:27 p.m.

Mr. Stanton, Your 5:34 post says the operating cost per ride is $6.31. Where does that number come from? That amounts to less than $1 million a year or over 1,000,000 riders a year.

Roger Kuhlman

Fri, Jan 4, 2013 : 9:23 p.m.

Mr. Stanton: it is apparently your job to put out information consistent with the Left-wing political line of various of special interest groups. That's not journalism, that's PR.

Ryan J. Stanton

Fri, Jan 4, 2013 : 2:08 a.m.

The cost per trip estimates come from this report. Feel free to offer your opinion on the estimates but it's not my place as a reporter to share my own opinion.

Macabre Sunset

Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 6:03 p.m.

He's been listening to Hiefje without a good dose of common sense as counterweight. "Reporters" need to do more than sit in the mayor's office and digest the pablum they foist upon the world.


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 1:04 p.m. From the article: Wednesday's decision by the Avis Budget Group Inc. to buy Zipcar Inc. not only takes the rental car giant into a new market, it also underscores a troubling fact for Detroit's automakers: Younger Americans care a lot less about owning a car or truck than their parents did. Zipcar is the largest car-sharing service, one that allows members to rent cars by the hour or by the day. Since its founding in 2000, the company has grown to more than 760,000 members — many of them on or near college campuses. In Michigan, the service is available in the college towns of Ann Arbor, East Lansing and Houghton. Detroit has locations on the Wayne State University campus. "There's a younger generation that isn't as excited about cars, that don't feel like they need to own a car. " I'm an oldster but I do think that we need to be thinking of the a car in every garage, or even a garage at all, a reality for 2030?....even in Michigan? I'm not being argumentative, just wondering.....will a car be in the future for everyone? In Auto-centric Michigan we may lag behind the times, but I do think that we need to think of the future generations now. Like it or not I hear more and more that younger people do not want to depend on owning a car or driving a car, for transportation.


Fri, Jan 4, 2013 : 3:18 p.m.

Not... it has to due with geography and population density - Europe is densely populated and geographically compact relative to the US. The only places in the US that densely populated are in the NE. Aside from that, the US is NOT, has NEVER been, and will NEVER be like Europe. You want European, move to Europe. I, for one, am grateful it is not, at least not yet.


Fri, Jan 4, 2013 : 12:14 a.m. track here. Providing mass transit, highway systems (like Eisenhower's federal highway system) is not socialist. What you think of the country's current form of government has nothing to do with their amazing mass transit.


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 9:57 p.m.

...And all because their governments think they can create endless amounts of money out of thin air, and spend it willy-nilly on whatever their hearts desire. Economies don't work that way... sooner or later they will have to pay the piper for their public profligacy.


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 9:46 p.m.

Cash... You mean flourishing like Greece, Spain, Italy, France, Portugal, and Ireland, all of whom are in dire economic straits, with depression levels of unemployment, all but worthless debt, and a dysfunctional currency that probably won't survive the ongoing economic crisis. You wanna be like them?? Not me.


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 6:51 p.m.

CynicA2, And traveling in Europe you can get around to all the great places with no car needed. It's kind of odd to take it to not liking socialism. Providing roads/ that socialism? Providing schools? Transportation for the masses.....does not mean the government is a socialist government. It means the government is providing transport to help businesses flourish.....which I see as a very capitalistic idea.

Craig Lounsbury

Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 3:24 p.m.

between my wife and I we have 5 adult children in their mid 20's to early 30's. The only one without a car lives in Chicago within walking distance of her job. My gut feeling is many young people forgoing cars are making a decision to delay the purchase. Once they have kids they will get cars.


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 2:52 p.m.

"There's a younger generation that isn't as excited about cars, that don't feel like they need to own a car. " More like they don't have any money to buy a car, after accumulating a fortune in student loans trying to get an education so they can get a job, and then not being able to find one that pays enough to afford a motor scooter, let alone a car... and of course all the government mandates on the auto makers don't exactly make cars cheaper either. Socialized transportation is not the answer - just look at Europe - right down the tubes are all their socialist boondoggles taking them.


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 1:35 p.m.

You are probably correct. As the government makes our cars more boring we have less personal investment in our cars.


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 1:01 p.m.

Once again math does not add up. It takes an active imagination to believe 1,300 riders will go each way from Howell to AA. However lets say that # is a good #. 2600 a day times 50 weeks, = 130,000 riders a year. $7,100,000 / 130,000 ='s $54.62 each way. Think this project will require massive taxpayer subsitite? Not a very good way to help citizens of Washtenaw County.

