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Posted on Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 5:59 a.m.

Ann Arbor to benefit as Michigan moves to purchase and rehab Norfolk Southern rail line

By Ryan J. Stanton


Passengers board a train headed for Chicago at the Amtrak station just north of downtown Ann Arbor.

Angela J. Cesere |

The state of Michigan is making moves to purchase and rehabilitate the Norfolk Southern Railway line that passes through Ann Arbor — another positive sign for high-speed rail.

A Senate appropriations bill including nearly $400 million in rail-related spending is expected to move on the floor of the state House this week, and it's expected to pass.

"This legislation is the first step towards accepting the hundreds of millions of dollars our Congressional delegation has secured for Michigan's rail infrastructure," said state Rep. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, calling it good news for the I-94 corridor and the entire state.


Jeff Irwin

"I applaud the Senate's leadership on this issue and I'm thankful that our governor has been making supportive signals on rail," Irwin said. "Hopefully the bill will be on the House floor soon and we'll take action on this opportunity to secure a big investment in Michigan's economic development."

The state Senate's approval of the spending plan was seen as one of the last major hurdles to upgrading the tracks between Detroit and Chicago to 110 mph — from 60 mph. That came on Thursday when the Senate voted 30-6 in favor of Senate Bill 237.

Rail proponents expect the high-speed rail program in Michigan will go forward now, and say the state's control of the east-west track bodes well for plans to enhance passenger rail services.

"The supplemental appropriation is the Legislature giving us the authority to spend the federal money from the grants that were awarded back a few months ago and providing for the state and private match for it," Tim Hoeffner, administrator of the state's rail office, told on Monday.

The House Fiscal Agency on Monday released an analysis of SB 237, which takes advantage of two high-speed rail grants from the federal government.

The analysis shows a total of $358.9 million in federal funds coming to the state of Michigan, supported by $1.5 million in local matching dollars, as well as another $19 million from private sources and $18.8 million from state transportation funds.

Under a section titled "Rail Passenger Service," the analysis notes the bill increases spending authority to allow the use of federal funds toward the $187.5 million purchase and rehabilitation of 135.7 miles of track owned by Norfolk Southern between Kalamazoo and Dearborn.

Another $800,000 is related to development of a "corridor investment plan" in cooperation with Illinois and Indiana, $9.4 million is going to the West Detroit Connection Track and Bridge project, and $412,000 is related to construction of a new Amtrak station in Grand Rapids.

Under a separate section titled "High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail," the analysis notes the bill authorizes spending nearly $200 million more in federal grants, including another $196.5 million related to rehabilitation of the track between Kalamazoo and Dearborn, and $701,600 related to construction of a new train station on Fuller Road in Ann Arbor.

Ari Adler, a spokesman for House Speaker Jase Bolger, said he expects SB 237 to move on the House floor Wednesday or Thursday.

"There are some time-sensitive items affected by the bill, so I don't anticipate any problems with it getting done," he said.

Irwin said SB 237's passage is especially important for Ann Arbor, which has high hopes of seeing high-speed passenger rail service tied in with Fuller Road Station.

"Increased service would open up new business and employment opportunities in addition to increased access to Metro Airport and entertainment venues," Irwin said. "That, in turn, increases our property values and the general utility of living here."

Eli Cooper, Ann Arbor's transportation program coordinator, agreed the passage of SB 237 is "critically important" to Ann Arbor's interests in expanded rail service.

"This is just wonderful to see that the state Legislature is moving forward," he said on Monday. "I think this is clearly a positive step in the right direction."


Eli Cooper

Ann Arbor's current Amtrak station already is the busiest stop between Detroit and Chicago and ridership figures are increasing.

In addition to high-speed rail, Ann Arbor officials are looking forward to the establishment of a commuter rail service linking Ann Arbor and Detroit — with Ypsilanti, Detroit Metro Airport and Dearborn stops along the way.

Hoeffner said the state still is in negotiations with Norfolk Southern on the purchase of the line, and he couldn't say when the state might close on the deal. He said the state is interested in buying, Norfolk Southern is interested in selling, Amtrak is interested in operating, and the federal government is interested in funding, so all the pieces are coming together.

Back in June, Norfolk Southern announced it was restricting the speed of trains running between Kalamazoo and Dearborn to 25 mph in some locations.

A spokesman for the freight company said at the time that if anyone wanted to run passenger trains at higher speeds, someone other than Norfolk Southern would have to pay for the increased maintenance costs.

The state entered into an interim agreement with Norfolk Southern in July for $4.2 million to eliminate speed restrictions for two sections of the track, including from Ypsilanti through Ann Arbor. As of about Sept. 15, all the needed track improvements were completed to get the trains back up to speeds of 60 mph, Hoeffner told on Monday.

Although the Federal Railroad Administration uses 110 mph to define high-speed rail, Hoeffner was hesitant to use the term "high-speed" to describe the kind of future improvements expected to be funded under the Senate appropriations bill.

"People hear 'high-speed rail' and they think of 200-mph trains, and that's really not what we're talking about," he said. "We're talking about accelerated rail, faster trains up to 110 mph, better and new trains, on-time performance, reliable service, and ultimately additional frequency."

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 e-mail newsletters.


Craig Lounsbury

Wed, Sep 28, 2011 : 11:53 a.m.

