You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Sun, Jan 31, 2010 : 6:05 a.m.

Ann Arbor to Detroit rail could be running by year-end, officials say

By Tom Perkins


Ypsilanti Mayor Paul Schreiber stands outside the Freighthouse, which will be Ypsilanti's train stop.

Tom Perkins | For

An effort to link Ann Arbor and Detroit with a commuter train is inching toward reality, with officials optimistic some trains could be running by year-end.

The Southeast Michigan Council of Governments and Michigan Department of Transportation are spearheading the Ann Arbor-to-Detroit Regional Rail Project. And project managers say it has gained momentum because of broad regional support.

“There hasn’t been one elected official or resident who has called or written an e-mail saying this is a bad idea,” said Carmine Palombo, director of transportation programs for SEMCOG. “We’re still enjoying remarkable support from legislators at every level, and I think that’s one of the key things on this project.”

SEMCOG and MDOT have been meeting with government officials for months, and Palombo plans to give an update on the project to the Ann Arbor City Council on Monday.

For the first three years, the rail line will be a “demonstration project,” intended to obtain more detailed information about ridership projections and costs. If the data shows high enough interest in the rail at the end of that period, the project will become a higher priority to receive Federal Transit Authority “New Starts” grant money.

“Everyone has to follow a pretty strict regime of analysis in order to receive the money,” Palombo said. “We’re competing against places that already have commuter rail, and right now, we just don’t have that data they have.”

One of the most significant steps thus far is memorandums of understanding being developed between SEMCOG and freight train companies to allow passenger trains to travel their tracks between Ann Arbor and Detroit. Amtrak will likely operate the trains and act as the rail authority until one can be established, and contracts are signed to purchase cars and locomotives.

Because the tracks are already in place, the initial investment is much lower than it has been for similar projects in other regions, officials say.

“The project has taken a while for one reason - because it’s Michigan, and a lot of people think there’s a built-in bias against public transportation,” Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje said. “But we have an advantage in this region because we don’t have to build a new rail system.”

In the coming months, SEMCOG and MDOT will design and lay sidings, which allow trains to wait on the sidetrack while trains with the right-of-way can pass. The agencies also plan to start investigating the environmental impact of the sidings and drawing up a marketing plan.

“At the planning level, this much closer to implementation than we have ever been,” Palombo said.

So far, no price structure has been developed. Initially, the train will make four roundtrip runs on weekdays and three trips on weekend days.

Stops are scheduled for Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Metro Airport, Dearborn and Detroit’s New Center area. The respective transportation authorities are planning to adjust bus routes around the train schedules to quickly transport passengers closer to their destinations.

It’s expected to take about 50 minutes to travel from Ann Arbor to Detroit via the commuter train. An estimate on the time between Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor isn't yet available.

All officials involved acknowledge four trips a day isn’t enough, but say it’s a starting point.

“You build these things in increments,” Palombo said. “You don’t necessarily get the whole system up at once because it’s an issue of money and timing. We can wait for maybe six or eight trains to start with, but everybody wants this train to start running ASAP.”

Ypsilanti Mayor Paul Schreiber concurred.

“When you get your first car, do you get a Cadillac or a BMW?” he said. “Especially since the funding is coming externally. I’d like to see more trains, but I think it’s enough for us to demonstrate that it’s going to work - it’s a marketing study.”

Finding funds

Palombo said funding for the project, at an estimated cost of $60 million to $80 million in capital costs and another $8 million to $10 million per year in operating costs beyond what’s collected from riders, will come from a patchwork of sources.

Thus far, those include several small federal grants, Federal Highway Administration money, state funding through MDOT, and funding obtained by Michigan’s congressional delegation. Palumbo did not have a figure of how much has been raised to date.

“We’ve gotten a couple dollars here and there and are passing the hat here and there and everywhere to get money for this thing,” Palombo said. “Because we don’t have a dedicated source of funding, we have to do it this way.”

Addressing popular criticism that money earmarked for road repairs is diverted to rail, Palombo said federal highway money is strictly for planning and isn’t going toward the capital investment or operation. He added SEMCOG is hoping to see federal railroad money, some foundation money and local governments “chip in whatever they can.”

Mayors and officials in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti said they have not been asked to invest money yet and are no position to do so.

Schreiber said he was under the impression most of the money was coming from external sources.

“We’re talking about reducing the budget, so I think we’re going to have to see how it goes,” he said. “Obviously we need to be part of the process, but I don’t know what that would entail financially.”

Eli Cooper, the transportation program manager for the City of Ann Arbor, said the city has not been asked to contribute funds.

“We look forward to SEMCOG identifying operating revenue sources,” he said. “We are hoping the resources needed will be available using non-city funds, because we are trying to do this on somebody else’s dime.”

The City of Ann Arbor is also seeking grant and stimulus dollars for projects related to a new intermodal transit station.

Washtenaw County Commissioner Jeff Irwin, who has long been involved on the project stakeholders’ committee, voiced concern that SEMCOG has yet to lay out a plan for funding operation costs.


Washtenaw County Commissioner Jeff Irwin has been actively involved in bringing rail to the region for over 10 years.

Tom Perkins | For

“All of us on the stakeholders committee have been excited about this and are expecting it to move forward, but there is a little trepidation on my part,” he said. “None of this visioning or studying is any good unless we know how we are going to pay for it and have a credible plan on how to make this a long-term project instead of a short term demonstration.”

The Ann Arbor stop

For the first 18 months, the current Amtrak Station on Depot Street will serve as the Ann Arbor stop until the city can complete construction of a large “intermodal hub” next to the University of Michigan Medical Center campus on Fuller Road.

But Cooper said the initial concern is access. The depot currently has 70 long-term parking spots, which the city aims to roughly triple. An agreement with DTE to allow motorists access to the lot north of the station is being sought.

Cooper said the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority will increase the frequency of routes and adjust its schedule so buses meet the trains as they arrive.