Charley Sullivan

Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 3:16 a.m.

Let's see, if I lived up north of town and could take a train into town every day rather than sit in traffic on 23, I'd do it. Even more so, if 23 stays the two lanes it should. If I could take a train from Ypsi into Ann Arbor and back every day rather than drive, I'd do that too. Train to the football game? You betcha! So many places that trains have gone into use, nay-sayers have predicted no-one would ride. And then people discover that trains generally work, allow you to do other things on your commute, and are just pretty useful, and they start taking them. But if they do build a commuter rail service there, I hope they find a way to have the systems connect easily, like a common train station perhaps?

John Q

Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 8:11 p.m.

That's right, all those people commuting into NYC from Long Island and Connecticut live in massively dense cities.

Craig Lounsbury

Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 4:38 p.m.

. Believe it or not, the tens of millions of Americans who commute by train, subway and bus every day are mostly living in the largest metropolitan areas of the country. On the eastern sea board and Chicago for starters. In those densely populated areas it make sense. I have friends and relatives that live in or near Chicago and New York. There is no question that it is feasible and efficient in those places. Its not here where we lack the population density.

John Q

Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 4:26 p.m.

You get a lot more done sitting on the train or riding the bus than you do driving your car. That's why people are willing to spend a few more extra minutes on a train or bus versus being stuck driving a car. Believe it or not, there are tens of millions of Americans who commute by train, subway and bus every day. Not everyone wants to be strapped to a car every morning and evening.

Craig Lounsbury

Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 3:12 p.m.

Mr Sullivan, what if sitting in traffic added 15-20 minutes to your commute while taking the train added 30-45 minutes? Driving to the train station, parking, waiting to board the train, then catching a 15-30 minute bus ride because the train doesn't drop you near your work place? And times that by 2 going and coming.

Macabre Sunset

Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 7:04 a.m.

The proposed rail stations in Livingston County are mostly in rural areas. Most potential commuters would have to drive several miles to reach them. There isn't even regular bus service. This is like upgrading a horse path to a highway, in terms of the usual order of transportation. Financially, it's a boondoggle at best. More likely chicanery from elected officials with financial interests in nearby land.

Ren Farley

Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 1:15 a.m.

Are there areas in or near the current Ann Arbor Rail line who would likely ship by rail if Watco provides improved freight service? Will a very well managed Ann Arbor Railroad ship much more fracking sand from Lake Michigan shores to a rail interchange in Toledo? Will Fingerle and other Ann Arbor firms use rail more frequently if there is new management?


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 2:42 p.m.

I doubt any businesses in AA will use more rail than they currently do. Fingerle, and most lumber yards went away from rail delivery because the industry shifted to warehouses. These warehouses get rail deliveries of lumber and then send truckloads of material to lumberyards. There used to be a bunch of rail customers in Ann Arbor, however by the time the current ownership of the AA (Ann Arbor Acquisition Corp) took over, they were down to a couple customers. IIRC only 3 businesses even have spurs left. One is Fingerle, which I have discussed. A second is a Forest products distributor (Burke Forest Products) who rarely got service anyway. The third was a building just south of I-94 which now serves as a property owned and operated by UofM. The only other customer I recall in AA was a team track off Plymouth Road. That was removed when Plymouth Road was expanded 15-20 plus years ago. There is little potential freight traffic in AA. The only exception might be if WATCO wants to create a transload type facility off state street (easy highway access), but that would require a lot of investment, and normally places like that don't work on shortlines when Class 1 railroads run nearby.


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 12:44 a.m.

"They've never been easy to work with", Mayor Hieftje said about Ann Arbor Railroad. I wonder how many developers, contractors, and citizens have said that exact same thing about the City of Ann Arbor being difficult when they want to start a project? Turnabout is only fair play.

Craig Lounsbury

Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 3:05 p.m.

bam... excellent point.

Peter Eckstein

Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 12:10 a.m.