Top Vote getter "Stephen Lange Ranzini' summed it up nicely... "....this will be a cheaper and faster way to get to Chicago. " I will add, often to spend discretionary income. I would like to see study where researchers interview people exiting the train in Ann Arbor to see among other things how many folks are returning Ann Arborites versus folks from Chicago or points in between coming here to spend money.


Wed, Sep 28, 2011 : 3:13 a.m.

But this state is broke.fix the roads.fix education.fix welfare.


Wed, Sep 28, 2011 : 3:08 a.m.

This is great. We are entering the 21st century and will have rail service that will match other countries

Ann English

Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 10:43 p.m.

When that rail line was the Penn Central, there were two tracks. The Norfolk Southern follows the Huron River; it doesn't go through town like the freight-only Ann Arbor Railroad does. Where would pedestrians cross the Norfolk Southern, other than at Gallup Park or Dexter Village at Central Street?


Wed, Sep 28, 2011 : 7:02 p.m.

The same place pedestrians in Ann Arbor cross the street now ... wherever they feel like it.


Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 6:43 p.m.

When all is said and done, you could have bought fleets of very nice buses serving far more stops with just about the same transit time for far less money than this overgrown Lionel train set being purchased with currency Uncle Sam is getting the Fed to roll off the printing press. Better yet, you can take Greyhound and Megabus today and leave taxpayers out of it. I'm sure they're happy to buy more buses and hire more drivers as demand requires. They even have WiFi now. Yes, I realize you're a very special person and riding buses is beneath you. Get over it. There's a reason private industry got out of the passenger rail business long ago.


Wed, Sep 28, 2011 : 12:12 p.m.

Ditto the two before me, and my family took the Megabus our last two trips to Chicago. The seating is much more crowded than on Amtrak, more of the passengers are jerks (certainly not the majority), and some of the drivers we've had were clearly breaking the law most of the time - sometimes dangerously. BTW, the WiFi sucks. It becomes pretty much useless in the first 15 minutes of the trip. I think they're kind of equal. You pay more for Amtrak, but the ride is safer and more comfortable. Amtrak is a subsidized public train paying for space on private tracks, Megabus is a private bus running mostly for free on subsidized public roads. If they get the long delays due to track congestion in Illinois/Indiana worked out, I think we'd stick with Amtrak, particularly if they ever allow bikes on those trains. And in case you missed it, when we're in a liquidity trap, it costs no one (except maybe the Chinese) anything for the Fed to increase the money supply. Further, it's the Treasury that owns the presses, not the Fed. But don't let reality get in the way of a good rant.


Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 11:21 p.m.

Technojunkie, Those buses run on taxpayer subsidized roads. And those buses cost more to operate than do trains. That "fleet of buses" would also simply make our traffic worse, which in turn will require still more subsidies to add more roads that we can't afford to build and don't have room to build. As for the reasons that private industry got out of passenger rail; government subsidies to the other modes of transit had a lot to do with it.


Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 11:04 p.m.

Privite industry got out of the passenger rail business because of heavy subsidies to highways that weren't expected to turn a profit or pay taxes. What do you think happens when you heavily subsidize one form of transportation and overly regulate and get taxes from the other form?


Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 5:51 p.m.

Nice to see some smart decisions being made in Lansing. Kudos!

Kai Petainen

Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 4:12 p.m.

Does anyone know the answer to this question? Everything is interconnected... if NSC sells the railway, then that can have an impact on other businesses. Improve passenger service, but have a negative impact on other businesses? Would this have any implication on the auto business? I don't know the answer, but I'd like to know. This map shows the NSC rail lines <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> If they cut freight business off that line and sell it to Michigan.... will it have an impact on the shipment of auto parts/cars to the auto companies? And the shipment of autos from the auto companies?


Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 7:17 p.m.

&quot;on the flip-side, instead of leasing the rail from Michigan.... they could tell their customers that it is no longer a freight line, and that it is used only for passenger traffic (as passenger traffic will have the right-of-way). Then (in theory), NSC could boost the freight prices and force freight onto the other lines...&quot; Businesses don't need a pretext to raise prices -- they charge what the market will bear, meaning they raise prices when they can. Apple charges as much for iPhones and iPads as will bring them the most profit and the same is true of railroads. If Norfolk Southern had the market power to raise prices and increase profits, they'd already be doing it.

Kai Petainen

Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 5:12 p.m.

i'm going to put on my hypothetical strategy hat: on the flip-side, instead of leasing the rail from Michigan.... they could tell their customers that it is no longer a freight line, and that it is used only for passenger traffic (as passenger traffic will have the right-of-way). Then (in theory), NSC could boost the freight prices and force freight onto the other lines. Reduce the number of routes = increase the cost per route. if the customers complain, then NSC could tell them that Michigan bought it, and that customers should complain to Michigan. as I think about this more, I can see how it might benefit NSC in the long run.

Kai Petainen

Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 5:06 p.m.

Phil. Thanks! Actually, this could be good news for NSC. Make things a bit more efficient, control costs, etc. So it's quite possible that NSC could benefit from this. Thanks.... your answer helps me out as I sort through this issue, and wonder about the impact to NSC and the auto companies.

Phil K.

Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 4:56 p.m.

