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Posted on Sat, Mar 20, 2010 : 5:47 a.m.

Ann Arbor-to-Detroit rail line delayed due to funding shortage

By Tom Perkins

The scheduled date to start daily service of a commuter rail line between Ann Arbor and Detroit has been indefinitely delayed due to a shortage of funding.

Carmine Palombo, director of transportation programs for the Southeastern Michigan Council of Governments, said the Ann Arbor to Detroit rail will run only for special events beginning in October. No new target date has been set as the agency searches for more money.


Jeff Irwin expressed disappointment that the rail project has been delayed.

Tom Perkins | For

But Palombo said the process toward the original goal is still in motion.

“We’re still trying to develop this project, and we’re still working toward four trains a day,” he said. “We just weren’t as successful as we would have liked to be getting the money, so we came to the conclusion we weren’t going offer four round-trips.”

The rail was originally scheduled to run between the two cities four times daily as a demonstration project to secure federal funds for service expansion, should ridership numbers prove strong enough.

Palombo previously told funding had been obtained from a “patchwork” of sources. He said the nature of seeking money for this type of project precluded the agency from putting in a solid funding plan.

He estimated the project would cost $60 million to $80 million in capital costs and another $10 million annually in operational costs.

Palombo said SEMCOG is simply running out of time to offer the full service it had originally planned with its current funds.

“It’s not a lack of commitment to the project,” he said. “It’s not that it has stopped, it’s a matter of timing.”

Washtenaw County Commissioner Jeff Irwin, who has long been involved on the stakeholders’ committee for the project, previously voiced concerns over the lack of plans for obtaining funds. He expressed deep disappointment Friday in SEMCOG’s leadership.

“I think a lot of people were optimistic,” he said. “SEMCOG put their reputation on the line, we’ve been behind eight ball for decades on public transportation, and we needed to make this demonstration work to show the feds we’re worth investing in. Their inability to make it happen is a huge failure for the region.

“With SEMCOG's failure to come through, we will not have a chance to show people that it works.”

Irwin said he believes the venture is positioned for success in the region because of the two major population centers and the existing rail infrastructure between the cities.

The commuter rail line would use existing tracks owned by freight train companies. SEMCOG is still in negotiations to secure an agreement on sharing the rails.

“The freight companies are still working with us as partners on the project,” Palombo said.

Palombo added SEMCOG is still purchasing locomotives, refurbishing train cars and working on local stops.

The train is first scheduled to depart from the current Amtrak station in Ann Arbor. But the city and University of Michigan are planning an intermodal transportation station in front of the U-M Hospital, and with the project’s success, that would be the trains’ starting point on the line.

The Friends of the Freighthouse in Ypsilanti recently received a $500,000 grant from the Michigan Department of Transportation to refurbish the freighthouse that will serve as the train’s stop. It is also receiving money for a platform from SEMCOG.

Palombo said he did not yet know which events the rail will run for between Ann Arbor and Detroit.

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



Tue, Mar 23, 2010 : 11:55 a.m.

I have read a number of comments about the transportation systems in NYC, Paris, Chicago. I have news for those commenters, this is not NYC, Paris, or Chicago. There is not enough population to support this boondoggle. The vast majority of people that want this are politicians looking to expand their kingdoms. 10 million a year to operate this thing? Get real, where SEMCOG going to find that kind of money annualy. I for one am certainly not willing to pay for something I would never use.

Anonymous Due to Bigotry

Mon, Mar 22, 2010 : 5:58 a.m.

outdoor: "The fantasy always is we will be like Europe. Why would we want that?" Because people are more interested in "fantasy environmentalism" than real environmentalism. Feeling good about something that sounds good is much easier than actually doing serious cost/benefit analysis to figure out what will actually have the most beneficial impact. An example of this is the person who thinks that 3rd world countries should keep their draught animals instead of moving to combustion engine powered farm equipment when possible. Turns out that the draught animals cause more greenhouse gas effect than farm equipment. (It also turns out that half of the "cows" in the world are actually draught animals.) Regarding mass transit, the vast majority of people value their time and they don't want to spend 3-4 times the amount of their time in a mass transit system as they would in their car. The extremists don't seem to understand that most people aren't willing to waste tremendous amounts of their own time just to be "green".

Larry S

Sun, Mar 21, 2010 : 1:42 p.m.

