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Posted on Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 8 a.m.

Spending money on a high-speed rail system in Michigan is an ill-conceived idea

By Guest Column

I was reading Sandy Schopback’s guest column (“Ann Arbor and Michigan could learn a lesson from Europe on high-speed trains” --, Sunday, Jan. 8). And as a young engineer with a master’s degree in transportation engineering from Purdue University and a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Michigan, I must respectfully disagree on the merits of high-speed rail in Michigan. In fact, I believe that the train should not be built at all, and that the money would be better spent on other uses.


Sam Leckrone

The proposed high-speed train from Detroit to Chicago will not really be a high-speed train. It would be a slow-speed train, with a top speed of only 79 mph and an average speed of much less, about 60-65 mph when you take into account all of its stops (twelve in total, including Ann Arbor). And these stops are at Pontiac, Troy/Birmingham, Royal Oak, Detroit New Center, Dearborn, Ann Arbor, Jackson, Albion, Battle Creek, Kalamazoo, Dowagiac, Niles/South Bend, New Buffalo, Michigan City in Indiana, Hammond-Whiting in Indiana, and Chicago Union Station. That’s 16 stops in all, and 12 between Detroit and Chicago. Notice that towns like Ypsilanti and Chelsea are NOT on that list. So how did they pick the stations?

Also notice that I-94 has a posted speed limit of 70 mph, a design speed of 75 mph, and many people will exceed even the 75 mph design speed and actually go faster than the 79 mph that is the train’s top speed. I have made the trip myself, and almost all of the segments of I-94 in Michigan do flow at 75 mph and faster. What might slow me down is if I stop along I-94 to eat, to refuel, or to take a rest break. But consider that, if I were starting out at Exit 210 in Dearborn and head west from there along I-94 at the 70 mph speed limit, I would reach the Indiana state line in exactly three hours. About another hour and a half, and I will have reached downtown Chicago in a total time of 4.5 hours.

But the assumption that most trips are from downtown to downtown is fundamentally flawed. Many people actually have to go to suburban areas instead, and the point-to-point convenience that the car provides is much better than having to wait 30 minutes for a transfer from the train to the bus (for example, AATA's buses run on a 30-minute frequency), and realizing that in that time you could have arrived at your destination already. Because the automobile allows for point-to-point transportation on demand, which is something that no mass transit system can provide. Indeed, someday in the future, cars will be able to drive themselves (the technology is already here with Google’s driverless car) and at that point, the train will be completely obsolete.

What’s worse is when I actually look at MDOT’s high-speed rail grant application (<>). They hold that the train’s travel time, under the proposed conditions, would take 5 hours and 26 minutes. They state that the drive time is about 4.5 to 5 hours, and then they state that the drive time is “4 to 34 minutes slower than” the train’s 5 hours and 26 minutes. Even a third-grader can tell you that it’s wrong! Because the drive time will actually be FASTER than the proposed high-speed train -- by 26 to 56 minutes.

If you look at the same table for the airplane travel time, they state that it is 4 hours and 40 minutes, which is “14 minutes slower than” the train’s 5 hours and 26 minutes. This is starting to look suspicious! I then back-calculated the travel time comparisons, and then concluded that the numbers have been fudged.

The report does not even mention what the cost of the ticket would be. But I looked at Amtrak’s website, and they often charge up to $75 for a ticket from Detroit (or Ann Arbor) to Chicago. That’s more than double the cost of fuel, even at $4 per gallon. Google Maps reports the distance from Detroit to Chicago to be 286 miles; my 2011 Chevy Cruze gets 32 mpg, and at $4/gallon, I would spend $35.75 on fuel for the entire trip.

So is high-speed rail a worthwhile project? My answer is a clear NO! Because the train will not attract any riders from the existing modes of transportation. Let’s face it: Nobody will give up driving their cars on I-94 to ride a train that is slower than the freeway, especially when they would have to use a car at both ends of the trip. Worse, though, is when our leaders and our governmental agencies deliberately fudge the numbers to make the project LOOK like a worthwhile project, when it IS NOT a worthwhile project. This is a very clear misuse and misappropriation of our taxpayer money, especially when other more worthwhile projects have to do without.

Look at the state of our transportation system in Washtenaw County and in Southeast Michigan in general: Some of our roads are in bad shape, not just from a pavement condition standpoint, but from a capacity standpoint. Look at Michigan Avenue (US-12) between Ann Arbor and Saline. Look at US-23 between Ann Arbor and Brighton. Look at I-94 between US-23 and State Street. All of these roadways have needed widening and improvements as long as I have been alive! Also look at the bridge on Stadium Boulevard over State Street and the railroad tracks, near Michigan Stadium. Look at how bad of a shape it is in, and how it was so difficult to get the money to replace it. (Thankfully, they are finally getting around to replacing it.) This is where we ought to be spending our money, not on a high-speed train that obviously will not solve these problems.

Look at how many subsidies go into mass transit, especially rail transit; note that there is no transit system in the nation that even comes close to being economically sustainable, not even that of New York City. Note that the experience in Europe has been similar: roadways and cars have still attracted MUCH more travel than the high-speed rail system there. Also note that only two high-speed rail lines in the WORLD have ever broken even: Paris to Lyon, and Tokyo to Osaka. And also note that, contrary to popular belief, mass transit is NOT greener than the private automobile: A typical transit bus only gets 4 mpg -- which is the equivalent of 8 Chevy Cruzes (or 12 Toyota Priuses). The high-speed rail line in Florida, which has been cancelled, would have used 3.5 to 6.0 times as much energy as the cars they would have replaced!

Even Amtrak’s $75 ticket from Detroit to Chicago is heavily subsidized by taxpayer dollars. So the high-speed rail system would likely have to be heavily subsidized by taxpayer dollars in perpetuity -- and very few people would use it. So let’s be frank here: If we cannot afford to fix up our roads and bridges, then how on earth can we afford to subsidize a luxury train for the few, in perpetuity, while the rest of us have to drive on roads and bridges that are left to rot?