They're not cutting off freight business. They're essentially getting out of the track maintenance business. The freight volumes on that line have been in overall decline for a very long time (fewer auto plants, fewer parts suppliers, less rail business.) and NS's big beef was that they were having to maintain the tracks to a higher level than the business volumes demanded to support trains that they didn't make money off of in the first place. (for comparison, I believe the Ann Arbor - Toledo railroad that runs through downtown is under the same types of speed restrictions, but it's a low volume railroad, and car parts / grain don't car about being twenty minutes late for work.) NS will simple negotiate usage rights to the rails the same way Amtrak had to. Somewhere at NS beancounter sat down and realized that it'd be cheaper to lease usage rights rather than own the track. Outside of having the &quot;get outta the way, we're coming through&quot; shoe on the other foot (finally!) freight service won't be affected.

Kai Petainen

Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 4:17 p.m.

<a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> &quot;Norfolk Southern is the largest rail shipper of automotive products in North America and 14 of the last 24 assembly plants to locate in the United States have chosen Norfolk Southern to be their serving carrier. NS serves 24 auto assembly plants, 31 auto distribution terminals, 3 Just-In-Time (JIT) Rail Centers, and 4 vehicle mixing centers strategically positioned throughout our network. NS transports auto parts to assembly plants and after-market distribution centers and delivers finished vehicles to market. &quot;

Kai Petainen

Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 3:33 p.m.

Check out this article about NSC <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> Ohio and Norfolk Southern were involved in a battle over land. Then NSC did this: &quot;But Norfolk Southern immediately filed in U.S. District Court, arguing that federal law dictates how railroad land can be used and regulated&quot; Eventually, ODOT spent $29.8 million on 50 acres of land. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> How much should Michigan pay NSC? How much business will NSC lose / gain? But more importantly... does this indicate a long-term trend (either good or bad) for NSC and their stock?

Wolf's Bane

Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 3:10 p.m.

Seriously, about time!!!

Kai Petainen

Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 2:59 p.m.

With regard to Norfolk Southern... (NYSE:NSC).... and the Fuller Station... this is what they had to say: &quot;I don't know why you insist on drawing NS into this, but to be clear we have absolutely no involvement with the construction of a new passenger station in Ann Arbor&quot; Right now I'll assume that they are not involved -- based on what they told me. I'm keeping a close eye on that stock, and their decisions with the railway could have a material impact on their stock -- and stockholders will need to be made aware of those changes. (eg. if they sell a railway, etc...) For example -- &quot;and ultimately additional frequency.&quot; -- although good for passengers, it might have a negative impact on NSC's ability to deliver goods. More passenger trains might imply less time for freight trains.

Edward R Murrow's Ghost

Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 2:40 p.m.

I have mixed emotions about this. On the one hand, it will allow trains between Detroit and K-zoo to attain speeds that will make AMTRAK even more attractive than it is now (the trains are packed) and will likely lead to more trains being scheduled (between K-zoo and Michigan City, IN, on tracks that AMTRAK owns and maintains, it ancient trains routinely run at 80-90 mph. Hardly high speed by European standards, but a start) On the other hand, it is VERY clear that NS strong armed the state into purchasing the line through its absurdly low speed limits along sections of the line (on a recent trip I took to and from Chicago it took nearly 3 hours to travel from A2 to K-zoo both going and coming). Oh well, more taxpayer dollars for corporate welfare. Good Night and Good Luck


Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 2:20 p.m.

$358.9 million in federal funds, supported by $1.5 million in local matching dollars!! No wonder why the Federal Government is broke!

Ron Granger

Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 2:14 p.m.

Trains are *incredibly* expensive. The huge numbers quoted in this article are hardly just the beginning. If anyone tries to tell you this train will pay for itself, make a profit, etc, hang on to your wallet! Ask them to pass a law that prohibits taxpayer money from funding it. Snyder's style is to subsidize businesses with taxes on the working class. No doubt this train will be good for business, but how much will the non-business owners pay to subsidize the train for those businesses? Snyder's gonna make you buy his business buddies a train!

Edward R Murrow's Ghost

Wed, Sep 28, 2011 : 1:30 a.m.

&quot;Trains, per passenger-mile, are the most expensive and most heavily subsidized form of inter-city travel, by an order of magnitude or more compared to air or car travel.&quot; You can, of course, support this with a link? Good Night and Good Luck

Edward R Murrow's Ghost

Wed, Sep 28, 2011 : 1:29 a.m.

@saxman and ahblid: We wouldn't want to let facts get in the way of our preconceived notions, would we? Good Night and Good Luck


Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 11:16 p.m.

Ron, We can pass that law just as soon as we pass the law that states drivers must pay fully for their roads and those flying must pay fully for those flights. Want to know why we now subsidize trains? After all they used to be privately owned and operated. We subsidize trains today because government interfered in the free market by subsidizing roads &amp; planes. Private industry couldn't compete with those government subsidies. Think what would happen if you owned a Wendy's and your local town decided to subsidize the McDonalds &amp; the Burger King. You'd be out of business pretty quickly, unless you too got subsidies. And then government made things worse by taxing the RR's to help build the roads. The passenger ticket tax imposed after WWII to help pay for the war, started going into the Highway Trust Fund in 1956. That lasted until 1971 and Amtrak's creation. The Fed also slapped a 4.3 cents per gallon tax on the diesel fuel for trains and poured that money into the Highway Trust Fund until 1993. Imagine being taxed to help subsidize your competition.


Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 11 p.m.

Sorry, but of course the subsidy per passenger mile is less for cars and planes. There are millions of cars! We have spent billions on highways an next to nothing on rail. In fact the amount of money we spend on highways last year was about equal to the entire amount we've spent on Amtrak over it's entire 40 year existence! When was the last time I-94 made a profit?