Carmine Palombo was a guest speaker at the Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers ( meeting on Sat. March 20th. He told the audience that regular daily train service was being delayed until late 2011 due to the amount of details that need to be worked out to establish this test service. I have a question for the naysayers: did you forget about $4 a gallon gasoline? If you were a betting person would you bet that the price of gasoline is going to continue to be cheap? Are you going to bet that oil will become more abundant thus cheaper, or are you going to bet that it is going to continue to become more scarce as it becomes harder to find? What about the 1 billion Chinese and 1 billion Indians that would like to own a car? Tens of millions of first-time car owners are hitting the road each year in Asia. At least they are planning for a transportation system that handles both rail passengers and motorists. We need to plan on a future where it won't be so cheap to drive a car. I'm thinking $10-$12 a gallon for gas. Instead of costing you $6 in gas to drive to a Tiger game or go to court in Detroit will suddenly cost you $25. The bare-bones system their building here is only the first step to independence from foreign oil.


Sun, Mar 21, 2010 : 8:01 a.m.

The fantasy always is we will be like Europe. Why would we want that? The only commuter line that breaks even in US is in Northeast, all others require a lot of taxpayer $'s. At a time when school funding is being cut, why would we want to divert money from other projects to subdise rail? How many of you who advocate for AA-Detroit rail would use the system every day??? None of you.

Anonymous Due to Bigotry

Sun, Mar 21, 2010 : 1:06 a.m.

I agree with the "why would we want to link to Detroit?" people. Detroit is full of criminals. A rail line will just make it easier for them to come into Ann Arbor to steal things.


Sat, Mar 20, 2010 : 9:58 p.m.

This was a stupid idea to begin with. Mass transit makes sense when there is a large volume of commuter traffic, inadequate parking and high costs to get from point A to B. None of these apply in the A2 to Detroit proposal. I'm afraid this is a pipe dream to somehow revise Detroit by connecting it to the thriving suburban centers. Nice try.

Tom Perkins

Sat, Mar 20, 2010 : 9:35 p.m.

Inspector 57, There's a link to a more in depth piece I previously wrote on the rail plan in the story. Tom

scott newell

Sat, Mar 20, 2010 : 9:34 p.m.

highways cost the taxpayer WAY more than rail. too bad we can't make a law that would mandate all freight traffic be put back on rails, like it was 50 years ago. then, since highway maintenance would be reduced to less than half without the big trucks, we use that money for rail only!! fantasy, i know. we're too stupid, here in the land of corporate welfare over public welfare.

David Cahill

Sat, Mar 20, 2010 : 9 p.m.

I am really disappointed by this latest failure in a decades-long saga. It reminds me of Lucy and the football.

Inspector 57

Sat, Mar 20, 2010 : 8:47 p.m.

From the original article: "Palombo previously told funding had been obtained from a patchwork of sources. He said the nature of seeking money for this type of project precluded the agency from putting in a solid funding plan." And that's IT?! Wait a second. The guy said there was funding. And now you're reporting that there is no funding. There's a NEWS STORY here. WHAT IS IT?! Instead of an investigative piece, we get reactive blather and a pathetic poll in which non-informed readers are invited to express their wild-ass guesses.

Inspector 57

Sat, Mar 20, 2010 : 8:39 p.m.

"For all those that were looking forward to riding this train... pay for it yourself and you can. What would be the true cost of a ticket if the tax payers were not putting up all the money?" Interesting question. And here's one for you, in4mation: What would it cost you to take the bus to work [as you say you do] without tax-payers' contributions to AATA?

Tom Perkins

Sat, Mar 20, 2010 : 5:50 p.m.

Hilderomeo, The city technically received the grant money from MDOT in August of 2009. But it was the Friends of the Freighthouse who brought the grant to the city's attention and is generally directing how that money is used to renovate the building. Non-profits can't apply for MDOT grants. According to a city official I spoke with, construction is supposed to start in March. The first phase will mostly include structural repairs. There was another grant received in 2008 from SHIPO, which was used to create a rain garden to keep water away from the foundation. Its structural soundness is the biggest concern at the moment.

Hot Sam

Sat, Mar 20, 2010 : 5:29 p.m.

"""BTW, they aren't "your" tax dollars, they are the governments. """ Huh???


Sat, Mar 20, 2010 : 5:05 p.m.