Ann Arbor officials expect the majority of riders will arrive at the station by bus or car from as far away as Jackson. A quick and smooth transition to the rail is critical to its success, Cooper said.

“The experience of our potential riders begins as they approach the station,” he said. “If it’s congested then the commuter has a choice - they can keep driving to where they were going, or they can try to get on the train. So the experience of getting to where they are going by rail from their car needs to be seamless.”

Once the new Fuller Road intermodal hub is completed, all the commuter and Amtrak trains will arrive and depart at the new location. It will include several levels of parking, a bus station and will be close to a bike path that leads to Ypsilanti.

Officials expect to hear from the U.S. Department of Transportation soon on the status of their application for $40 million in grant money to complete the project.

Hieftje said it makes sense to have the station at the base of the city’s most concentrated employer, with 17,000 employees daily and 2 million visitors annually.

Cooper said the university and city are working closely on the project, and he expects construction to begin within a year after receiving stimulus money. The project’s target completion date is June 2012.

Hieftje anticipates the rail will alleviate some of the congestion and parking issues in Ann Arbor, which has an estimated 70,000 daily commuters.

He’s also optimistic the rail will spur “transit-oriented development” that attracts commercial investment and boosts the appeal of neighborhoods near public transportation hubs.

“People will say ‘Wow honey, we can buy a house near the train station and I can take the train to my job at the hospital. That way we don’t need to buy two cars,’” he said.

Ypsilanti stop

The Friends of the Ypsilanti Freighthouse is using MDOT grant funds to renovate the small Freighthouse to the west of the tracks, which will serve as the train stop and could include a small coffee bar. SEMCOG is providing funding for a 300-foot platform with an awning and kiosk.

Although the plans for the station are relatively modest, Ypsilanti Planning Manager Richard Murphy sees development potential in the immediate surrounding area.

“Depot Town is there because the train once stopped in it,” he said. “It’s first generation transit oriented development all by itself, so hopefully new train service could help support second-generation transit oriented development.”

When the trains begin running, Ypsilanti officials expect rail passengers will park in two lots - one to the south of Cross Street and west of the tracks and one between the tracks and River Street to the north of the Freighthouse.

The lots currently offer 150 spaces, of which the city will designate a portion for rail passengers. Should parking become an issue, city officials say they can make the necessary adjustments.

Murphy said the increase in foot traffic in the area could accelerate renovations of the Thompson Block, the old train station or largely abandoned factory on several acres of property at River and Forest streets.

“There are several of these under utilized former commercial or industrial spaces that are well within walking distance of the freighthouse,” he said.

Growing optimism

Officials say they’re confident residents will find the rail a convenient alternative.

“I think the public will be open to rail, and they want options other than using their cars,” Palombo said. “They will use it if it’s good public transit that’s reasonably priced, reliable, safe and clean, we will be concentrating on providing just that.”

Schreiber said convenience is key to the rail’s success. He sees the ability to send e-mails and be productive during the commute as one of the selling points.

“I think the game changer is going to be commuters being able to use WiFi on the train - people are going to see it’s going to be worth their time,” he said.

Irwin envisions benefits beyond just providing an alternative to cars. He sees it as a key piece to southeast Michigan's economic infrastructure.

“Southeast Michigan is very far behind in transit, and it’s a huge hindrance to our economic development and quality of life,” he said.

Palombo is also hoping for partnerships with a light rail planned for the Woodward corridor between Detroit and Pontiac, a proposed high-speed train between Detroit and Chicago and possible line extensions to either Toledo or Jackson.

“We have the feeling this could jumpstart the whole system,” he said.

Tom Perkins is a freelance writer for Reach the news desk at or 734-623-2530.


Dennis Vernier

Wed, Mar 17, 2010 : 12:57 p.m.

I think it is a fantastic idea and long overdue, but I do feel the key to its success will be in the frequency of trains.


Wed, Feb 17, 2010 : 11:10 p.m.

Here is a link to that talks about the Downtown Detroit Rail Project that is planned to begin this year. It will take riders from New Center to Downtown along Woodward.

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Fri, Feb 5, 2010 : 4:21 a.m.

Larry S. wrote "It's a popular myth that the auto companies killed mass transit in Metro Detroit." In fact General Motors took advantage of the market crash during the Great Depression and bought control of the street car companies at a depressed price. Even though these companies were profitable during the Great Depression, they liquidated them just to kill off their competition. You can read one version of the history at

The Grinch

Wed, Feb 3, 2010 : 7:13 p.m.

Larry S: Ford paid his workers $5/day in the 1920s specifically so they could by Model Ts. He was no friend of mass transit.

Captain Magnificent

Wed, Feb 3, 2010 : 1:32 a.m.

Now we get to see what our "politicians" are "made" of. If they're wise and forward-thinking they'll go the route of the Lincoln Consolidated School District and put in a Monorail, not one of those old fashioned trains. Who needs two rails when you can get by just as fine with one? It's like all those old fashioned idiots who still ride bikes... sure, they work OK, but who needs TWO wheels? I get by just fine on my unicycle and I save half of the cost of tire maintenance! While those bike bozos are busy pumping air into their second tire I'm already zooming down the road- AND JUGGLING as I go! Let's see you do THAT on a "bike"! I think that's the perfect analogy for a train and a monorail... sure, a train will get you there, but can you JUGGLE while you're riding on it? I THINK NOT!

Woman in Ypsilanti

Tue, Feb 2, 2010 : 4:53 p.m.

All I know is that this is great news for me. I live in Ypsilanti and can walk to the train station there. I work in downtown Ann Arbor. If AATA is going to time their buses to meet the train, I suspect that door to door, the train will get me to work in about the same amount of time it takes me to drive. When I do drive, it costs me over $7/day to park so the train fares would have to be pretty high to be more than that.


Tue, Feb 2, 2010 : 12:07 p.m.