L. C. Burgundy

Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 9:03 p.m.

And let me further clarify that the subsidies are what's an order of magnitude or higher than car or air travel subsidies. Actual passenger-mile costs of inter-city trains are about double than for car or air travel, on average.

L. C. Burgundy

Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 8:59 p.m.

Trains, per passenger-mile, are the most expensive and most heavily subsidized form of inter-city travel, by an order of magnitude or more compared to air or car travel.

Edward R Murrow's Ghost

Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 2:43 p.m.

Cars are expensive, too. So are airlines. There is not a single form of transportation in this country that is not heavily subsidized by taxpayers. Don't want to ride the train? Fine. But let's not pretend that I'm not paying for you to drive your car. BTW, were you to ride the train to Chicago, you would find there are VERY few businessmen on it. Good Night and Good Luck

Ron Granger

Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 2:10 p.m.

They mention detroit metro airport. Is it a commuter train, or an airport shuttle? It makes a big difference. Airport shuttles are great, but that implies low cost service to a high crime area. When you connect low crime areas with high crime areas by inexpensive train or bus, crime tends to spread. Anyone who has extensively ridden buses and trains in large cities knows that certain routes are much more dangerous for those reasons.


Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 12:16 a.m.

Macabre, No need to raze the suburbs. NY City's highest property values are near rail lines, yet it has plenty of suburbs. And even out in the suburbs, those living nearest a train station see higher values for their property.

Macabre Sunset

Wed, Sep 28, 2011 : 10:43 p.m.

Only if you plan to raze the suburbs, Stephen. Which would definitely make a lot of you train-blinded people very happy.

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Wed, Sep 28, 2011 : 12:55 a.m.

@Ron Granger: Actually, over time rail improves the value of each area where there is a rail station. The highest value land in Washtenaw County some day will be that land closest to the &quot;higher speed&quot; or someday 300 m.p.h. train station.


Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 11:07 p.m.

Trains don't bring in crime. In fact, I've never seen anyone carrying a big screen TV that they just robbed onto a train. Criminals don't like being locked up inside a moving train. Criminals don't like standing around waiting for the next scheduled arrival after having just committed a crime. Want to increase crime in your neighborhood? Build a road. Criminals drive cars! They don't take public transit to commit crimes. They want the fast getaway that cars provide.


Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 10:55 p.m.

Um, there is no proof anywhere that rail increases crime. Not sure where you get that idea. I've ridden trains and buses all over the world, and while some dilapidated areas do exsit, its not because the train is there.


Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 10:02 p.m.

I've never had any problems in The Chicago Amtrak station or on any of the trains I've ridden.

Anthony Clark

Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 5:11 p.m.

Since when is metro airport a &quot;high crime area&quot;?

Arno B

Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 2:07 p.m.

Irwin and his fellow cheerleaders are now happy that the tooth fairy actually does exist. The &quot;High Speed Rail&quot; project sounds nice - but look at the millions which have been spent on the famous Amtrak Boston-Washington line which is still problem-plagued and yes - still needing plenty subsidies. What makes anyone think that this one will be any better? Getting Amtrak involved means how many more Amtrak subsidies in Michigan? They are already being subsisized in their other line (Grand Rapids - Chicago). Dingell was gloating recently about how a 2 track facility would be one of the features at Fuller Road. A rail station there is the utmost folly to me - one already exists. Why not use it? Remember, there were 2 tracks there in the 70's; I don't know when the second was removed but the roadbed is already there ready and waiting. Hi speed? Does anyone comprehend what it costs for one grade crossing to be replaced? One grade crossing in Plymouth was recently removed and it took about two years with lots of detours. Has anyone calculated the annual subsidies needed to fund projects of this sort? Purchasing the Norfolk Southern? I suppose that the financial wizards in Lansing suddenly have the talent to run a rail line. Why not? After all, Lansing buys Greyhound busses! [Who pays for them?Look in the mirror!] If you don't believe it , go to the Greyhound station and see the signs painted on the sides of each bus: &quot;Owned by the State of Michigan&quot;! As Shakespeare said, &quot;What fools these mortals be!&quot;


Wed, Sep 28, 2011 : 2:24 a.m.

I reckon when our population equals that of the Bost-Washington region we will be sitting pretty with a successful train like theirs.

Phil K.

Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 3:27 p.m.

The Acela line (the Boston-Washington run) isn't subsidized. In fact, it makes so much money that there is a big push to spin it off from Amtrak and turn it into a private business (a push being spearheaded by tea party republicans who see Amtrak's 1.1 billion dollar a year budget and they're relationship to cheerleader Joe Biden as low hanging fruit). Acela, and our Wolverine line (which receives no state subsidies) are two examples of Amtrak turning a tidy profit.


Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 1:50 p.m.

I'm a small business owner with 10 employees. I know first-hand that you have to spend money to make it. Unless we want to see Michigan fall further behind the other 49, high-speed rail – along with other infrastructure investments – needs to happen.

James J. Gould

Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 1:44 p.m.

All of the people making comments here should travel the rail systems in Germany to see what really works......and works extremely well and all the people use it...... a lot.


Wed, Sep 28, 2011 : 2:22 a.m.