Sam Leckrone is a life-long Ypsilanti resident.



Sat, Jan 28, 2012 : 2:45 p.m.

Mr. Leckrone, Thank you for choosing an honorable profession and putting in the hard work to achieve your goal. I wish we had more engineers and less liberal arts graduates. President Obama should have proposed engineer majors should get free tuition and liberal arts pay double. On to your article. I think the basic premise that so called &quot;high speed rail&quot; is not feasible is right on the money. (pun intented) If it was called average rail speed it would get no traction. True high speed rail might work for markets that are within 200-300 miles. They could take the place of short air flights. If it were economically feasible private industry would be looking into it. But with government regulation and eminent domain issues to overcome it will never happen. This issue is a classic example of the choice we have in this years election. large mass transit projects cannot take place without government money and input. Do we choose to remain on the governent run everything path proposed by President Obama and the democrat party, or do we try and slow the intrusion of the federal government into our lives by choosing the republican alternative. Long live the automobile! The symbol of independence in a world dominated by collectivists.

Peter Hochgraf

Tue, Jan 24, 2012 : 10:19 p.m.

There are quite a lot of good points brought up in other comments as to a number of flaws in Sam's logic. However one additional one I've notice &amp; no one else has mentioned is that Sam is figuring the automotive numbers based off from his Chevy Volt. Which is designed to have a very high gas millage. However the majority of people aren't driving Volts (or even Priuses); I would even venture to say that most are going to be driving full-sized SUVs which actually have a very love mpg. Even so if I use the figures from my car (which is a Subaru Forester, a small-sized SUV). I can fill my tank for $60; and it takes me 1.5 tanks to get to Chicago. So that means in gas alone I'm paying $90 to drive to Chicago (I do this drive fairly regularly). Also I check for ticket prices to Chicago fairly regularly can tell you that the quoted $75 for a ticket is on the high end of things. If I had to guess that price is for a Friday evening trip out, near a holiday. The average price for a ticket to Chicago from Ann Arbor is $50 (at the time of posting this, the price for a ticket on the next train [#355] is at $32). The last thing also not considered is hassle. If I drive, I'll spend 4-5 hours on a highway dodging Semis &amp; idiot drivers (not to mention finding parking downtown). When I get to Chicago I'm exhausted &amp; all I want to do is sleep. Flying involves a 45min drive to Detroit Metro, finding a parking spot; waiting in line to check in, waiting in line to be screened, being screened (I won't even open that can of worms), waiting to board, waiting to take off. Finally you have an hour long trip that puts you out in either O'Hare or Midway. Where then you have to catch a EL train to downtown (an hour ride from O'Hare) or a cab which will cost an arm &amp; a leg but only be a 25min drive; assuming you don't get stuck in traffic, which you will.


Tue, Jan 24, 2012 : 4:46 a.m.

Mr. Leckrone is fudging a few facts himself. He states of the Chicago-Detroit train that &quot;it would be a slow speed train, with a top speed of only 79 mph&quot;. WRONG. The current Amtrak service, the one that runs RIGHT NOW, has a top speed of 95 mph over the stretch between Kalamazoo and Porter Indiana. This is planned to increase to 110mph. The State of Michigan is buying the section of line from Kalamazoo to Dearborn from the NS railroad, and this section of the line will be upgraded to similar speeds. Mr. Leckrone says of the train that &quot;very few people will use it&quot;. Over half a million people rode the current Amtrak Wolverine line in the last fiscal year, up 4.9% over the previous year. All three Michigan lines are up in ridership. I might further add that a lot of people who ride these trains are college students, many of whom do not have cars. Mr. Leckrone further states that the train &quot;would likely have to be heavily subsidized by taxpayer dollars in perpetuity&quot;. Hmm, just like I-94.


Tue, Jan 24, 2012 : 4:27 a.m.

I tend to favor public transportation and Mr. Leckrone does make some important points, but I think both sides are missing some key points: Pro Public Transport Side: Cars do provide point to point convenience, public transport MUST be more efficient before people will prefer it over an automobile - so a 60-70mph train is doomed from the start. Build it right the first time (120mph+)!!! If you could make the Chicago trip in 2-3 hrs, people would be fighting for a seat Pro Automobile Side: Costs to operate a car include -Operating it, purchase w/interest, depreciation, insurance, parking, fuel, and maintenance. Is it cheaper? More road construction= more maintenance, and at some point becomes unsustainable - noticed any potholes lately? A dedicated rail will not have traffic jams and may prove to require less maintenance but it would need to be profitable. We cannot abandon public transport completely. We may be healthy and fit to drive our cars today, but what about 60 yrs from now. Oil (non-renewable resource) may still be affordable, but for how long? Prices will surely rise. We must strike a balance because roads are just as important to a fireman as public transport is for the elderly. If we happen to help the environment along the way, then we all win. No one likes change but cars/more roads are not the absolute answer

Henry Porter

Tue, Jan 24, 2012 : 12:38 a.m.

Mr. Leckrone: I am a retired Civil Engineer who spent more that 40 years in transportation engineering, transportation planning and transportation management. When I read an opinion piece such as yours, written by a young engineer with a level head on his shoulders, I have renewed faith in my profession. Your professors have taught you well. I wish you a long and productive career.


Tue, Jan 24, 2012 : 2:07 p.m.

No, Henry, I suggest that his entire paper is filled with errors, starting with the big one regarding speeds. With the number of errors in that piece, any professor would have given him a failing grade.

Henry Porter

Tue, Jan 24, 2012 : 1:37 p.m.