Frankly my preference would have been more local. Chelsea has a historic train depot on a rail line that goes through Dexter where there is also a depot. Both cities have large numbers of A2 commuters. Ditto for Ypsilanti. Both Ypsi and Dexter have areas for new business, like coffee shops, sandwich shops that would compliment a busy depot. I think commuters trains would be great, save fuel, give you time to read the paper (or something). It should go in soon before gas prices spike. I think if there are stimulus dollars, the Det/A2 project would have been good for it because it would pay for the initial phases and hopefully it would maintain itself. Might stimulate jobs. Good points though as to why we would go to Detroit other than Tigers, Lions, Wings, Art Museum, Fox Theater.


Sat, Mar 20, 2010 : 5:03 p.m.

You wonder why Detroit is 'going down the tubes'? And where Detroit goes, the rest of the state follows. Such short-sighted imbecilic responses here. All these other urban areas that have reliable mass transit are thriving metropolitan areas and the areas around them thrive as well. Regardless of whether they are subsidized or not. How about we stop subsidizing corn and get high fructose corn syrup out of our diets? Not going to happen, too many special interests involved, but still considered by many a waste of tax dollars. BTW, they aren't "your" tax dollars, they are the governments. Such a dumb mantra.

Pete Murdock

Sat, Mar 20, 2010 : 4:37 p.m.

Hilderomeo - You are correct on the lengthy timeline of the Ypsilanti Freight House project from announcement to construction. We were all frustrated by the time lag on this project due to the American Recovery and Reinvesment Act/MDOT regulations and procedures. But the bid has been awarded and work has begun this month on the structural elements of the restoration. In addition because those bids were low a phase II was planned to utilize the remainder of the grant on some further foundation, brick and deck work. That MDOT process is underway with a projected Phase II bid award in the summer. Pete


Sat, Mar 20, 2010 : 4:32 p.m.

oops!... correction. @ann_tiki... why should the rest of us be interested in subsidizing a few hundred (or thousand) well-off yuppies who want to live here and work in Detroit?? First law of commuting is to minimize commuting - either live a short distance from work, or work a short distance from where you live. That way you don't have to worry about trains or cars! If you want lots of public transport, try New York City, where everything costs twice as much. I'll happily stick with my car, thank you! Forget the rail and fix the roads.


Sat, Mar 20, 2010 : 4:06 p.m.

Michigan is a poor state now - most of the auto industry which filled the state's tax coffers to overflowing is gone, and nothing even remotely comparable will take-up the slack for the foreseeable future. Many people seem to cling to Pollyanna-ish wishful thinking based on the realities of the Michigan that used to be. That anyone seriously believed that this would ever get off the ground is indicative of how out of touch with reality some folks are. They put the cart before the horse. Commuter rail systems are what you build when you have a dynamic, growing economy and population - not a declining, shrinking, population and job base. Because you build it, doesn't mean they will come.


Sat, Mar 20, 2010 : 4:02 p.m.

Why have a direct line to detroit really? Iam i missing something?


Sat, Mar 20, 2010 : 3:37 p.m.

This is very disappointing news. As a young professional who chooses to live in Michigan, a demographic so coveted by this state, I've been looking forward to the ease of commuting to work in Detroit from my new home in Ann Arbor. In fact, a huge consideration when choosing our new home was its location near a bus line and within walking distance of the train station. I, and many other young professionals, along with many young families and aging baby boomers, WANT to live in a place where regional transit is a priority. I do not want to be reliant on my car, nor do I want to pay $3+ for a gallon of gas to get myself from place to place. I want to live in a place with a sense of vitality so lacking elsewhere our region; reliable transit options help make a city and a region feel alive. Im not hitching all my dreams on this fading commuter rail star. Im going to start saving for my gas and parking fund and prepping my car for the 80+ mile round trip commute, though I will remain optimistic that this rail line will soon be realized. Im inspired me to now be a stronger advocate for regional transit options. Despite this set back, lets keep looking forward and vocalize our support for the transit efforts underway in Southeast Michigan.


Sat, Mar 20, 2010 : 2:10 p.m.

The automobile lobby and manufacturing sector has once again convinced Lansing to stall the rail project. Nothing more. This entire article is false. Sorry, but it is true.


Sat, Mar 20, 2010 : 11:49 a.m.