Here's a curve ball for you on trains in Europe. And let's use Germany for this study. Why do a lot of people ride trains in Germany? Because in 2008 a gallon of gasoline cost $7.86. 2005: $5.57 2011: $8.35. The reason is that while some countries subsidize gas (USA) other tax it heavily (Europe). Raise gas taxes so that we pay that much per gallon and I can pretty much guarantee you a whole lotta us will be riding trains. Its not so much they want to ride the train, they have to. Sources: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> That's the key. You have to make driving uber expensive in order for your rail system to be successful. So you might wonder if politician who are promoting trains have the trump card up a sleeve somewhere. Americans will not use trains like in other countries as long as it is relatively inexpensive to drive.

Macabre Sunset

Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 8:39 p.m.

Good Night Guy's ramblings aside, what works in parts of Europe is irrelevant, because their cities are structured very differently from ours.

Edward R Murrow's Ghost

Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 2:44 p.m.

James, don't know there's nothing that we can learn from Europe? They're a bunch of Nazi socialists whose way of life has no bearing for us. American Exceptionalism trumps all!! Good Night and Good Luck


Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 1:31 p.m.

Great news! If we do not invest in mass transit when other states around us are moving forward, we are doomed to continue a downhill spiral. Ride to Chicago and see how that city is moving forward! Chicago to St Louis high speed tracks are being finished now! I can't wait!! All aboard!


Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 1:28 p.m.

As I applauded the federal program for high(er)-speed rail, I never imagined that 100's of millions would be siphoned off by a rail company for no benefit to the rail passenger/taxpayer... &amp; it is rid of an albatross, a route to nowhere... before any shovels are put to work or jobs (other than for bureaucrats) were created. The federal funds appear to be a freight rail aid package (for a private entity) disguised (and merchandised) as for passenger service. Its almost as if the first half-billion dollars or so are flared off before any work (or real waste) can begin. Is it a surprise that our high-speed rail would be considered backward in the modern world? I'm beginning to comprehend... and we think of other countries as vastly inefficient and corrupt? This is both tragic and laughable.


Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 1:27 p.m.

Speaking of the Fuller Road station, what's going on over there? The field is all torn up and there are giant pipes laying around. Has anyone else noticed this?


Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 9 p.m.

Thanks, Ryan.

Tom Whitaker

Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 2:14 p.m.

It's what I like to call &quot;Fuller Road Station, Phase 0.&quot; Your water/sewer/stormwater taxes and fees are hard at work to relocate a well-functioning sewer pipe out of the way of the new parking structure for UM's medical campus. If you look into it, you will also find that millions have been set aside in the street millage fund to pay for a new roundabout and other road construction at this location, primarily to feed traffic to and from the new parking structure. Does anyone else remember the President's House scandal at EMU, where the true cost of a capital project was masked by parsing out the costs to various other funds?

Ryan J. Stanton

Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 1:50 p.m.

That work was approved by council: <a href=""></a> And the followup article: <a href=""></a>


Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 1:30 p.m.

Why wait for the vote to approve it when you can start work now?

Tom Whitaker

Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 1:24 p.m.

If the track issues in Indiana and Illinois get resolved too, this could eventually lead to a more dependable alternative for getting to and from Chicago. For now, I will drive, fly, or take the Megabus. Last time I took Amtrak it took 7.5 hours to get to Chicago and 6.5 to return. No thanks. Commuter rail is a whole other animal and unfortunately, Ann Arbor's mayor has chosen to link commuter rail in Ann Arbor to an enormous parking structure in Fuller Park that will wipe out any potential environmental benefits for decades to come. If the parking structure were dropped, I think we'd see a much more unified voice for the concept of commuter rail. The reality of the cost vs. benefits may doom it before it starts, however.


Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 1:03 p.m.

This might just be a great idea but should be considered at a different time - WHEN WE CAN AFFORD IT.


Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 10:07 p.m.

We really can't afford not to.


Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 1:28 p.m.

Then it will be too late.

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 12:55 p.m.

Kudos to Senator Rebecca Warren and the many other Senators both Democrats and Republicans for voting favor of this bill and to Reprsentative Jeff Irwin for his long term advocacy of this rail project, as a State Rep and as a County Commissioner. Jeff as our representative from the county commisssion to the SEMCOG board was a prime mover in support of regional and high speed rail. Also, Mayor Hieftje deserves our thanks for his advocacy at the city level. Lastly, thanks are owed to former Congressman Joe Schwarz for lobbying the Senate Republicans in favor of this bill.


Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 12:46 p.m.

I like that this will create jobs. It will probably put a few people to work or a year or so. Rail maintenance is so mechanized today that what took tens of thousands of people in the 1940's can be done with less than 100 today. If you were at the Ypsilanti Heritage Festival you saw a rail maintenance unit next to the freight house. I dislike the fact that the upgrades will mean that in spots the train might hit 110 mph, but it will mostly go 70 to 80 mph. Yes, this is a BIG improvement over the current situation, and passenger trains will get priority for movement over the tracks. I also suspect that some rail freight in Michigan will now move to trucks, since the railroad will have to pay to use the line and they own trucking companies as well as trains. All in All I am not impressed. If you told me they were going to build a TGV quality system from Detroit to Chicago, I would be very interested, but that would be billions, not millions to do. Every grade crossing would have to be either a tunnel under or an overpass. I worry that if we were to really move forward with a rail system in the US, that this upgrade would mean that this link would be left to last in a major TGV type system.


Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 12:42 p.m.

There seems to be some information missing here. I don't see anything relating to equipment purchases, operating and maintenance costs. Have these issues been addressed?