Larry S, you have to be kidding about the auto companies not being against mass transit. Too bad you couldn't sit through Sidney Fines U. s. history lectures at the U of M. They wanted to promote automobile transportation in the worst way. See the USA in a Chevrolet? Ford would go to towns and lay a mile of pavement, once those model T drivers tasted asphalt they clamored for more. Ford also developed US-12 between Detroit and Chicago, the inauguration of the weekend getaway. And what business would not want employees as a patron? Also, the Pullman company, which made train cars and the like in the Chicago area was competing head to head with Ford and the other automakers for not only product, but employees too. They had a grandiose little corporate city there too. Market share is everything in business, as a shrewd and very good business man I just can't see any logic in Ford supporting mass transit. If he did, he had the means to fund it and build it.

Adam Jaskiewicz

Tue, Feb 2, 2010 : 11:19 a.m.

Detroit's streetcars were sold to Mexico City in the 50s, where they were used for another 20-30 years.

Larry S

Mon, Feb 1, 2010 : 11:46 p.m.

It's a popular myth that the auto companies killed mass transit in Metro Detroit. That couldn't be any further than the truth, especially in the case of Henry Ford. Henry Ford realized that it would be a burden for both the company and many of his workers to be able to afford to drive a car to work every day. Think about it-an assembly worker (probably working paycheck to paycheck) having to come up with $500 for a new automobile just for a new job at the Ford plant. NO WAY! That's not the frugal thinking of Henry Ford who didn't believe in auto loans or any other kind of borrowing for the average person. That's why he made sure the Rouge Plant and the Model T plants were built near streetcar lines. The same for all the other manufacturing plants across the city. If you do your research, you will find that this was mostly politicians and especially the streets and railway commissioner that did away with the mass transit in Detroit. When the street car lines were pulled up in the 1950s, the city began hemoraghing. It hasn't stopped since. Coincidence- I think not!

Adam Jaskiewicz

Mon, Feb 1, 2010 : 3:07 p.m.

50 minutes from Ann Arbor to Detroit is pretty good. It takes that long to drive it, on a good day. It might take even longer to drive it if someone slams into the back of a semi because they were too busy texting to watch the road. And I'd much rather spend that 50 minutes reading a book or sending a couple e-mails than playing bumper cars on I-94.

lisa D

Mon, Feb 1, 2010 : 2:54 p.m.

Bravo to all the cultural visionaries who supported this bold, vital link to Detroit, and thanks in advance to those that will work to insure that route(s) drop/pick folks at logical points of arrival/departure. One World!

Adam Jaskiewicz

Mon, Feb 1, 2010 : 2:24 p.m.

PittsfieldTwp, there is a privately-funded venture to put in commuter rail from New Center to Hart Plaza [1], so that would form the last leg of your route. Construction "should start by this summer". Also, there are proposals to put in light rail from the New Center area north on Woodward to at least 8 mile, and further if regional co-operation can be achieved and funding secured. [1] Detroit light rail project gets green light for federal funding in U.S. House bill

Larry Krieg

Mon, Feb 1, 2010 : 11:23 a.m.

Over the last 10-20 years, several medium-size US metro areas have added rail transit, and the pattern is always the same: 1. Someone makes a proposal for rail 2. There is a lot of opposition from people who don't plan to use it, and don't want their tax money to subsidize it 3. After a struggle of several years, an initial rail service is put in 4. People who never thought they would use it discover that it's really quite convenient 5. Development starts near stations, land values and tax revenues go up, sales increase 6. Patterns change in the way people build, commute, shop, and spend their leisure time 7. Business interests, local governments, and residents benefit from the changes 8. Within five years, every community in the area starts insisting that they need rail transit, too. Metro areas where this has happened include Albuquerque, Salt Lake City, Denver, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Nashville, Charlotte NC, St. Louis, Minneapolis, and Milwaukee. These are some of the cities Jim Heinold was referring to as "successful". The Los Angeles metro area started its rail transit system earlier, probably because the handwriting was on the wall there much sooner - the handwriting that said, Freeways are limited in their capacity, and you've got to have other options. Don't forget that every form of transportation in the US is subsidized by taxes one way or another: air, water, highway, bus, and rail. The question to ask is, "Which is the most effective and efficient for our area over the next 10-30 years?" For many US metro areas including ours, rail is a very effective and efficient part of the transportation mix. Rail is also a "game-changer". It changes the way communities are built. With the vast amount of tax money we put into highways over the last 60 years, we've been subsidizing diffuse suburban building patterns. Because they're spread out, suburbs by nature are more expensive for local government to maintain and service. Then of course people complain about high local taxes and blame the government. When rail transit comes to an area, denser development is encouraged, leading to more efficient government service and lower cost per citizen. Families that can cut back the number of cars they own will save about $9000 annually in gas, maintenance, insurance, depreciation, and registration fees. Fortunately, there are metro areas all around the US where we can see this dynamic working. The trick is to look beyond our own metro area, and beyond the next 2-3 years of economic hardship, to invest what we can for our kids' and grandkids' futures. That's why this start, though very modest, is such an important one.


Mon, Feb 1, 2010 : 11:21 a.m.

As Pittsfield Twp to Detroit commuter, I was looking forward to this until I saw the route on the SEMCOG website. The "Detroit" stop is far north of the downtown/river front area! I am willing to add a little time to my commute if I can veg out on a train, but taking secondary transportation from the train to the river front (which is not proposed in the first round), is too much. There isn't any Detroit station that is closer to where most of the Detroit jobs are located?


Mon, Feb 1, 2010 : 11:02 a.m.

The naysayers on cost or "I can drive it faster" or "I'm not going where the tracks go" are missing a lot of points. The lack of mass transit is one of many ways that Michigan lags the nation and world. In Denver, light rail has created "keyholes" from suburbs to a cool city. There is linkage and mutual benefit. The area around each light rail stop becomes a mini-urbanized area, with shops and VALUABLE housing. Also, public transportation to our "world class airport" is a joke, and the product of cronyism and typical insider Michigan politics and under-table deals. Michiganders, keep your heads in the sand and continue to wither. All of that said, if the train did the old Amtrak, this will be a waste of time and money. At the end of the day, service matters. Right now, you can't take a train anywhere, because you could jog to Chicago more quickly.