As someone who used to commute the other way on US23--away from AA in the morning, toward it in the evening--I often observed the awful traffic jams created by those living in Livingston County and working in AA. The math on WALLY, however, is a bit daunting. If operating costs would be 6.3 million to accomodate 1.3 thousand riders, that would come to roughly 4.8 thousand dollars per rider per year. If each rider took 480 one-way trips (10 a week over 48 weeks) the operating cost would be $10 a ride. If the capital costs were in the middle of the estimates--say $ 26 million--and that were amortized over 20 years--that would amount to another 1.3 million dollars, or a thousand dollars per rider, or more than $2 more per ride, for a total of $12 per ride. That's $24 a day for a round-trip commute, which may be a lot more than many of those 1300 commuters would be willing to pay. My friend "Bob" suggests an alternative--using buses with wheels designed to travel on RR tracks. He thinks they already exist. If the same wheels could be used to travel on city streets, it would raise the possibility of track travel to the first stop in AA with delivery to a few designated other stops around the city. Bob will have to speak for himself, but it is an idea that may be worth looking into. There would be no need to hire full-time drivers, since a resident of Howell might drive a bus into town, go to work at a regular job, and then drive the bus back. I would imagine that upgrading the tracks for this purpose would cost a lot less than 19to 35 million dollars.

Craig Lounsbury

Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 3:04 p.m.

"I often observed the awful traffic jams created by those living in Livingston County and working in AA." Its not accurate to assume all those people are headed to Ann Arbor. Or that their trip starts in Livingston County. I know folks personally who come down that way every day on their way to jobs in Westland and Canton and Wayne. There are are others who go to other places. Even some (many?) of those who are headed to Ann Arbor might balk at a train ride if they had to add a 20-30 minute bus ride on at the end.


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 12:27 a.m.

"Bob" is a genius!

David Cahill

Wed, Jan 2, 2013 : 11:56 p.m.

Good riddance to the Ann Arbor Railroad! WALLY is plainly a non-starter. But we may look forward to progress on the Allen Creek Greenway.


Wed, Jan 2, 2013 : 11:25 p.m.

Notice the lack of any stop in Ypsilanti. I guess they don't want them riding the rails. Instead, it stops at the highly populated Whitmore Lake and Hamburg. Readers should take a peak at the City's capital budget. I was shocked to see how much of our taxpayer money the City has already spent on this pie in the sky. And they plan to continue spending millions on it despite community concerrn over its cost and necessity.


Tue, Jan 15, 2013 : 1:41 a.m.

Thanks for the correction!

Ryan J. Stanton

Wed, Jan 2, 2013 : 11:43 p.m.

Phil is right. There's a train station/stop proposed in Ypsilanti as part of the separate Ann Arbor-to-Detroit commuter rail initiative.

Phil K.

Wed, Jan 2, 2013 : 11:41 p.m.

As I said above; Wrong line. The AARR runs (essentially) North South. There is a flyover at Huron River drive, the line runs south through the city past the Stadium, and crosses under I-94, and over the grade crossing at Ellsworth road. East-West commuter rail is being investigated as part of SEMCOG. Complaining that WALLY isn't stopping in Ypsi is like complaining that you can't take I-94 to the Mackinaw Bridge.


Wed, Jan 2, 2013 : 11:18 p.m.

John Hieftje , traffic expert.

Craig Lounsbury

Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 3:27 p.m.

I think Mayor Johnny never got that train set under the Christmas tree when he was a lad.

Ryan J. Stanton

Wed, Jan 2, 2013 : 11:09 p.m.

Here's a link to the full MDOT feasibility study for US-23 (M-14 to I-96): As I understand it, MDOT conducted the study in 2006-07 and published the results in November 2009. It looks at a wide range of options, including a widening (addition of lanes) of US-23 from Ann Arbor to Howell. From the report: "Total Long-Term Improvement Costs – US-23 Corridor from M-14 to I-96: $413 million." The study also talks about WALLY, exclusive bus lanes, etc. From the report: "WALLY, the Washtenaw and Livingston Line, is a 27-mile commuter rail service proposed between Howell and Ann Arbor. According to the WALLY Validation Study prepared by RL Banks and Associates in June 2006, the commuter rail service is feasible. Estimated capital costs are $32.4 million for 60 mph service with operating costs estimated at $6.3 million per year. The study estimates potential ridership to be approximately 1,300 travelers excluding ridership for special events." Some of those cost estimates have been updated since. The latest working numbers, which I got from the AATA, are included in this story. Here's an older presentation on WALLY that was passed along to me this week by Vivienne Armentrout (thanks again, Vivienne):

Craig Lounsbury

Wed, Jan 2, 2013 : 11:01 p.m.

"WALLY is so much better than new lanes on US-23. What would more lanes do?" help people on south bound US 23 headed to Ypsi, M14 east, I-94 east and west, Detroit, Toledo, Jackson, Livonia, Novi, Farmington, Metro Airport, downriver, I could go on. The notion that all traffic on 23 is destine for Ann Arbor is myopic.