I would cut Mr. Leckrone some slack for the details but he gets most of his credit for his ability to cut through the fog that is support for high speed rail and for his conclusions that it's benefits pale in comparison to its societal costs. And for his honesty in expressing them in public. I know engineers, planners and other transportation professionals with 20-30 years behind them who turn a blind eye to what they know to be bad public policy simply because it's their livelihood. (Like the executioner who believes capital punishment is wrong but continues to do it because &quot;it's my job&quot;.) As long as politicians are willing to throw huge quantities of good taxpayer money at such boondoggles as bridges to nowhere and high speed trains, they (the prostitute engineers and planners) are perfectly willing to take it. After all, it's what pays for the BMW and the golf club membership. At a young age, Leckrone has shown the ability to successfully weigh objective and factual information against the emotions of those who wish to read a book while they travel in the comfort and speed of a taxpayer funded train. He can see the forest through the trees. He can see that, for a large public work to be successful, it has to have a comparably large customer base and he has correctly concluded that there is very little chance of that happening and he shows us why. He shows us that the incentives that would be needed to attract sufficient passengers will not exist. Thus, he arrives at the right conclusion. And you suggest his conclusion might have been different if only he had accounted for the fact that the trains' speed would peak at 110 mph, rather than 79 for a fraction of their journey. if that alone, plugged into his analysis of incentives, would have reversed his conclusion.


Tue, Jan 24, 2012 : 7:36 a.m.

Clearly Henry, Mr. Leckrone's professors never taught him to read. As I noted in another post, the very report the he linked to states quite clearly that the train will run at 110 MPH. Yet somehow he missed that very important fact and based his calculations on 79 MPH. Either that or he made a whopper of a mistake, for which is professor's would have failed him. So I wouldn't put too much faith in him yet.


Mon, Jan 23, 2012 : 6:53 p.m.

PART 2 So yes, the application from MDOT was bonkers. But the bad news gets worse: Governor Snyder is now being poorly advised that Bus Rapid Transit is the way to go for Michigan. ….because it's cheap and Detroit can make the busses …or at least the engines. The problem is that BRT DOES NOT SUPPORT TRANSIT ORIENTED OR ANY PRIVATE DEVELOPMENT. NOBODY can (see state of commercial lending) or will risk their own capital to locate a TOD development on a BRT line that could vanish with the stroke of a pen. Bus lines go poof every day in Michigan…….therefore, it's value is greatly and forever diminished. The bottom line is that the mass transit Michigan needs costs $3-5 billion dollars and is worth every penny but we don't have the process or leadership in place to make that happen today. Those who understand mass transit are ignored because Michigan cannot think long term; even consider raising the money we need; and when it comes to help from Washington, our "experienced legislators" are always the last in line.


Mon, Jan 23, 2012 : 6:51 p.m.

Good – you have the functional stuff down. The problem is, this is not an engineering question – it is a planning question. Not to be indelicate, but this is why engineers should not be decision makers – they view the world with a lens that is too narrow, their experience is overly focused on function and in the real world they engineer what they are retained to engineer. That said, his rationale is well considered and correct based on what has been planned and submitted, which is where the problem lies. "High Speed Rail" is a very special train that makes sense only when it is competing with air travel in very special cases. That is why it is so rare in the world when compared to other types of trains. In this case, the politicians are not helpful, but THE PROBLEM because they are listening to bad advice from someone. Successful mass transit trains around the world become successful over decades as they bind regions together where people TRAVEL EVERY DAY as well as tourist and convention business from connected airports. Chicago is an excellent example. The only measure of this success that matters is the appearance of successful, privately funded Transit Oriented Development, which can eventually include an entire City and connect it with suburbs. Mass transit is an amenity like highways. They do not "pay for themselves" any more then I-94 "pays for itself". To say highways or other transit elements are "subsidized" is and always will be missing the point. The value comes with a healthier STATE ECONOMY that is regionally more competitive with other states for ALL BUSINESS.


Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 5:46 p.m.

Don't worry about who I am, sport. Worry that Michigan has little idea how to become a state that will be successfully competitive in an nation that whose standard of living will continue to fall until we get some leaders in Washington who understand business. We are lucky to have Governor Snyder, but would be even luckier if he had better advisors.

Henry Porter

Tue, Jan 24, 2012 : 12:47 a.m.

I surmise from your post that you are neither an engineer nor a planner...nor, for that matter, a politician. You use big words to say nothing useful.


Mon, Jan 23, 2012 : 6:49 p.m.

I don't go to Chicago very often, but I go through Chicago frequently on my way to Wisconsin. And it rarely takes more than 6 hours to Madison (at the posted speed limits), meaning 4.5 hours to Chicago. A Chicago destination is not of much interest to me. However, if the trains offered a rail-ferry type option, that would interest me. Load up in Ann Arbor, stay with the car or relax in a club car and when the train stops in Chcago and drive off. My wife often takes the high-speed ferry from Muskegon to Milwaukee - she finds it more pleasant than driving through Chicago - not that she minds it that much.


Mon, Jan 23, 2012 : 2:42 p.m.

Picking a date at random on Amtrak's website returned $32 per ticket from Ann Arbor to Chicago Union Station. This is less than half of Mr. Leckrone's assertion. Let's be data driven here and not massage the data to support our position...


Tue, Jan 24, 2012 : 7:45 a.m.

Henry, We drivers only manage to cover 51% of the costs of our highways via fuel taxes and other fees. And in most states, local streets are paved with property taxes, not fuel taxes. That represents a HUGE subsidy to drivers. Amtrak on the other hand covered 69% of its costs requiring only a 31% subsidy to Amtrak riders. Sure the subsidy per rider is higher for Amtrak than for driving; but that's a function of taking a big number and dividing it by another big number. Drivers get a 49% subsidy on highways and in most states a 100% subsidy on local streets vs. Amtrak riders getting a 31% subsidy. That &quot;perceived value&quot; you're talking about is why most people think that driving is cheaper. Passenger trains used to cover their operating costs; until we started giving drivers a subsidized ride. It didn't help either that we taxed the RR's to help build the highways. Here's another way to look at it. According to the Taxpayer's receipt for 2009, a married couple with 2 kids and $80K in income paid $3.83 via their income tax to Amtrak. That same couple paid $110.06 towards our highways. A retired couple with $100K in income paid $3.11 to Amtrak and $89.38 towards the highways even if they can no longer drive a car, much less own one. Want lower taxes? Leave your car home and get on an Amtrak train!