Adam Jaskiewicz

Mon, Feb 1, 2010 : 10:55 a.m.

This is a great idea. I would really like to live in Ann Arbor, but I don't because I'm working in downtown Detroit and I don't want to drive for an hour to get to work. A viable commuter rail link would expand my options for living closer to my friends, family, and evening activities.


Mon, Feb 1, 2010 : 7:59 a.m.

Since I commute Ann Arbor-Dearborn every day, I did some (really) basic math on this. Assuming a price-point of $10-12 per day, based on a monthly pass or 20-ride ticket (based on what I've seen the rate is in other cities for comparable commutes, then arbitrarily adding about 75% to compensate for lower ridership volume than on the other systems), I'd come out ahead taking a commuter train. I already spend nearly $10 a day on gas. Then, even figuring that I'd still probably have to drive in 10% of the time for out-of-hours work activities that wouldn't fit the train schedule, there's 15,750 miles of wear-and-tear that I'm not putting on my car. That's 275 hours of my life each year that I'm no longer having to spend driving and can be reading, writing or dozing. So, for purely selfish reasons, I'm all for it. Enough of my taxes subsidize the passenger portion of the air transportation system that I only use once every eight-to-ten years (if that), that I'd just as soon get something put in place that I /would/ use. The thing I find irritating is how in this country every single attempt to establish commuter rail is treated as if it is something totally new that has never been done before, anywhere.

Jeffersonian Liberal

Mon, Feb 1, 2010 : 7:59 a.m.

Our planet is not dying, carbon dioxide has not been proven to cause the 1 degree of increase in temperature.We are not going to stand by and allow you environmental extremists ruin our economy for your false religion based on lies and a ponzi scheme. You can jump in your overpriced golf carts and drive to the third world decaying liberal monument that is Detroit to see the Tigers. There are no jobs in Detroit so can the morons in Lansing please stop funding the decades of corruption with our money. When government picks the winners and losers in the economy we all lose.


Mon, Feb 1, 2010 : 2:31 a.m.

Maybe there could be some stores inside of the train station in ypsi and the Cheekey Money store that is going to close would move back to the old location and not close, this is a wonderful thing for Ypsi and maybe Marilyn's flowers could ope a little booth at the train station. Looking forward to this and how the train station will change in the near future


Sun, Jan 31, 2010 : 11:19 p.m.

Sounds like this will be great for Detroit. Folks from the city can ride the train out to Ann Arbor to work at the Hospital, UofM do some shopping, etc. Now as far as Ann Arbor is concerned I don't see the upside. Does anyone actually go into Detroit for anything? Didn't we all move to Washtenaw County to get away from the city? Rail to the airport and/or Dearborn or Downriver is not a bad idea but then it should stop there.

Basic Bob

Sun, Jan 31, 2010 : 10:09 p.m.

Too bad they don't stop at Metro airport. Taking the train directly to the airport terminal would be awesome.


Sun, Jan 31, 2010 : 10:07 p.m.

It is simply a waste of money. It will always be subsidized by the govt. and noone will use it.


Sun, Jan 31, 2010 : 9:46 p.m.

This is a GREAT idea and about time, too. I echo the comments noting that virtually all major national metro areas have a decent mass transit, commuter train system - it's sooo much easier to get around D.C. AND between D.C. and Baltimore, to commute in to town in Philly, Boston, Chicago, etcetera. I don't work in Detroit, but would certainly use this train (and save the wear and tear, gas, hassle, not to mention danger - look at car crash statistics) to go to Detroit, the DIA, other attractions. So much more fun to sit and read a book and chat versus deal with the driving chore, no matter how much fun it is to be the boss of one's own vehicle.


Sun, Jan 31, 2010 : 9:45 p.m.

I love the idea but it needs to stop close to the PeopleMover stops in Detroit. Stopping in NewCenter is a waste. People aren't really going to use this to commute to work. I would use it to go down to Detroit for the Wings, Tigers, Lions, Casinos, etc. Afternoon and evening runs would be best.


Sun, Jan 31, 2010 : 8:31 p.m.

skenny- this message is directed to you and all the other anti public transit goers...leave this region literally by moving away and let the next generation build a more sustainable metro detroit including the environment, economy, and communities. We have been pushed to almost our limit with the auto centric mentality of people like you.


Sun, Jan 31, 2010 : 7:37 p.m.

This is so not a good idea. This idea looks great on paper but to make it a reality is a farce. This idea must look sexy in the boardroom to the state and local politicians. What if we took all the financial resources for this grand idea and focused on fixing the roads.

Somewhat Concerned

Sun, Jan 31, 2010 : 5:46 p.m.

Setting aside political philosophy, and looking at this as a practical matter, this would be a good idea in an area with high population density that moves from point-to-point (or to cities with strong within-the-city mass transit) on long commutes every day. That is, it is a good idea for places like Boston, Chicago, Washington, D.C., New York and Philadelphia. Not enough people commute regularly from Ann Arbor to a central business district in Detroit for it to make sense here.


Sun, Jan 31, 2010 : 5:39 p.m.

It seems like every 15 to 20 years or so, this dead horse gets dragged out of the stable of worn-out ideas, and beaten again. If I had a dollar for every time local politicos have tried to gin-up interest in passenger rail traffic between Detroit and Chicago over the past several decades, we could all have a pretty nice time on the town. And periodically, Amtrak has played along by adding a few more trains, which they discontinue a year or two later because of low rider-ship. Now, King John and his vassals want to take the train station (which is relatively accessible where it is), and move it a mile down the road to one of the most congested intersections/areas in the city - creating even more congestion near the UM Hospital in the process. Just brilliant, Mr. Mayor, just brilliant. Furthermore, with each passing year, for the past 30 or so years, Detroit (and all of SE Michigan, really) have seen declining employment, income, and population. Fewer people work in downtown Detroit with each passing year - roads are probably less congested than they were a couple decades ago when more workers commuted. So why would there be any logical reason to expect greater passenger rail rider-ship for this run now, than previously?!? The truth is - there is NO reason, other than, "... wouldn't it be nice to have spiffy trains, like they have in Europe?" Ann Arbor has enough "wannabe" boondoggles created by this administration, without adding another. Talk about trains to nowhere that no one will ride... geeeezz - somebody get the hook!