Macabre Sunset

Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 6:59 a.m.

I'll pay for the US-23 expansion when I get a refund for all the roads I've helped pay for and will never use. Or I'll pay my taxes and hope that money for infrastructure improvement is eventually used where it's most needed. Not on some boondoggle that only a handful of people will use regularly.

Craig Lounsbury

Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 1:53 a.m.

since I can get a whole lot more places by road than train, John Q I suggest the people who want to take a train with very limited range should pay for their convenience.

John Q

Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 12:11 a.m.

Then let those drivers pay for that convenience.

Ann English

Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 12:06 a.m.

I was thinking, more lanes on northbound US-23 could help people headed to I-96 east, Farmington, Milford, Union Lake, Commerce Township.

Tom Whitaker

Wed, Jan 2, 2013 : 10:56 p.m.

According to the 2006 MDOT feasibility study for the Ann Arbor/Brighton segment of US 23 (link below), the current daily traffic count is between 65,000 and 71,000 vehicles, with that projected to increase to between 77,000 and 85,000 by 2030. Even if each and every one of the estimated 1300 riders on WALLY represented one single-occupancy-vehicle taken off US 23, WALLY would have little effect on traffic congestion. It would take at least 10 times that many vehicles removed from the road to have any noticeable impact. And even if that were to happen, US 23 would still need major improvements just to bring it up to current standards to safely handle what is already a higher-than-design-capacity load. As much as I'd like to believe that commuter rail could replace or even reduce the need for highways, the reality is that rail would, at best, be a supplement. At worst, it would simply provide an incentive for more growth and development that would only require more commuter infrastructure, and around the vicious traffic circle we all go. Like it or not, US 23 will need widening and other major improvements regardless of WALLY, although the Great Recession may have put off the inevitable a little longer. Proponents of WALLY should focus on other arguments and not try to mislead people into thinking that $32 million spent on WALLY will save $500 million spent on widening/improving US 23.

John Q

Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 4:23 p.m.

Tom - You ignore the fact that US-23 is only one part of the total commute. Those gas taxes and vehicle registration fees have to cover the cost of that entire system, not only the US-23 portion. Spread that money across the entire system and it doesn't come close to covering the costs. If it did, US-23 would have been widened decades ago.


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 2:33 p.m.

There are some funny things in the comments. Buses on rails. There used to be a very similar thing called RDC cars that ran these lines in the past. They were single powered cars that would run on the AARR. They used to be common on lighter density railroad lines. We aren't talking new ideas here. We are recycling ideas that were used 100 years ago. Next someone will talk about building a separate railroad line with electrical power connecting these cities (they were called interurbans and closed by the late 1920's).

Tom Whitaker

Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 4:35 a.m.

State and Federal gas taxes in Michigan total about $.60 per gallon. Assuming about 1 gallon of gas consumed for each Ann Arbor/Brighton trip, that's roughly $15,000,000 in taxes paid by these motorists every year. Registration on these vehicles raises at least another $10,000,000 per year. All that revenue is put into road building projects as well as many other transportation initiatives, including mass transit, so it would appear that these drivers are indeed contributing substantially already. I want to be a believer in commuter rail. I really do. But so far I've not heard any argument, statistic, or analysis to convince me it'll ever be a realistic option for Ann Arbor--at least not in my lifetime. Proponents need to work a lot harder at making alternative commuting options feasible--perhaps with new technologies that don't cost a mint. (I like Peter Eckstein's 'buses on rails' comment below, for example.) Even just using double-decker buses (like the Megabus) on the existing roads to transport UM employees in from the boonies would be a good start. This could be funded by UM at far less cost than buying up houses, tearing them down, and building multi-million dollar parking structures. Employees could chip in for this instead of paying for gas and parking permits.

John Q

Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 12:10 a.m.

Make the drivers using US-23 pay the total cost for improvements. If you want to commute from Livingston County and don't want to sit in traffic, pay the cost for to widen the freeway. Otherwise, deal with it.

Macabre Sunset

Wed, Jan 2, 2013 : 11:18 p.m.

Let's not forget that the 1,300 is a guess based on a greatly increased transit time because certain improvements can't be made to the track. This is a boondoggle of a criminally irresponsible magnitude.

Craig Lounsbury

Wed, Jan 2, 2013 : 11:03 p.m.

Nicely stated Mr Whitaker.

Dog Guy

Wed, Jan 2, 2013 : 10:52 p.m.