Henry Porter

Tue, Jan 24, 2012 : 1:06 a.m.

If you really want to be fair, you should be comparing benefits to costs for each mode and for both private and public investments. If you do that, you'll see that the reason train passengers perceive such value in their trains is because their out-of-pocket costs are so low compared to the value they receive. Taxpayers who pay the subsidies, on the other hand, receive extremely little return on their &quot;investment&quot;. For example, the reason $32 for a ticket from Ann Arbor to Chicago seems to be such a good deal is because the trip is subsidized by taxpayers. Last year, the nationwide average subsidy for an Amtrak trip was about $35. On the other hand, the cost of driving includes a significant tax to help pay for the highway infrastructure. If train riders had to pay the same proportion of the total cost of providing the service, there would be fewer train passengers... ...and therefore, fewer trains!

Mike S

Mon, Jan 23, 2012 : 7:11 p.m.

$32, $44, $55, and $76, depending on demand and advance booking. A proper case study would probably involve a call to Amtrak to ask them what the average purchase prices were; a.k.a. "real data".

Don B

Mon, Jan 23, 2012 : 2:16 p.m.

I hope that Mr. Lackrone uses more solid assumptions in his engineering projects than in this analysis. Johnnya2 already covered the fallacies in the numbers. The scales tip more than he suggested because the IRS allowance is back up to .55/mile. Beyond the numbers though, &quot;very few people would use it&quot;? Go someplace where trains and public transportation systems are built out, and see the numbers of people who choose to use them instead of cars. Spent some time at, for example, the gates for Northeast Corridor trains at Union Station in Washington. Check out subway and commuter rail ridership there. Easier yet, wander over to Ann Arbor's station when a train is scheduled to leave for Chicago.

Monica R-W

Mon, Jan 23, 2012 : 9:21 a.m.

These are some really long paragraphs. Make the piece hard to read. Sorry!


Mon, Jan 23, 2012 : 5:05 a.m.

Just about every point he made is flawed. A few examples: 1. When estimating travel time by car, he totally ignores traffic, which usually slows travel esp. near Chicago, and weather. Get real. 2. Cost of driving between Detroit and Chicago: He estimated $36, considering only the gas. A better estimate is $.555/mi. (per IRS) x 286 mi. = $159. 3. He discusses subsidies to mass transit, but as pointed out by others, road travel has long been subsidized. Back to school, Mr. Leckrone!


Tue, Jan 24, 2012 : 2:19 p.m.

Let's see Henry, when gas soared above $4 a gallon back in 2008, two interesting things happened. Total miles driven in the US went down for the first time in history and transit ridership which had been increasing by single digit percentages in past years soared into the double digits. Now, we drivers only manage to cover 51% of the costs of our highways via the fuel taxes. That means that the combined fuel taxes must double in order to start covering just the highways. So depending on what state you live in, we're talking between a 50 cents to perhaps 80 cents per gallon increase in the price of gas. I can't even begin to imagine just how much we need to increase the taxes to cover local streets; but I'm betting that we're adding at least another dollar to the price of gas. So we're quickly getting into the rhelm of $5 a gallon for gas. During the last Presidential election in 2008 we had cadidates from both side talking about a gas tax holiday because people were screaming about $4 a gallon gas. NO one is going to stomach $5 a gallon gas. By the way, while we call it a gas tax, it is the fee that you pay to drive your car on the highways. Get on Amtrak and you pay a fee to ride on the train. We just don't call it a tax, but it is the same thing. It's how the user pays for at least part of the costs of driving or riding.

Henry Porter

Tue, Jan 24, 2012 : 1:24 a.m.

Cut the subsidies to both rail and highways, make users pay their share of actual cost to provide the service and highways would flourish while rail whithers. Remember, the cost per mile of driving includes a small subsidy and a tax paid while the cost of riding a train includes a huge subsidy and no tax paid. When that playing field is leveled, the contest will be over. Mr. Leckrone did his homework.


Mon, Jan 23, 2012 : 5 a.m.

Two stations, Ann Arbor and Chicago... Enough said.


Mon, Jan 23, 2012 : 4:01 a.m.

Adding: (1) Trains are much less affected by inclement weather than cars (and their drivers). (2) Mr. Leckrone omits regarding motor vehicles: owners pay ALL the costs themselves, including insurance and maintenance and (many times) interest on car loans - as well as fuel costs. Proponents fudging figures: apparently Mr. Leckrone doesn't mind doing this himself: when he uses one set of travel times for comparison while leaving out the above seasonal weather variations which have caused MAJOR delays of a day or more for travelers on I-94. All one has to experience is hours of being stranded on I-94 between Jackson and Kalamazoo to know that this &quot;easy ride&quot; can be a negative event one will talk about to their grandchildren. Whole families have been wiped out on I-94. How many families have been wiped out on Amtrak trains between Detroit &amp; Chicago? Politicized thinking (anti-tax no matter what) is fantasy thinking. The reason passenger trains are &quot;public supported&quot; is because: THEY ARE PUBLIC SUPPORTED. Sure, train travel is less popular than car and plane travel: one way to make it more popular is to improve it~! Past is prologue: In the early 20th Century, horse powered vehicle were immensely more popular than unreliable &amp; poorly designed cars. THAT changed, so why can't train travel REGAIN the popularity it once had? Remember: it was entirely a campaign by auto companies which TOOK AWAY alternative transportation.