Sun, Jan 31, 2010 : 5:29 p.m.

The first route in a regional mass transit system is always a leap of faith. By definition, it only appeals to a subset of potential users with origins and destinations along the route, and its "unlikely to be convenient" for most people. Therefore, the majority of folks who read/post about it on a thread like this will say "What a boondoggle." It takes long-term vision to see that investment in a many-route mass transit system criss-crossing a region will eventually lead to "lots of origins" and "lots of destinations." It takes long-term vision to see that the creation of such a system eventually leads to long-lasting economic prosperity. Look at LA. When they first put the subway into LA, everyone laughed. "We have a car culture." "It doesn't originate from or go to places I care about." And now, many years later, it's a real success.


Sun, Jan 31, 2010 : 5:27 p.m.

There hasnt been one elected official or resident who has called or written an e-mail saying this is a bad idea, said Carmine Palumbo, director of transportation programs for SEMCOG. Well as you can see in these comments there are plenty of negative views expressed today. As long as freight continues to take priority over passengers (witness long delays on Amtrak to and from Chicago), its a bad idea. Until there is efficient high frequency local transit (ala Europe and a few US cities) at every station, its a bad idea. Moving far too few people for far too many dollars is a bad idea. Fix all these issues together then it could be a good idea.

Tom Joad

Sun, Jan 31, 2010 : 5:06 p.m.

The only draw will be the Casino Crowd who will be shuttled to the nearest downtown casino and promptly liberated of their wallet. We don't need a Casino Junket Train service...


Sun, Jan 31, 2010 : 5:02 p.m.

Great Idea for who? A few people that live by the rail that do work, and that are going to these limited destinations. The're alot of other people in this state that will not benefit this rail, incuding the use of precious tax, that we do not have to fund this projects upkeep. Please make the bleeding stop.


Sun, Jan 31, 2010 : 4:40 p.m.

What a stupid idea. We live south of town. No matter how you slice it, to take the train will cost more and take more time than driving. Who comes up with these ideas?


Sun, Jan 31, 2010 : 4:20 p.m.

in4mation, I don't know what kind of race car you use to drive to downtown detroit, but your 'less time' argument is just not factual. I and a lot of my friends drive to work in downtown detroit on a regular basis and it takes at least 50 minutes to reach our destination (without figuring in time to park), so your argument doesn't hold water. I personally know a lot of people who would use the rail, but perhaps that is just because I run in a different crowd than you do. Do not be so quick to think that everyone is the same as you, thinks the same as you and has the same needs as you; that is arrogance. Skenny, your comment seems a little short-sighted; Detroit and SE Michigan are in a dire economic situation right now. One of the reasons for that is the auto industry keeping out reliable mass transportation. We are the only metropolitan area of our size in the nation that does NOT have reliable mass transit and we have been paying the price for it. I see the limiting of the initial schedule to 4 times a day as being a mistake. Commuters need to have a schedule that works to their advantage and gets them where they need to be in a shorter time than by automobile, 4 times a day commuter trains will not achieve that end and it could lower the number of riders. So you are essentially using a bicycle to do a feasibility study on how a sports car performs, which makes no sense to me unless you are looking to kill the project or limit it's scope. And yes, Jims, the current amtrak schedule is a problem, it doesn't run when people NEED to use it to get to work, it runs on an inconvenient time schedule, adding one more train to that would not address that issue. As it is, the Chicago Detroit Amtrak train is notoriously late. I tried to use it once to get to a work appointment and because it was so late, I had to fork over $100 for a cab ride to downtown so I wouldn't be late! The primary need of this project is for it to be CONVENIENT for commuters, not to add burdens to their commute. Wake up folks, get your head out of the sand. Mass Transit is not an option, it is a necessity to growth and business. Implement it or see Michigan lag behind and slowly die from the lack of viable transportation resources. I can travel all over California and Florida by bus and rail with schedules that meet my needs, can't do that in Michigan. There is something seriously wrong with that picture.


Sun, Jan 31, 2010 : 3:34 p.m.

We're living on borrowed time with the automobile as the major transportation mode for not only this area, but for most of the world. More and more people are being added to the planet everyday and it's putting a strain on our infrastructure. Do we want to keep on paving and repaving? Do we want to continue filling up junk yards and landfills with spent vehicles? Do we want to keep on polluting our environment with exhaust and spilled petroleum products? How many more parking lots do we want? The best way to slow down the overuse of our planet (other than birth control) is to get more people from place to place as efficiently as possible...mass transit. Detroit used to have a wonderful network called the streetcar. With the advent of "affordable" automobiles and their internal combustion engines, this system was doomed. If you can get a seance together, you can ask Alfred Sloan about it. I'm love cars as much as the next guy, but I sure do with I could use a good, efficient, convenient mass transit system to get around. This proposal no where near good enough, but as it's been pointed out before, it's a start.


Sun, Jan 31, 2010 : 2:55 p.m.