Steve in MI

Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 1:01 p.m.

The Michigan Central line is the one that Amtrak runs on today. The rolling stock is already in place. The problems are track-related: the track has been poorly maintained, and the freight trains get priority over the scheduled passenger trains. Fix the tracks and you have a viable passenger rail service that will be in demand from paying customers. In the current model, Amtrak pays NS for use of the track. After the purchase, both NS and Amtrak will pay MDOT for the use of the track, thus funding the operating costs. Maintenance costs will come from a combination of usage fees and government funding - the same way that roads and bridges are maintaned. This is excellent news for Michigan and for the Ann Arbor area specifically.

Top Cat

Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 12:41 p.m.

So....if down the line the Federal money drys up as people realize that $1.5 trillion deficits are not sustainable......who is on the hook for all this? Of course this makes no economic sense. No cost benefit analysis would justify this. This is a manifestation of adults getting Lionel train sets for Christmas when they were kids.

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Wed, Sep 28, 2011 : 4:57 a.m.

@Top Cat wrote &quot;No cost benefit analysis would justify this.&quot; Please see the study I referenced in my comment at <a href=""></a> @Rusty Shackelford: Thanks for the kind comment here and those in the past!


Wed, Sep 28, 2011 : 1:59 a.m.

I reviewed feasibility studies and read in all of them that your train can be successful but only if ridership is very high and the studies I skimmed are in east coast high population areas. It is however a risk, at least three states rejected federal funding because of the high operating costs. Here is an LA Times article from this month on the costs of the SanFran - LA project, which is about 350 miles. Note there is some discrepancy of the cost estimates. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> So Rusty I prefer to be anon too, but I would like to see a study proclaiming profits from anyone who uses their name or not. Its going t be expensive, that is for sure. The benefit may well lie in where the country goes in regard to energy. If we don't develop our own oil potential and global oil production gets expensive, people may turn to rail in droves and it may be a good idea to look into it. But it's not going to be cheap and could be a disaster. If there is some good reasoning that this project will bring in tens of millions per year in profits I would like to see it. We can't use the Chinese system as an example: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>


Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 10:50 p.m.

Top Cat, Want to help the deficit? Stop driving! That contributes more to the deficit than funding Amtrak. In just the last 3 years more than $62 Billion has been borrowed by the Fed for our highways. That's more more money than Amtrak has received in its 40 years of existance. According to, we drivers only manage to pay about 51% of our costs of driving at the Federal level via the fuel taxes and other driving related taxes.


Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 3:29 p.m.

Study economics and you will find that investing in good infrastructure is one of the best ways to stimulate an economy. Many people have looked at the MI economic picture and remarked that we lack a good public transport system that could expand business growth and mobility for citizens. This is a smart move.

rusty shackelford

Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 2:51 p.m.

I'll definitely trust a bank president (Ranzini, above) over some anonymous ideologue with no evidence regarding matters of financial feasibility.


Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 12:15 p.m.

Very good news that this is finally coming together. Detroit to Chicago is exactly the sort of route than can work for rail in the US.

David Paris

Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 12:12 p.m.

I wouldn't bet a nickel on the sustainability of this project, but if it does come to fruition, then I see a phoenix rising over Michigan Central Depot's future. Wouldn't THAT be grand!

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 11:48 a.m.

This is excellent news for Ann Arbor's long term economic development! What most people don't realize is that the Detroit to Chicago &quot;higher speed&quot; rail line once in service will be a very profitable business earning tens of millions of dollars a year in profit based on the most recent (very reasonable) feasibility study available that studies that issue. Delta and Southwest earn substantial profits on their Detroit to Chicago air shuttle service and this will be a cheaper and faster way to get to Chicago. Next, we should convince the Canadians to build out a similar service to Toronto from Detroit. This would further improve ridership and the profitability of the &quot;higher speed&quot; rail line. Over time, we can funnel the profits from running this 110 mile per hour service into true high speed rail with speeds of 300 m.p.h. Then you would be able to go from downtown Ann Arbor to Chicago or Toronto in one hour or to downtown Detroit in under 15 minutes.


Wed, Sep 28, 2011 : 11:41 p.m.

And then there is further evidence in the $62+ Billion that has been transfered from the General Fund in the Highway Trust Fund in just the last 3 years. The first $8 Billion went over in 2008 when President Bush was forced to ask Congress for money to keep the HTF from going broke. In fact, as noted in the story at the link below, President Bush even warned the then Republican Controlled Congress that they were outspending the income when they passed the 5 year highway bill. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> And then we could talk about the fact that our highways are at a minimum responsible for at least $1 Trillion of the National debt and figuring in interest and such, it wouldn't surprise me to find out that building our subsidized highways resulted in $2T or more of our national debt. You see, the Federal fuel tax was never intended to pay for our highways. It was enacted in 1932 by then President Herbert Hoover for the express purpose of helping to pay down our national debt. Congress &amp; President Eisenhower decided to borrow that tax in 1956 to pay for Ike's dream of the Interstate Highways. That tax however was supposed to revert back to its original purpose in 1972 or when the original plan was finished, whichever came first. Congress however continues to borrow those funds for us drivers, instead of using it as intended and paying down our debt. Mind you, I'm not advocating to get rid our roads. Not at all. I love my car and I love driving it. I'm simply pointing out that government put private industry out of business by both subsidizing its competition and taxing private industry to help the competition. Government interfered in the Free Market forever destroying the market. If we drivers were to actually start paying fully for things, I'd bet that we could eliminate most, if not all, rail subsidies. But until then, we get to subsidize all forms of transportation.