Larry Krieg

Mon, Jan 23, 2012 : 2:23 a.m.

Mr. Leckrone also brings up an old and oft-debunked myth about the cost and value of public vs. private transportation: that public transportation is subsidized, so money should be spent into roads instead. The fallacy here is the unspoken assumption that roads pay for themselves through fuel and registration fees. In fact, Congress had to subsidize the Highway Trust Fund to the tune of $14.7 billion in FY 2010, which was 29% of Federal highway spending for that year. Projections indicate that this subsidy will grow as cars become more fuel efficient. Like many critics of public transportation, Mr. Leckrone has not stepped back to consider the larger cost of private automobiles to our country. The cost of parking (which can approach $50 for 24 hours in downtown Chicago) extends to the hidden cost of "free" parking – the many square miles of land devoted to parking that could be used for housing, business, agriculture, or recreation. Highways are dangerous: 32,788 were killed on highways in the U.S. in 2010, and that's considered a "good" record. Automobile congestion is costly, too: in 2010, the average commuter in the Detroit area wasted $687 in traffic – and in Chicago, each commuter wasted $1,568. The reason trains have experienced steady growth in ridership is that they provide a much more pleasant and productive travel environment. Business people can use their travel time productively on their laptops using Amtrak's recently-installed WiFi, or just resting after a tense meeting. Families with small children appreciate being able to get up and walk around, get snacks any time, and use one of the two restrooms in each coach. I've traveled from Ann Arbor to Chicago by train many times, and appreciate being able to relax, in contrast to the many white-knuckle driving experiences I had before I found how convenient the train is.


Mon, Jan 23, 2012 : 2:22 a.m.

Mr. Leckrone Is spot on with this opinion. A total waste of taxpayer money. The only reason to do this is to make the City of Detroit feel significant. All the Politicians are throwing money at Detroit. Unfortunately, Detroit's track record is one of is one of public corruption. Mayor Bing is still having to deal with the corrupt officials Coleman Young and Kwame Kilpatrick put into union jobs in Detroit. Let Detroit pull itself of of this mess they created before coming to the rest of the taxpayers and asking them for handouts for Detroit.

Larry Krieg

Mon, Jan 23, 2012 : 2:22 a.m.

Mr. Leckrone has pointed out some very strange time-comparisons in a document published by the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) in the 2009 publication he cited in the article. Thank you for doing the math! MDOT should be ashamed and update (or at least clarify) the figures. However, Mr. Leckrone has also given voice to a number of misconceptions about high-speed rail and the utility of passenger rail in general. 1. He states that the top speed of the proposed Detroit to Chicago route is 79 MPH, based on the 2009 MDOT publication. The current goal (according to a memo from the House Fiscal Agency to the House Committee on Appropriations in September 2011) is to bring the top speed to 110 MPH on 232 miles of the route, reducing travel time between Detroit and Chicago to about 4 hours. (Admittedly, that's not high-speed by European or Asian standards.) 2. Mr. Leckrone writes, "Nobody will give up driving their cars on I-94 to ride a train that is slower than the freeway…" In fact, ridership on that route has increased substantially over the last five years, even as train speeds have gone down due to poor maintenance by host railroad Norfolk-Southern. 3. He further states, "Mass transit is NOT greener than the private automobile." To compare the efficiency of modes of transportation, the best measure is energy used for each mile a passenger is moved. The Federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics, using BTUs per passenger-mile, rated domestic air carriers at 4,123; passenger cars at 3,672; and Amtrak at 2,138. That puts the train at 58% of the energy used compared to passenger cars, and 51% of the energy used compared to air travel. ...continued...


Mon, Jan 23, 2012 : 2:22 a.m.

yes we can...if we had a train system ...we would be building the VOLKSWAGEN here in michigan and not south of the border... If we had a railsystem we could leave our cars at home and take the train to the airport parking or paying high parking tickets. And IF we build the train &quot;right' we pul in the station get our suitcase etc..hed for the neares elevator &quot;UP&quot; and we would be in the it is in paris.......50% the population is over 65 years of age. then there are disablet poeple that would love to go for a Ride......... If the train would be a TGV ..we would be in chicago working an in hour and spend our weekend in Michigan,,, but we donot have leaders THAT HAVE VISION.......they cannot get past the $$$$. 1990 the road and bridge budget was $ 384 Million 2001 the orad &amp; bridge budget is Up to $ 1,5 BILLION a 369% increrase why do we have hole , and bad roads , Where has the money ben spend oN? time to Audit each department and get better contarctor to build roads that have garantee and pride build..oR better yet get the european to buidl our roads I coulnot find a HOLE in the autobahn or Streets in europ , but manybe they donot lay off poeple ..with the weather in michigan NOW beeing a short winter , so no more Holes or bridges fallen down.Buidl the train and The GOLDENSPIKE(under constrution for over 30 years) so where is the moneyWhat bank? Rep. Joh Dingell released $ 200 million in how much intesrst //P.S DONOT forget to stop in YPSILANTI..

mike gatti

Mon, Jan 23, 2012 : 2:02 a.m.

Trains are fun.


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 11:01 p.m.

Thank you for posting this opinion. The entire rail-proposal system n Michigan is misbegotten and Ill-advised... Sam, please get to some of those City Council meetings where transportation is discussed...clearly you have an expertise that our tree-huggers do not.

Willie Green

Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 10:23 p.m.