This is a great concept that holds so much promise for Southeast Michigan, and the entire region. I lived in Michigan for 40 years prior to moving to New Brunswick, NJ. seven years ago. Jersey like Michigan loves the automobile, but because of a decent commuter rail system, thousands of people ride the trains each day, diverting even more traffic from the already congested roadway systems throughout the state. Because of the state government's "Hub City" initiative, rail service has been promoted by new housing opportunities near rail stations, which has resulted in a revitalization of previously dilapidated urban centers like New Brunswick. There are plenty of young, urbane, well-educated professionals in Southeastern Michigan who would find it easy to leave their cars parked while riding on the train, working on their laptops. Meanwhile, the rail system will go a long way in connecting the regions brainpower with the state's economic center. People have to be realistic and realize that the transformation will not happen overnight, but one of the advantages the East Coast has over the Midwest, is that within one day, business people, educators, artists, doctors, attorneys, students, and government leaders, can jump on a train in Boston and go to New York, then to Philadelphia, and then to D.C. You cannot under estimate the value of the synergistic advantages facilitated by allowing smart people to talk to each other face-to-face over breakfast, lunch, coffee, or dinner. One of the best things that could happen to the Midwest would be the development of high-speed and commuter rail system which would efficiently connect: Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit, Ann Arbor, Lansing, Grand Rapids, Battle Creek, Kalamazoo, South Bend, Chicago, Madison, Milwaukee, and Minneapolis/St.Paul. The cities just mentioned are home to universities which attract hundreds of millions of dollars annually in research. When the Midwest begins developing an infrastructure to capitalize on this kind of intellectual capacity it will again position itself as one of the most powerful economic regions in the world.


Sun, Jan 31, 2010 : 2:54 p.m.

Oh, I think all of the opponents here are correct. I mean, the economy of SE Michigan is doing so well without the mass transit options offered by every other (successful) major urban area in the country, why would we want to attempt to start rail service now? Why would we want to transform the AATA into a more functional and convenient regional system? What has a reliable transportation system given all of those (successful) major metro areas that our (failing) metro area doesn't have? The truth is that Michigan has failed at urban planning for decades. No usable public transit. No sprawl laws. No ability for cities to annex sprawling township areas and bring them into the grid, provide services, collect taxes and cut down on administration, bureaucracy, and cost. A city is not supposed to be a collection of strip malls and subdivisions along a single, over-congested five lane road with no sidewalks, I'm sorry. I don't think this is a great rail plan. I don't like sharing tracks. I don't think there are enough trains. I think there should be a Down River spur as well. But it is a start. And it has to come from Ann Arbor, because we are just about the only city in Michigan that has any idea at all about what mass transit is supposed to do. It has to go to New Center because that is the existing station. (It could, however, easily continue to Pontiac, just like the AMTRAK.) There is one huge advantage to New Center; Cadillac Place is the hub of State government in Detroit. State employees could easily fill a train each way a day with commuters, given the proper incentives I don't commute to Detroit, but I would love to be able to take my bike out there on the weekends and check out festivals, restaurants, and bars. I would love for people to ride the train to next year's Jamboree Music Festival in Depot Town and spend the day or the weekend. But all of that is all fluff without commuters, and mass transit is a hard sell to Michigan commuters. The only hope is that the system is changed rapidly and proactively as this pilot program gathers data. If it is run in this manner, reacting to consumer demand, then just maybe we can start pulling Michigan kicking and screaming into modern times and modern urban planning. But hey, things have been working out just fine the way they are so far, right?

Jim Heinold

Sun, Jan 31, 2010 : 1:17 p.m.

Lets look at the facts: Ann Arbor to Detroit rail could be running by year-end, officials say Posted: 6:05 a.m. Today Funding for the project, at an estimated cost of $60 million to $80 million in capital costs and another $8 million to $10 million per year in operating costs beyond whats collected from riders, will come from a patchwork of sources. How is current public transportation in the area doing? Posted: 6:18 p.m. September 23, 2009 The AATA budget for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1 totals $25.5 million, about $9.7 million of which comes from local tax revenues. Another $1.1 million comes from purchase of service agreements, $4.3 million from passenger revenues, $6.8 million in state assistance, $3.2 million in federal assistance and $361,200 in interest. My math isnt that great but it appears that about 80% of AATAs budget is based on taxpayer subsidies. But rail service must be better, so how is Amtrak doing? Riding the Subsidized Rails of Amtrak at a Loss of $32 per Passenger Ronald Bailey | October 27, 2009 A.P. The Pew Charitable Trusts SubsidyScope Project has just released a new report that finds 41 out of Amtrak's 44 routes lose money. The losses ranged from nearly $5 to $462 per passenger, depending upon the line, and averaged $32 per passenger. In 2006, Amtrak received just under $1.4 billion in subsidies. But then the State of Michigan must see the benefit in rail service? MICHIGAN MAY CUT AMTRAK SUBSIDIES IMPACTING BENTON HARBOR, DOWAGIAC, NILES By DAVID EGGERT, Associated Press Writer Story Created: Jul 4, 2009 at 5:56 AM EST The state is paying Amtrak $7.3 million a year to offer roundtrip daily service linking Grand Rapids to Chicago and Port Huron to Chicago. Funding would drop by half to about $3.7 million starting in October under a budget passed by Senate Republicans. Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm and House Democrats want to reduce the subsidy to about $5.7 million, a 22 percent cut. Looks like the support for rail service is a little weak in Lansing!


Sun, Jan 31, 2010 : 1:03 p.m.

This whole area (SE Michigan) probably would have had a more economically friendly and usable mass transit system years ago if the auto industry, executives all the way to shop workers, hadn't always forced the keep buying cars theory. Maybe, just maybe, if the auto industry had diversified into building and maintaining more forms of mass transit, Michigan's industrial sector wouldn't be so desperate. But we do not have a good mass transit system, and we have a wobbly auto industry, huge unemployment, and as always a car happy mentality. It may not be a perfect idea, but at least it is an idea. I can't remember how many times people visit me from large metropolitan cities and are shocked at how non-existent mass transit is in Michigan.

The Grinch

Sun, Jan 31, 2010 : 12:03 p.m.

Jims, The presumption is that commuters from the A2 area will go to Detroit for work, not the reverse. If that is the case, you will note in the schedule you provide that there is not a single AMTRAK train that would provide commuter service in the morning and, that being the case, the single train that could provide night commuter service will attract few if any commuters.


Sun, Jan 31, 2010 : 11:55 a.m.