Railbikes (bicycles which ride on one rail guided by an outrigger flanged wheel on the other rail) can be made for under thirty bucks from an existing bike. They tip off easily in a second when stopped and are high-speed fun on level steel rails of large radius turns. What joy it would bring to Ann Arbor's Great Leader to see large numbers of railbike commuters on"this railroad that runs right through our city."

Macabre Sunset

Wed, Jan 2, 2013 : 10:20 p.m.

Enough with the WALLY boondoggle. $1 million per passenger is too much for the economy to bear.

Macabre Sunset

Wed, Jan 2, 2013 : 11:16 p.m.

Ryan, please don't take the pablum from Hieftje and his clownlike friends. The cost estimates are based on the research done when this project was first proposed. The cost must factor in: A) Ridership will be much less than the 1,300 daily rides promised because track improvements deemed necessary to encourage rides will not be made. B) Costs related to the stations in the rural parts of Livingston County are admittedly not the "responsibility" of the project itself. This is thrown on the Livingston Road Commission. C) Costs related to getting people from wherever this thing ends up in Ann Arbor to their jobs are ignored. If this doesn't end up in a central location, ridership will decline even more. This is not even close to self-sustaining project. $100 million to transport 100 people a day is not viable. I sincerely believe that the people still touting WALLY should either be removed from office as being incompetent, or jailed for criminal activity.


Wed, Jan 2, 2013 : 10:56 p.m.

If Candy Colored Clowns make up the ridership, as many consultants predict, then pennies from heaven will be the order of the day.

Ryan J. Stanton

Wed, Jan 2, 2013 : 10:34 p.m.

From an operating cost standpoint, it's been estimated the cost per trip would be $6.31. In terms of capital investment, it's been estimated the cost per trip spread out over 20 years would be $2.09.

Craig Lounsbury

Wed, Jan 2, 2013 : 9:58 p.m.

" Hieftje said.... we're going to have to figure out ways to get people here without their cars," How many folks who work in Ann Arbor live near enough to a train station that it would be a viable alternative to driving the 20-40 minute commute? The truth is Hieftje has no clue and he doesn't care. I wonder how many times a week he watches "Field of Dreams"?


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 2:38 p.m.

1300/day my butt. The boondoggle advocate "consultants" are telling Heaveho what he wants to hear, so cut that number by 50 or 60%, and you might have a more accurate estimate. Widen 23 and be done with this enviro-fascist fantasy.

Craig Lounsbury

Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 2:05 a.m.

Ryan, here is a link to the "about us" page for " RL Banks and Associates". I would seriously question the objectivity of any of their studies. They are clearly huge advocates of rail roads. Nothing wrong with that except when Government uses their studies as a basis for spending tax money. Its a classic case of conflict of interest or fox guarding chicken coop, take your pick. They are huge train advocates telling us how many people will ride a hypothetical train. Can't you see the questionable objectivity?

Ryan J. Stanton

Wed, Jan 2, 2013 : 11:30 p.m.

The WALLY validation study prepared by RL Banks and Associates in June 2006 included the 1,300 estimate. It's the same number that's used by AATA officials today.


Wed, Jan 2, 2013 : 10:59 p.m.

Nice Craig!

Craig Lounsbury

Wed, Jan 2, 2013 : 10:52 p.m.

Ryan there is no source for the number in the story . My estimate is 12. another estimate I've seen is 1,000,000


Wed, Jan 2, 2013 : 10:43 p.m.

My estimate puts it at 1,000,000. That is a lot.

Ryan J. Stanton

Wed, Jan 2, 2013 : 10:24 p.m.

From the story: It's estimated about 1,300 riders each way per day would use a commuter rail service between Ann Arbor and Howell.

Thomas Cook

Wed, Jan 2, 2013 : 9:38 p.m.

Looks to me like they've been working on grade crossings. :) . Every time I hear a city official talk about the Greenway there is no acknowledgement that someone else owns that land and is using it for the purpose it was intended, it seems like they just want the Annie to go away. Nothing is more eco-friendly than steel wheels, may freight train traffic increase 500% thru Ann Arbor (except when I have to take the #1 downtown).

mike gatti

Wed, Jan 2, 2013 : 9:36 p.m.

As long as there is talk of a green way then everything is coming up roses.


Wed, Jan 2, 2013 : 9:14 p.m.

We like cars! Railroad commuting takes away our freedom to travel. Just widen 23 to three lanes.

Rod Johnson

Sat, Jan 5, 2013 : 4:26 a.m.