As an older engineer, with a BS in Industrial Engineering and MBA from Penn State, I find myself chiding Mr. Lecrone for the total lack of economic pragmatism common to many young engineers. He is a technological daydreamer with delusional fantasies of cars that &quot;drive themselves&quot; while ignoring the economic reality that the traditional petroleum resources that fuel those cars (and airlines) are being depleted, and production is already shifting to economically inferior tar-sands and oil shales. Furthermore, he fails to recognize that, although many people will choose to ride rather than drive, intercity passenger rail from Detroit to Chicago doesn't really compete for passengers from the highway market. Intercity passenger rail is actually an alternative to inefficient, short-hop airline service between the two cities, with the added advantage of providing passengers with a variety of other destinations along the way. And sadly, Mr. Lecrone completely loses his train of thought when he starts babbling about mass transit buses and tax subsidies. But whether he likes it or not, market demand for Intercity passenger rail will continue to rise due to the aforementioned shift in fuel production, driving up the costs of airline and automotive travel. Airlines and cars won't become obsolete, of course, but regional passenger rail service between Detroit and Chicago will gain market share. It's a long-term and permanent market trend that Mr. Lecrone doesn't recognize.

Willie Green

Mon, Jan 23, 2012 : 1 p.m.

@ Orwell, Peak Oil doesn't mean that we'll ever &quot;run out&quot;. It means that production will decline because the remaining deposits are more costly to extract. There will still be fossil fuel available far into the foreseeable future. It just won't be as affordable as what we're accustomed to. Alternative energy sources and energy efficient technologies WILL gain market share, despite your emotional bias against them. As for Google cars that 'drive themselves', I have yet to see any computer code that is so bug-free that the program is 100% reliable, let alone capable of compensating for real-world deterioration of it's hardware platform: worn-out keyboards, mice, loose connections, power failures, etc. etc. But for children pretending to be engineers, Google cars that &quot;drive themselves&quot; remains a mesmerizing daydream. More experienced engineers recognize that &quot;Murphy's Law&quot; is an insightful expression the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, and that our national fleet of automobiles is governed by entropy. In other words, our roads and cars will never be so perfectly manufactured and maintained that it will be safely and reliably possible for cars to &quot;drive themselves.&quot; Any &quot;engineer&quot; willing to give up physical control of a car traveling 65+ mph on a congested freeway in inclement weather to some silicon microchip is dumb as a rock and should have his driver's license revoked.

G. Orwell

Mon, Jan 23, 2012 : 1:24 a.m.

@Willie, &quot;He is a technological daydreamer with delusional fantasies of cars that &quot;drive themselves&quot; while ignoring the economic reality that the traditional petroleum resources that fuel those cars (and airlines) are being depleted, and production is already shifting to economically inferior tar-sands and oil shales.&quot; I do not believe oil resources are being depleted to a point we will run out any time soon. The whole Peak Oil theory is a scam to drive up oil prices and for fake environmentalists to use it to scare the public into using inefficient althernative energies like solar and wind. I believe there are far more oil reserves than we are led to believe. In the last two to three years, there have been massive oil finds in Brazil, U.S., Iran (maybe that is why we want to invade Iran now), Libya, etc. In fact, Google is working on a car that will drive itself. Integrate GPS with Google Steetview and you can have a car that could drive itself in the future. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> I think you are a little behind the times.


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 10:59 p.m.

Thank you for your post....good common sense.

G. Orwell

Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 9:26 p.m.

It is really simple. Keep the existing system that serves people well and spend the money on improving the roads. Far, far to costly for a minuscule improvement in time. I would love to see the cost per minute saved for the required investment. My rough guess would be $3,000,000-$4,000,000 minute saved. This would be akin to spending an extra $100 to buy one gallon of 93 octane gas compared to 89 octane to get slightly better performance. It is not worth it! Let's drop this and move on.


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 9:23 p.m.

Americans need to wake up and realize not everyone gets to live in a mcmansion in suburbia and drive a hummer everywhere they want to go. Mass transit IS more cost effective as your population increases.


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 8:56 p.m.

I am sorry if I repeat a point made by anyone else but since the number of posts if quite large, I cannot read them all. One factor I would like to point out is that one basic reason rail systems are more prominent in Europe and some Asian countries is that driving is much more expensive in those countries. There have been/are indicators that this could be the case in the US. In 2008 when gasoline hit $4+/gallon, bicycle and bike accessory sales spiked to all near all time highs. So high that some bike manufacturers (one was Trek) actually surveyed bike commuter traffic and developed models designed for bike commuting. Also, more people used mass transit. At the same time Michigan Rep Pam Byrnes, chair of the Transportation committee, introduced a package of bills aimed at increasing gas tax, registration fees and even allowing the Dept of Transportation to look into toll roads. The gas taxes would have increased almost double. See: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> Earlier, in 2007 US Congressman John Dingell proposed a federal gas tax hike of $.50/gallon with the express purpose of cutting back consumption. Odd because Rep. Dingell has been a long time supporter of US auto makers. His intention was environmental in nature. Here is more info: <a href=",2933,339589,00.html" rel='nofollow'>,2933,339589,00.html</a> Finally the cost of gasoline is often described as &quot;volatile&quot; because of the numerous reason oil prices can increase: decisions made by OPEC, political unrest in the Middle East, oil dependent global development projects, political concerns over environment, etc. My point is that while I agree (mostly) with Mr. Leckrone, transportation climate can change very quickly, such as with the drop on one bunker bomb on an Iranian atomic weapon plant, a very real present concern, or with an election of an environmentally inclined President. Thus we need to perhaps look at mass transit with a wider view.

Willie Green

Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 10:31 p.m.

Global demand for fossil fuel is depleting traditional petroleum resources. Already, production is shifting to economically inferior tar-sands and oil shales that we've ignored for many decades. Automotive and airline fuel simply will never again be as &quot;cheap&quot; as what we've enjoyed for the last 50~60 years. Regional passenger rail service will gain market share simply because it is more fuel efficient per passenger-mile than short-hop airline service.

Superior Twp voter

Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 7:55 p.m.

GREAT guest column, Mr. Leckrone. Thank you for taking your time to make valid points, and telling it like it is. That said, don't expect your guest column to receive many accolades from residents of this county!


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 7:31 p.m.