I think what we've grown used to as car commuters is the freedom an automobile affords. I can flex my arrival and departure time at will, within my employer's guidelines. I can leave early to pick up a sick kid. I can stop at the grocery on the way home. etc. etc. I would have to make a significant change in my lifestyle in order to use a light rail system as a work commuting tool. I agree with one previous poster, that frequency of the cycle would determine usage. Give me a train every 1/2 hour on the 1/2 hour, something I can count on and flex around, and I might use the service. Given I have no daily draw towards the detroit area, I would not use it.


Sun, Jan 31, 2010 : 11:48 a.m.

What about on-board security? Will there be a police presence riding every train car? Will the conductors be armed?


Sun, Jan 31, 2010 : 11:45 a.m.

Maybe now the Dahlmans will do something with the old depot building in ypsi, instead of letting it fall further into disrepair. With respect to Detroit,becuase the people mover does not come up to the New Center area, which is where the stop in Detroit will be, it is not a very viable source for getting to Downtown Detroit. Currently, you would have to take a bus To get there. And for anyone who doesn't know why this area ever created a mass transit system similar to regional areas such as Chicago, Toronto, New york etc, two words for you, Henry Ford.


Sun, Jan 31, 2010 : 11:42 a.m.

I have taken the Amtak to and from Detroit and Ann Arbor several times and it has never been full. These trains are going to be on the same tracks as Amtrak. Amtrak is currently being subsidised. Amtrak is going to be running the service for the first three years. The only trains missing from the current Amtrak schedule is an early am train from Ann Arbor to Detroit and a late pm train from to Detroit to Ann Arbor. Who wants to get off the train in Wayne or Romulus and then find other transportation to the airport and at what cost. MI Flyer does an excellent job now for $15.00 one way and makes 8 trips a day. Would it not be smarter and more cost efficient to ask Amtrak to continue with their current service and simply add the missing train that could be stored in Detroit in the day and Ann Arbor at night. This might be less expensive than the current plan. Just a thought. I have listed Amtraks current schedule below. Ann Arbor to Detroit Departs: 1:04 PM - Arrives: 2:08 PM - $14.00 Departs: 5:45 PM - Arrives: 6:46 PM - $14.00 Departs: 11:32 PM - Arrives: 12:30 AM - $11.00 Detroit to Ann Arbor Departs: 6:48 AM - Arrives: 7:48 AM - $11.00 Departs: 11:23 AM - Arrives: 12:29 PM - $11.00 Departs: 6:18 PM - Arrives: 7:17 PM - $11.00


Sun, Jan 31, 2010 : 11:39 a.m.

Its too bad that it is going to the New Center Area (Fisher Bldg) everything you want to see and do is Downtown by the river. Grand Circus Park would be a better stop.


Sun, Jan 31, 2010 : 11:35 a.m.

The sad thing is this could have easily been available 40 years ago. I commuted from Ann Arbor to Detroit in the 60s. But passengers were treated as second class freight. The trains were always late unless you got to the station a little late. If a freight train needed the track, your train would be pulled off onto a siding where you would wait for half an hour. In Detroit, you ended up at the Michigan Central Station. From there, you had walk a mile or wait 15 minutes for a bus ride.


Sun, Jan 31, 2010 : 11:27 a.m.

I'm glad somebody (Eli Cooper) is described as actually paying attention to what it will take to get commuters to use it. Convenience is going to be critical all the way to the doorstep (home, business). Ann Arbor has 70,000 commuters? Where did that come from? Am I a commuter in that stat because I drive 8 minutes to get to work?


Sun, Jan 31, 2010 : 11:06 a.m.

Mass transit is a regional amenity for residents and visitors and like almost everywhere else in the world, it is absolutely taxpayer subsidized. If done right, the benefits to taxpayers is huge, including an improved state economy. The benefits that come with mass transit are real, tangible and well documented. However, this train to Detroit is hugely frustrating! This is the absolute WRONG way to start a transit system but typical of Michigans lazy, foolish leadership. Heres what will happen: A smattering of die-hard transit supporting business travelers will ride this train a few times, get stranded in Detroit at night or otherwise be impacted by the low level of service (few runs a day on very busy tracks), nasty weather, poor connections in the City and most will stop riding it. The Michigan Flyer?! Every transit authority in the world except this one knows that commuters driving cars (those with a choice so called choice riders) will not ride busses. After 3 years of lousy service, Carmines report will show that ANN ARBOR-DETROIT has NO SIGNIFICANT TRANSIT DEMAND and once again MASS TRANSIT WILL DIE FOR ANOTHER GENERATION. No Transit Oriented Development just another failure in a long list of failures. The right way to do this is to follow rational states: reject federal funding for the first leg and bond for its planning and construction as we did for the Mackinac Bridge heard of it? Federal funding is designed to expand existing transit, not to start new systems. The first leg should be a fast, subway type light rail within existing or parallel freeway or rail right-of-ways with the stops we need, including Metro. Once again, our wonderful democrat senators are AWAL on this! Obama is throwing billions of our grandchildrens tax dollars at transit, our senators have blindly rubber stamped everything Pelosi and Reid have dreamt up yet when it comes to funding something this state desperately needs and supports, we hear only crickets from Washington! Meanwhile Florida gets BILLIONS for a bullet train!!


Sun, Jan 31, 2010 : 10:57 a.m. many neigh-sayers. Sad.... I have been to many other communities that utilize a system such as the one proposed here. It is wonderful. It's a great way to commute without the distractions (and indeed dangers) of commuting. This could be great for Detroit, and open up an area that really is beautiful to all of us in A2 area that would not venture downtown for fear. Have you seen the river front in the past few years? I will be commuting between WSU and Chelsea, and the idea of a rail system is very exciting to me. Taking that hour and being able to work just makes my life that much easier. I am in full support, and I hope that it happens. Thanks to all that are doing the work!


Sun, Jan 31, 2010 : 10:36 a.m.

Huge money losing venture here. You have to get to work from the train station and there's no efficient way to do that. Waiting on buses, then slowly making your way through town to your stop, is too time consuming. No one's going to do that. Our country is just to vast and spread out to make these kinds of things practical. We continue to try to be Europe.