Wed, Sep 28, 2011 : 11:18 p.m.

Macabre, Still can't lay off the accusations I see. Accusations, the weapon of choice for those without any facts. Here's some research for you: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> Please take note of their conclusion that we drivers, yes I'm one of them, only pay 51% of the total costs for our highways at the Federal level. Then there is the simple fact that most local streets are paved with property taxes, not fuel taxes. So any conclusion that drivers are paying fully for things is clearly wrong; Sorry!

Macabre Sunset

Wed, Sep 28, 2011 : 10:41 p.m.

I've done enough research to expose the lies told by people like you. One being that the roads are subsidized at a percentage anywhere near that of rail. And for passenger cars, factoring in all revenue, they're not subsidized at all.


Wed, Sep 28, 2011 : 8:50 p.m.

Macabre, Which initial investment would that be? The one that the privately owned New Haven RR made? Or the one made by the privately owned Pennsylvania RR? Amtrak didn't build the right of way for Acela, those privately owned RR's built everything. Amtrak has made some improvements to things since Congress dumped things on them after the private companies failed; but the initial investment was all private money. An investment that considering the number of people carried each day by train on the NEC, has more than paid off. And then we come to the whole double standard imposed by people like you who have no problem with subsidies to our roads, subsidies that dwarf those given to rail, yet expect rail to compete without subsidies. Would you expect Wendy's to survive on its own if your city started subsidizing McDonalds &amp; Burger King? It was all those subsidies to roads &amp; planes that helped contribute to the failure of privately owned passenger rail. Throw on top of that the fact the Fed taxed the RR's to help build the highways. Imagine being the owner of Wendy's and having a tax slapped on things you need &amp; sell that then helped to subsidize McDonalds &amp; Burger King. Moving on, one doesn't need to close the crossings to reach 110 MPH. According to FRA regulations one must have no crossings to go faster than 125 MPH. Between 110 MPH &amp; 125 MPH one needs either quad-gates or a center island in the road so that people cannot drive around a single gate or some other barrier to prevent crossing. Finally, maybe next time instead of making false accusations, you can try to do some research first!

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Wed, Sep 28, 2011 : 4:53 a.m.

@Scott Hadley: For the most recent detailed study of the economics of the Detroit to Chicago high speed rail proposal see <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> According to the study, after 10 years, it would be generating an annual profit of $18 million on $113 million in revenue and after 20 years, a $32 million profit on $129 million in revenues (using 2002 dollars). This does not include returns from the substantial and very valuable real estate development rights at and around the stations. The city of Ann Arbor could pay for the new train station by building a tall building or selling the air rights above the new Fuller Road Station that offers private medical offices. See: <a href=""></a> The Toronto leg, paid for by the Canadian government, would further enhance the overall economics of the project beyond the numbers presented above. In many countries, railroads are a "for profit" activity. People forget that all railroads in the U.S. were built with private risk capital. The Japanese high speed rail system (they started building it in 1962 when "Made In Japan" was a byword for cheap plastic crap) was privatized and that company was sold for $90 billion to private investors. Especially in a great depression, the country should be searching out good infrastructure investments and valuable projects to back with the public purse.

Macabre Sunset

Wed, Sep 28, 2011 : 4:50 a.m.

Please, add in the initial investment. It will take more than a lifetime to even come close to breaking even, assuming no need for a complete reinvestment of capital costs. Again, the train fanciers have no problem lying to get their way. Also, to bring our rails up to the Acela standard in the Northeast, we'd have to replace crossings with bridges. Without that, the 110 mph (true high speed is 125 mph, to correct another error here) standard is impossible.


Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 10:39 p.m.

Macabre Sunset, Actually, Amtrak's Acela turned a $100.6 Million operating profit last fiscal year. They're on target to do even better this year, which ends at the end of this month. Granted, that is an operating profit, meaning that it doesn't cover all the capital costs. However, Acela is also not the only train running on those rails either.

Macabre Sunset

Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 8:37 p.m.

Ah, yes, another &quot;independent&quot; study that makes grandiose claims about passenger rail service. It was a lie when they made the same claim about the Boston to New York high-speed track. And it's even more of a lie with Detroit, because precious few people need to go to Detroit.

Sarah Pressprich Gryniewicz

Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 3:20 p.m.

They've already got a pretty nice train from Windsor to Toronto-- people love it. It'd be great to connect. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>

5c0++ H4d13y

Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 2:59 p.m.

What numbers do you have, that aren't contrived, to back that claim up? How are the tax payer to recoup their money if you and the other HSR adherents wrong?

Edward R Murrow's Ghost

Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 2:35 p.m.

It is, indeed, excellent news. Good Night and Good Luck

Wilford John Presler IV

Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 11:45 a.m.

Almost half a Billion dollars for a new train station ...The homeless will have a new and better place to try and sleep...

Rose Garden

Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 12:16 p.m.

This is very sarcastic.


Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 11:38 a.m.

Definately a positive move. Although the costs would be very high, the long term goal should be a high speed mag lev rail system that crisscrosses the country. This would offer an alternative to airline travel with slightly longer travel times without the personal degredation offered by the TSA.


Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 1:33 p.m.

There is a greater risk of some idiot terrorist at a crowded shopping mall. Hopefully someday we won't have all these invasive regulations.