Contiinued... The development of our country has been based upon individual freedoms. The landscape of cities and suburbs are a direct reflection of this. European cities are much more centralized and dare I say more sustainable than say what is going on in southeast Michigan with Detroit and the surrounding areas. If we don't like what is going on within city limits, we simply move out of the city and commute. This has led to the development of cities with little or no infrastructure to support pedestrian traffic etc.(among other problems such as a sufficient tax base to sustain our cities.). Just try walking from the 12 Oaks Mall in Novi to the mall just south of I-696 for a good example of this. So the very freedoms permitted by a developed road system such as easy and inexpensive travel is ironically the same factor that is hindering travel to our aging boomer population (and older) and those who do not have the ability to drive. Another factor not to be dismissed in support for a more developed rail system is the ability to attract new business opportunities. It is no secrete how badly Michigan needs an infusion of new industry, one of the things that companies consider when making a choice of a new location is the available infrastructure and workforce. A rail system would improve our standing in these areas. As stated initially, the freedoms that a road system provides is invaluable, however, as our population increases, roads clog with traffic, and the competition to attract new businesses grow, the big picture of transportation for the masses should be seriously considered - not only by our state but on a nation wide basis.


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 7:30 p.m.

We have all enjoyed and become accustomed to the freedom that the automobile affords us. I certainly have. I honestly prefer to drive to places rather than riding with someone else simply because I feel more in control of being able to come and go - based upon my schedule rather than someone else's. That being said, there are valid reasons for this country to expand and improve the public rail system that Sam has not taken into consideration in his opinion column. This makes me question just how much (if at all) he has traveled abroad to countries that do have developed rail systems. Specifically, the rail systems in Europe enables travel to be highly efficient and extends the possibility of travel to many more people than that of a road system alone. For example, elderly people who are uncomfortable or perhaps are not able to drive safely due to a wide variety of maladies (that we will all face some day) have the ability to travel Germany, France, England and other countries with relatively little trouble. This freedom of travel is also extended to those too young or not capable of driving due to an wide range of physical and or emotional limitations. In addition, foreign travelers visiting areas who are unaccustomed to local driving laws on otherwise unlicensed are able to travel in relative safely and efficiently from point A to B. Without the rail system, travel in Europe would be much more complex and limited.


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 7:10 p.m.

Does Ann fact check guest columns? I don't think so. Do they verify where the author resides? You really should.


Sat, Jan 28, 2012 : 2:21 p.m.

Why is his residency relevent? Do you have to live in New York to have an opinion piece published in the New York Times?


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 9:59 p.m.

It took me 5 seconds to find out he lives in Tenn.

Kai Petainen

Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 6:40 p.m.

I'm not against improving the roads/rails/bridges, but I am against the Fuller parking lot. I'm not against high speed rail, but I am against false advertising and calling it as such. It should be 'faster speed rail'.


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 6:33 p.m.

Sam, way to cherry pick statistics to back up your fundamentally flawed premise. You argue against federal funding for trains because... a car can get somewhere faster? Amtraks service to Chicago (by the way, you DO know the train already goes there, right...?) had record ridership this past year. Demand is growing. Improving the quality of service will only enhance that demand. How can you argue against this simple and clear fact? Why don't you try riding the train sometime before you arbitrarily bash it as non-sensical. It's pretty nice to surf the web on your laptop in a comfy seat while you travel, too. But I really lost your point when you concluded with &quot;contrary to popular belief, mass transit is NOT greener than the private automobile: A typical transit bus only gets 4 mpg -- which is the equivalent of 8 Chevy Cruzes (or 12 Toyota Priuses)&quot;. This is pure balogna. A bus can pull down 6mpg, actually (i.e. 50% better than your number) while carrying 50 people! If you had any shred of common sense as a degreed engineer you would not blind yourself to the OBVIOUS efficiency benefit of mass transportation, especially when you consider full life-cycle energy use, which you probably haven't even heard of. The world is truly in danger if &quot;qualified&quot; engineers such as yourself decide to put personal bias ahead of simple math.


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 6:30 p.m.

How many people have to die on US-23 between Ann Arbor and Brighton for our local politicians to take notice? If they had used just a fraction of the time, energy and money that has been put into WALLY to this point, there would already be cable guard rails in place on the median on all the treacherous curves. There would also be plans for eliminating the short on ramps along with funding requests on deck for future lane expansions. In additon to the lives lost, the amount of productivity lost by all those north - south commuters stuck in traffic is staggering.


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 6:24 p.m.

@Vivien Armentrout- It is NEVER a Gift from the Federal government--it is paid out of our taxes, and our National debt going higher and higher.


Mon, Jan 23, 2012 : 7:46 p.m.

Thinker, If you're really worried about the National debt and not just using it as an excuse, then it's time for we drivers to start fully paying for our highways. That's adding far more to our national debt than Amtrak. Just in the last three years more than $62 Billion has been transferred out of the General fund into the Highway Trust Fund because we drivers aren't paying enough for our travels. That's more than $20 Billion more than Amtrak has received in its entire 40 years of existence. Cutting Amtrak isn't going to do squat to the National debt. Cutting funding to the highways however would make a nice dent!

Vivienne Armentrout

Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 11:35 p.m.

The money was already appropriated and it was a &quot;gift&quot; because it was simply money that Florida refused. If we had refused it, it would have gone somewhere else. I'd worry more about the Federal deficit if all decisions on Federal debt and spending didn't seem to be made in another dimension, in outer space, or whatever. I never have figured out how the Federal Reserve balances its books or why George W. Bush was able to mount an entire expensive war completely off the books. Or why he thought that was compatible with a tax cut for the rich.


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 6 p.m.