Sun, Jan 31, 2010 : 10:31 a.m.

What I'm excited about is the prospect of having the high speed rail span from Detroit to Chicago. I don't think this would kill the need to own an automobile. People living outside of Detroit will still need to have transportation for other needs. This will be a great way to commute to work, go to sporting events, concerts, etc. I'm sure it will help cut down on carbon emissions once people start using it more frequently. It could also potentially reduce our reliance on forign oil. There are so many benefits to this, and I hope it becomes a reality.

Jonas Dainius Berzanskis

Sun, Jan 31, 2010 : 10:18 a.m.

Altough this is just first step to me it is boondoggle. If you ever take commuter rail on the east coast people would be up in arms if their train had to go to a siding to let freight pass. Again Michigan is treated as an errant stepchild. Real light rail would invigorate SE Michigan but I believe this will just frustrate the passengers.


Sun, Jan 31, 2010 : 10:04 a.m.

Carbon footprint huh? Try living out of the AA/Ypsi bubble. There are much more important things. Being green is great when if can be afforded. Now is not the time.


Sun, Jan 31, 2010 : 9:50 a.m.

@skenney1384 I think the idea is to leave LESS of a carbon footprint, not more. At the rate we are going our childrens' children won't have a planet to drive all these cars you are proposing on. Try and look at the bigger picture.


Sun, Jan 31, 2010 : 9:44 a.m.

This is a great idea! However isn't there currently a rail service between A2 and the New Center Area. I can't remember does GM still have offices there? I think an extra 8-10 million dollars a year over and above what ridership will pay is a gross mis-representation of what it will really cost. I believe that the line should go to the airport and then on to the Livonia/Farmington area to gather the greatest number of riders. If we are going to spend the public's money, do so wisely. Going to the New Center area for What?

Craig Lounsbury

Sun, Jan 31, 2010 : 9:34 a.m.

"$8 million to $10 million per year in operating costs beyond whats collected from riders..." So we the people will subsidizing the real ticket price, which will take more cars off the road, which will mean less gas taxes collected to fix the roads. In a twisted logic we will be subsidizing our own potholes.

Jeffersonian Liberal

Sun, Jan 31, 2010 : 9:19 a.m.

I have to hand it to the egghead elitists, they're persistent.They're going to shove this government fiasco down our throats one way or the other. We throw billions down the rat hole that is Amtrak, millions more for our local bus system. Buses that seldom have six riders, you would be better off taking that money and buy them each a new car. These half baked light rail systems barely work in the heavily populated eastern corridors.With Michigan's economy projected not to recover for another 10 years will continue to lose population. The politicians and bureaucrats never take all of the logistical problems into account before they start wasting OUR money. I know this is going to shock most of you, but not everyone works in downtown Ann Arbor. For those that would use such a system, you would have to add 2 hours of commuting between the station, home and the office (waiting for a bus or cab). Good luck making to the office on time.

Jim Osborn

Sun, Jan 31, 2010 : 9:14 a.m.

While returning passenger rail service to Ypsilanti and greatly increasing the passenger service between Ann Arbor and Detroit can be nice, those advocating it, including Carmine Palombo, SEMCOG's director of transportation programs, the mayor Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County planning commissioners, and others are poorly versed in rail crossing safety. Southeast Michigan appears to be headed down a deadly path of adding passenger rail service to railroad lines that presently carry freight with minimal Amtrak service. Without upgrading all of the existing railroad crossings, this region is duplicating the deadly mistakes that the greater Los Angeles area made in the 1990s when it established Metrolink and MTA. The result was a tragedy that has killed over 160 people and injured many others. Among its victims was my mother, Maureen Bannon Osborn, who three years ago died at a crossing similar to the one near the intersection of North Huron River Drive and Leforge Road in Ypsilanti. Mr. Palombo's statement last year that "cost is key" echoes Metrolink, which also used existing rails without modifications to each of the crossings. Prior to the meeting, I asked Palombo about crossing safety and he answered, "We'll do what is required by law." And that is the problem; present laws and regulations are inadequate. He later added that "It is up to Norfolk Southern," the railroad company. That implies that SEMCOG plans to do little to mitigate the risk to the people of Southeast Michigan. Safety should be up to those who are adding new service, and they should not abdicate this duty to others.


Sun, Jan 31, 2010 : 9:05 a.m.

Waste of money. Support the Auto industry and keep driving cars so the economy and jobs can get back to where it should be.


Sun, Jan 31, 2010 : 8:59 a.m.

A train from Ann Arbor to Detroit can only be a good thing! There are so many events and riverside activities to do in Detroit that I have missed because of the drive home. Schools could take advantage of this train ride with students for field trips to the DIA.....etc. It's time to connect Ann Arbor with Detroit so we can share the variety of cultural activities that take place in both Detroit & Ann Arbor! The sooner the better!


Sun, Jan 31, 2010 : 8:38 a.m.

Yes, great!


Sun, Jan 31, 2010 : 8:31 a.m.

I will ride it. Although this a scaled down version of similar ideas, this seems like a great way to implement a commuter rail system.


Sun, Jan 31, 2010 : 7:44 a.m.

I don't see being a daily rider, but if the frequency kicked up, it would be a positive thing. It would be nice to have A2 specials with staggered returns for RedWings / Tigers / Titans / Lions fans. For the airport, the proposed exchange to the SMART at Eloise might create some new horror stories to go along with the old ones. I suspect shuttle services like Custom Transit will not lose riders to DTW and back.


Sun, Jan 31, 2010 : 7:23 a.m.

Great story (and even better if it comes true!). One question, though: will the three to four trains each day be coordinated not to overlap with the six to eight Michigan Flyer buses? Although neither service will have the ideal schedule, perhaps together they could provide a maximally convenient transportation to the airport. (I understand that this might be hard to do while maintaining the new rail service as a commuter line.)


Sun, Jan 31, 2010 : 6:47 a.m.

This is a great idea!