There's no "just" about it. Every bridge on 23 north to Flint would need to be reconstructed. It's a huge project.

Macabre Sunset

Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 5:58 p.m.

Unfortunately, while you're right that smarter driving would lessen the need for more lanes, no one in the history of driving, going back to the days when people rode horses in front of the Hieftje Saloon, has managed to convince drivers to learn common courtesy.


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 4:53 p.m.

You don't need a third lane. Someone just needs to educate drivers, to only use the left lane to pass, and not use it as their personal road, while texting, talking on the phone, or reading. By means of educate, I mean an impeding traffic ticket would be nice.


Wed, Jan 2, 2013 : 11:57 p.m.

I really don't see 23 ever being widen. Nor do I see 94 from 23 to State being widen either. They keep saying they will but they don't. Rail is the best way to go. I like what I see. We did a rail to California. Very fun indeed.

Macabre Sunset

Wed, Jan 2, 2013 : 11:25 p.m.

I have no interest in paying for the roads that link your neighborhood to the surrounding neighborhoods. I have no interest in paying for your children's schools or your medical bills (if you're on Medicaid or Medicare). US23 is a vital corridor for tens of thousands of taxpayers. Pretty much every other highway in the country carrying this much traffic has three or more lanes (and none this size or smaller has trains). It's a necessary infrastructure improvement. Only the simplest of minds could imagine that a boondoggle like WALLY could address this.


Wed, Jan 2, 2013 : 9:47 p.m.

Hope you have $500 million. I have no interest in paying for it.


Wed, Jan 2, 2013 : 9:13 p.m.

A dual-purpose carraigeway transporting both commuters and, say, Ford Motor Co. parts destined for Wayne Assembly. The commuter spends $50 a month and can't be late for work, but Ford spends $5 million a month and the assembly line at Wayne will screech to a halt if the train is delayed. Guess who waits?

Phil K.

Wed, Jan 2, 2013 : 11:36 p.m.

Wayne assembly is on a different line. AARR runs (essentially) north south. The AARR line crosses over the Amtrak / NS owned line near the Amtrak station.

Top Cat

Wed, Jan 2, 2013 : 8:53 p.m.

Watco is a profitable and successful company. They bought AARR to run more freight service on it. It won't take long for them to shut down the City leaders' money losing passenger rail pipe dream.

John Q

Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 4:20 p.m.

The traffic going north is to serve customers on the GLC. Watco isn't going to develop customer traffic on the GLC.


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 2:27 p.m.

John Q, There already is some traffic that does move north to the GLC. The AARR is a bridge line sending some traffic from NS in Toledo to the GLC. There is also a small amount of traffic going from the HESR (via GLC and AARR to the IORY near Dundee). With that said, most traffic that flows through AA is traffic coming from the GLC southbound to the AARR to be interchanged in Toledo. There simply isn't a lot of rail traffic moving NB into central and northern areas of Michigan. Top Cat, Watco does have a history of being receptive to passenger rail. Several of their other lines do host passenger rail service. The AARR isn't the big issue here. They only need to agree to service over a few miles of their lightest density operated line. The GLC which is what most of the WALLY will run on is already on board.

John Q

Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 12:05 a.m.

Any traffic on the line will go south to Toledo. There's no reason for Watco to move traffic north to the GLC.


Wed, Jan 2, 2013 : 8:18 p.m.

IF they can put some gates up at the Ellsworth crossing, I'll have some respect for them.


Fri, Feb 8, 2013 : 3:59 a.m.

The railroads work in conjuction with Mdot to decide which crossings get gates based on traffic volume, train frequency, and train speed. In the end Mdot has the final say as they are partially funding of crossing infastructure upgrades.

Ann English

Wed, Jan 2, 2013 : 11:50 p.m.

From what I've seen regarding the Norfolk-Southern railroad line over the years, gates are the last thing put up; first, signs; second, lights and bells; third, gates. Back in the seventies, only the Zeeb Road-Penn Central (today's Norfolk Southern) had gates. Much of the AARR today has only signs, and driver education textbooks tell students about these crossings, implying, "Don't expect EVERY railroad crossing to have lights, bells and gates." If there's no bell to hear, there IS a train whistle to hear. I've heard the whistle sound (long, long, short, long which means APPROACHING A ROAD CROSSING) over Ellsworth Road from State Circle.

Macabre Sunset

Wed, Jan 2, 2013 : 11:29 p.m.

Is there no flashing light there? I'm confused as to why a sentient driver needs gates.