I was born and raised in Detroit. Detroit Public Schools all the way. I went to MSU, U of M Law, and have lived in AA since 1976. I have seen what Detroit itself has become. The money should be spent on fixing Detroit, not linking AA or other points west of Detroit to a sinking anchor. It is true that when others built mass transit, our region built freeways. That, plus economics and riots and racism (in both directions) and other disfunctional modalities have led to Detroit being a city so empty that one could fit San Francisco, Manhattan, and one other city I forget inside Detroit without disturbing anything. Sadly, there is very little to which we can link. That should be the emphasis of correction. That said, I am a mass-transit lover. Denver (a city that's still "there" has build light rail, and has well-linked its 'burbs to the city in a successful way. Every light rail stop has become a thiving neighborhood of its own. But alas, linking to a sinking (city) is not ready for prime time. There is just not enough "there" there right now to generate sufficient ridership to justify the expense. Let's fix Detroit. Consolidate the habitations, schools, infrastructure and neighborhoods, add farms and green spaces, and see if the place gets re-inhabited.

Val Losse

Sat, Mar 20, 2010 : 11:20 a.m.

Why must it be a train? Why not have bus type units run on the rails? Much cheaper and easily accomplished. Modify a bus and placed it on the rails. They do it in Europe. Why must it be a train that costs millions of dollars to buy and millions of dollars to operate.


Sat, Mar 20, 2010 : 11:04 a.m.

HA! Good, it's a waste of money. Get in your car and support the auto industry....and not a Toyota either.


Sat, Mar 20, 2010 : 10:54 a.m.

First of all the train stop in Detroit would be the new center area which is not near the river or Grand Circus Park. Second, if this is should a good idea, where is the "for profit" companies in this project? Sounds like another government bailout project!


Sat, Mar 20, 2010 : 10:47 a.m.

I, too, am disappointed about the rail service. However, the writer of the article needs to look at some facts: The Friends of the Freighthouse in Ypsilanti, to my knowledge, did not just recently receive a $500,000 grant from the state. This grant was given to the FOYF in April of 2008. It was presented by Gov. Granholm, with Mayor Paul Schreiber and Rep. John Dingell present (I was there as well). I for one have not seen much in the progress of refurbishing the freighthouse in the 2 years since the grant was given. Can someone please enlighten me as to what HAS been done? I question our state government at to the decisions they are making in giving such large grants to organizations who cannot seem to agree on how to move forward, when to move forward and do what with moving forward, when non-profit organizatios such as The Hope Clinic and Ypsilanti Meals on Wheels so desperately need help. The YMOW organization has a waiting list of individuals who are in need of food. These are our community citizens who are home bound, ill and/or physically unable to prepare meals for themselves. The Hope Clinic provides food, health care and dental care to our community citizens at no or very little cost and the services provided by the many volunteers are pro bono. WHERE ARE THE PRIORITIES? And what about our schools? Oh...and one last thing...the Senate earlier in the week passes a resolution to give state workers a 3% pay increase effective October 1st!!!! So, the Friday the state offices are closed, the state workers are going to be able to collect a 40 hour/week paycheck anyway! What a bunch of bologna!


Sat, Mar 20, 2010 : 9:45 a.m.

I second the wall proposal!


Sat, Mar 20, 2010 : 9:36 a.m.

I really enjoy and appreciate trains. Growing up in Chicago and having a train close by does this. And I would like more train service here in Michigan. But let's face facts people. Trains in Michigan - actually any public transportation in Michigan - is really just a pipe dream. It will never never happen on a large scale. And a commuter train is large scale in this state. The auto companies screwed us by extracting huge profits for 40 or more years out of this state and then abandoning it when things got just a little difficult. You would have thought the auto industry would have wanted ideal roads here. This is probably the most backward state in road conditions. And Ann Arbor!!! hah, they hate cars and would love a carless downtown and close in, but refuse to make significant investments in public transportation. That is the kind of short-sightedness that is all too prevalent in this decrepit state we call home. And the 'death' of any commuter train project (like that fiasco of Howell to Ann Arbor - won't happen either - get to love US23, people! it's all there will ever be) is so typical.


Sat, Mar 20, 2010 : 9:06 a.m.

It's amazing that some people in this and other suburban "white flight" have convinient recolections of events couldn't care less what happens to our parent city. Continue to keep our "borders" closed to Detroit by not supporting progressive transportation measures? Perhaps we should build a wall even? What year, city, state and country are we in? Like it or not Detroit IS our fair metro parent city. What did everyone expect to happen to something that was once was cherished and great when it became neglected and abandoned? Supporting Detroit and its transportation infrastructure will only benefit Ann Arbor, not harm it. Reality check please. Do you love Detroit and want to see it thrive? Sign the Declaration, make the pledge, and join the movement for a more prosperous future.

scooter dog

Sat, Mar 20, 2010 : 8:53 a.m.

Why not take the 80 plus million it will cost and give it to the schools in this state so mine and everyone elses out of control property taxse will go down so I can afford to live in my house in retirement.

Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball

Sat, Mar 20, 2010 : 8:49 a.m.

SERIOUSLY... "SEMCOG predicts that if they build any one of the five plans studied, between 600 and 6,000 people daily will ride the train between Detroit and Ann Arbor. The cost of building it will run from $600 million to $3 billion, depending on the plan used, with additional annual operating costs of $25 million to $110 million. Looking at the details of the specific plans and putting the estimates in perspective reveals.... The least expensive of the five proposals is estimated to serve 5,800 daily passengers. It will cost a minimum of $151,000 per passenger to build and cost another $3,900 per passenger per year to operate. This equates to buying each rider a brand new Chrysler PT Cruiser every five years for the next 40 years, and throwing in a $3,900 annual gas and maintenance voucher." That is why Government programs/projects FAIL - they don't care about COSTS - they are spending someone else's money - YOURS!!

Matt Hampel

Sat, Mar 20, 2010 : 8:39 a.m.

This is very disappointing. I thought the announcement was serious, and planned to use the service for work in the Fall.

scooter dog

Sat, Mar 20, 2010 : 8:38 a.m.

Why would you want a link to detroit.Havent you read the papers or watched the tv. Detroit is going down the tubes everyone is moving out.Crime is rampant,the schools are dismal,99% of the elected officals are crooks.Kwame will be back as mayor in a few years.(Marion Berry did it in pilly).If you want to waste some money why not build a few more High schools or better yet a bigger city hall or give all the big shooters a big raise,or give the U of M some more aid.Wow,when will the circus end?

I'm Ron Burgandy

Sat, Mar 20, 2010 : 8:26 a.m.

How many Ann Arbor home owners commute to Detroit? What a huge waste of taxpayers money. Good riddance...


Sat, Mar 20, 2010 : 8:20 a.m.

DAH, no suprise as there is no support. This would never be profitable and would never surpass 50% capacity. Thank goodness this train ain't going nowhere!

Charles Fechter

Sat, Mar 20, 2010 : 8:09 a.m.

It cost a lot of money to get a project like this started. But the sad part it take more money to keep it running. And that's where the goverment come in. The goverment[the tax payer] will have to subsidize this project for it's life because they don't support themselves. Look around the country, the only ones that are paying for themselves, last I read, where San Diego and Portland. The Woodward Ave. rail developer already said the city or state will have to suport there rail once it's up and running. We have bigger funding problems in this state than to subsidize another money pit. I pay enough taxes!


Sat, Mar 20, 2010 : 7:30 a.m.

Thank God it got delayed. Why on earth should we link to Detroit? That place will always be dysfunctional. They should conduct their city council meetings from jail, as that's where most of them belong.


Sat, Mar 20, 2010 : 7:07 a.m.

I cant even begin to express how disappointed I am by this. I had wild fantasies about taking the train and going to a Tiger game, the airport, etc. If that was enough of a success, maybe taking a train from Depot Town to Chicago could have been a reality! Once again, government has made a promise to the public that sounds great, taken our taxes at every opportunity, then slapped us in the face. But shame on those of you who voted that it will never happen- It is that attitude that allows projects like this to fall apart. The community needs to DEMAND that this project be continued. They are going to TAKE YOUR MONEY ANYWAY! Insist they spend it for the good of the community! (a rarity in government spending)

Hot Sam

Sat, Mar 20, 2010 : 6:50 a.m.

Back in the 30's when stimulus meant infrastructure projects and not bail outs and bribes, many major communities invested in rail systems. The Detroit area invested in freeways. It is coming back to haunt us now...

Steve Hendel

Sat, Mar 20, 2010 : 6:24 a.m.

Everyone, be realistic. Do you think SEMCOG or the local units can just pull the necessary millions of $$$$ out of a hat for this project?


Sat, Mar 20, 2010 : 5:02 a.m.

the poll given by asking if " think the delay of the Detroit to Ann Arbor rail spells trouble for the future of the project?" is 100% "Yes, I don't think it will ever happen." isn't a case of people not WANTING it to happen, but of a lack of confidence that our regional officials are COMPETENT enough to make it a REALITY! I, personally am offended and vastly disappointed!


Sat, Mar 20, 2010 : 4:57 a.m.

Once again, our local and regional leadership has failed SE Michigan, as we are the only area of its kind to LACK such services. And you wonder why we are left behind and at the bottom of the economic ladder! I held out hope and have had it dashed once more. Foolish!