Rose Garden

Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 12:16 p.m.

We will soon be going through the same screening for train travel as we do for air travel. Terrorists, you know.


Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 11:04 a.m.

Excellent! If we want to stop being a donor state for transportation funding, we need to be willing to use the money Congress is willing to spend. We need more transportation options around here. Now they need to push freight off onto a separate track, which is probably part of what this money is for, and clear up the rail traffic snarls that inevitably happen around Chicago and northern Indiana.


Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 4:19 p.m.

Gee, what will happen when the bicyclists and walkers have to be patient and wait to cross the tracks? My guess is the trains won't stop for them.

Phil K.

Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 3:20 p.m.

&quot;the rail traffic snarls that inevitably happen around Chicago and northern Indiana.&quot; That is being addresses as well. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> One of the federal stimulus projects will create a &quot;flyover&quot; (read: bridge) to lift the Metra tracks over the freight lines you use as you head into Chicago. If you look at google maps, just east of I-94 and 63rd street you'll see a five track intersection. The two north south tracks are a Metra line, which is going to be raised over the three east-west Norfolk Southern lines. 160+ trains a day pass that point, making it one of the busiest rail intersections in the midwest. When you get stuck waiting just outside Chicago, it's for traffic at that point.

Edward R Murrow's Ghost

Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 2:34 p.m.

Rod: Sure it will!! That train will stop on a dime when it comes into the station. Good Night and Good Luck

Rod Johnson

Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 1:26 p.m.

Gosh Mary, do you think maybe trains won't *go* 110 MPH through Ann Arbor?


Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 1:11 p.m.

Gonna be fun watching a 110 mph train try to stop for pedestrians trying to cross the tracks when they come through Ann Arbor.


Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 10:49 a.m.

Did not see this coming from a Republican controlled legislature.


Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 10:15 p.m.

The Federal Aid Hwy Act was mainly to provide limited access for transporting the military if the Russians invaded us.


Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 3:26 p.m.

There are many Republicans who believe in good government and are disgusted by lobby money. The TP is a small and waning group we are trying to get rid of. Looks whose trying to build a bridge to Canada that is not privately owned - not the Democrats.


Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 1:43 p.m.

And which party plays politics with all Federal appropriations including disaster relief, the debt ceiling, the FAA (how many billions of dollars have we lost), and on and on. Which party has said over and over again, &quot;its my way or the highway&quot; on everything. Which party only cares about getting rid of the president and nothing else? Surely you jest about the Democrats being the party of big money! Who refuses to tax the rich while at the same time raising taxes on the middle and poor incomes in this state? Its not the Dems. Who gave almost $2B to &quot;business&quot; this year at the expense of thousands of teacher layoffs?

Ed Kimball

Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 12:29 p.m.

Adam Jaskiewicz -- that was a LONG time ago, back when there were still Republicans focused on the whole country and not just their rich contributors. Back then their party had room for Republicans like Nelson Rockefeller, Jacob Javits, and Ed Brooke, none of whom could get elected as a Republican today.

Adam Jaskiewicz

Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 11:59 a.m.

Who do you think singed the Federal Aid Highway Act, which created the Interstate highway system?

Charlie Brown's Ghost

Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 11:44 a.m.

Of course you didn't


Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 10:28 a.m.

110 mph? Wow, that's almost as fast as I-94 between AA and Detroit.

John of Saline

Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 3:49 p.m.



Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 10:25 a.m.

Awesome. I commuter rail and higher speed rail would be great for the parking congestion and traffic in the A2 area. It is nice to see that Michigan can actually do something for the betterment of the people, not just for the companies.


Wed, Sep 28, 2011 : 11:12 p.m.

Actually, we're talking about a better than average project here. Amtrak isn't commuter rail. Amtrak actually comes in at 2,398 BTU's per passenger mile.

Macabre Sunset

Wed, Sep 28, 2011 : 10:38 p.m.

But we're not talking about an average project here.


Wed, Sep 28, 2011 : 3:01 p.m.

Sure, those numbers include some high density commuter services. But they also include some low density services too. It's an average of all commuter rail services in the US. Just like the numbers for drivers are an average of people driving in high density areas where they tend to waste more engery sitting in traffic and low density areas where their cars are more efficient because they're at highway speeds. Bottom line is that the experts at the US Department of Energy have shown that the auto is not more efficient than commuter trains!

Macabre Sunset

Wed, Sep 28, 2011 : 4:47 a.m.

That includes some extreme high-density projects. Look deeper into those numbers, and you'll find that for the projects in our county, the comparison is more like 8,000 BTUs per passenger mile. Unfortunately, irresponsible people make grandiose claims that aren't supported by the facts.

Phillip Farber

Wed, Sep 28, 2011 : 12:30 a.m.

@ahblid Thank you for finally setting the record straight re: these faulty claims about the inefficiency of rail.


Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 10:30 p.m.

Macabre Sunset, I'm sorry, but you are totally wrong. According to the US Department of Energy it requires 3,437 BTU's per passenger mile to drive a car. Put someone in an SUV/Van and that jumps to 3,641 BTU's per passenger mile. Moving someone with Commuter Rail only requires 2,656 BTU's per passenger mile.

Macabre Sunset

Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 8:35 p.m.

There is nothing more wasteful in terms of energy than commuter rail. It's more efficient to equip every commuter with his or her own semi-truck.


Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 10:26 a.m.

A* Commuter rail, sorry