Sam's analysis fails to consider wear and tear on an auto, emissions to the environment, health effects of breathing auto emissions, stress from driving, money and time spent parking a car, time lost for congestion in traffic/traffic accidents and a multitude of other variables related to auto, train and aviation travel. He also failed to mention that one of the reasons that train travel is so slow is that in many instances the tracks are owned by freight companies that haul goods on these tracks at much slower speeds. Therefore the rail system in its present form is not optimized for efficiency. It's important to remember that one size does not fit all, when Sam is an older person and unable to drive to Chicago he may find that riding on the train is the best option for him. In reality, unbiased analyses are difficult to perform, all forms of transportation are viable, what's at stake here is what everyone considers is a priority.


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 6:26 p.m.

Agreed. His logic is fundamentally flawed and clearly biased against mass transportation for reasons that aren't very clear.

Chase Ingersoll

Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 5:59 p.m.

Good Job Leckrone: I'd like to see you incorporate an analysis of Greyhound and MEGABUS into your analysis. If the demand is there, the most cost effective system is to add buses to the lanes that require them. A MEGABUS ticket is already less than half the train ticket. Also - if you have ever take the train to Chicago - I have - don't forget to factor in the &quot;unscheduled' stops while the passenger train waits for cargo rail. You hope that doesn't happen near Gary, IN. Gary smells like NJ. Chase Ingersoll


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 6:53 p.m.

According to Megabus' website, Megabus is about the same as the same as Amtrak.

John Q

Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 5:28 p.m.

Most people from Ann Arbor or Detroit or surrounding areas aren't going to Chicago to go somewhere in the suburbs. They're going downtown and I doubt many of them have any interest in having to deal with driving around the city, parking, etc. Chicago has a great public transit system and you can get just about anywhere in the city without having to take your car. Sam doesn't sound like he's actually ever made the trip to Chicago. If he had, he wouldn't have left out the cost of parking, which if you stay downtown will more than double the cost of your travel costs.


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 6:36 p.m.

Clearly he has never ridden the train. He almost writes about the new federal funding as if the train doesn't already operate.

Vivienne Armentrout

Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 5:17 p.m.

Actually, if we just drop the expression &quot;high-speed rail&quot;, (because it's not) the investment in the Detroit-Chicago run is an excellent value, especially because it is a one-time gift from the Federal Government that merely patches up a system that has existed in some form for over a century. Having a train to Chicago is a wonderful amenity that gives people who either are not able to drive or fly or prefer not to do so an alternative. The writer confuses local travel with long-distance travel. Amtrak's national rail network is an important alternative form of travel that we will increasingly be glad for, as air travel and even automobile travel become increasingly expensive. His points might better be applied to the efforts to establish a commuter rail connection to Detroit. Operation of an additional rail service (it would not be operated by Amtrak) would be very expensive for the number of passenger trips it would provide. And it would not serve the network of suburbs around Detroit very well, since the number of stops are limited. The estimate for operation of the Ann-Arbor Detroit commuter rail contained within the draft Transit Master Plan (aka county-wide transit plan) is $7.6 million annually (the 30th year number). That would have to be local money since it is not likely to qualify for Federal funds (though that is hard to predict). Unfortunately, AATA is still spending money on WALLY, the even more problematic train to Howell. An RFP for station design was just released. And the city of Ann Arbor is pressing ahead with Fuller Road Station, which if built would replace our currently functional Amtrak station. Now that's a waste of money.


Tue, Jan 24, 2012 : 12:16 a.m.

WALLY!! Too many people in Michigan think mass transit is just another tax payer supported amenity for the poor, indigent and handicapped. It is annoying to see that most of the crowd who shows up at town meeting are people who don't work but are there to shamelessly demand MORE from those of us who do. Certainly mass transit needs to be accessible but a regional system will never be constructed around demands of the indigent and paid for by those who perceive no or little value for themselves.


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 6:39 p.m.

Hear hear! ^ This is the kind of sensical commentary we really need, not Sam's pointless diatribe of how much he loves personal cars. Vivienne, can you write us a poignant piece to supplant this piece of garbage?


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 6:37 p.m.

Well &quot;thinker&quot;, it is already approved for disbursement at the federal level. Would you prefer to have it benefit our local area, or somewhere else? And actually, it's not our taxes, it's just new debt, haha.


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 6:22 p.m.

It is NOT a GIFT from the Federal Government. It is OUR TAXES!

Matt McEwen

Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 5:02 p.m.

Sam has it right, not only from a practically standpoint but an academic standpoint. The math is simple, the economics are simple and the facts are simple. Math, it's not going to be cheaper then gas to get to Chicago or save time. Economics, who is going to choose a $75 train ticket over $33 in gas? Fact, people love the convenience of their car. To give up the 'go anywhere at any time on my schedule' choice is not a solid option. Any money that would be spent on a rail transit system either to Chicago or the monster money waster (Howell to Ann Arbor commuter train) would be much better spend on road way infrastructure improvements. Don't let this Sunday's AATA column throw you off. There are lobbyists and members of the Public transit Association that like to hear their own voice, believe everything that they hear, and love the looks of their own increasing paycheck. Put the these dumb ideas on the ballot, as they will increase taxes. If Washtenaw is as smart as it claims to be, it will see through the propaganda and vote this away for good.

average joe

Mon, Jan 23, 2012 : 4:25 a.m.

johnnya2- Two points- Unless you are just going to hang out at the train station in Chicago, one has to add the cab fares, EL costs, etc. to your cost to ride the train, just like you correctly added parking costs if one chooses to drive there. -Just because the IRS says you can expense out at this rate, doesn't mean that all cars cost that much to operate per mile.


Mon, Jan 23, 2012 : 12:01 a.m.

So you don't put new tires on your car based on mileage&gt; You don't pay for parking in Chicago? You don't have to change your oil more frequently based on more miles driven? You don't have more brakes due to stop and go traffic in Chicago? The value of your car certainly would never be reduced based on miles now would it. The IRS values that at 55.5 cents per mile for 2011. I guess like most people who are short sighted, you only think of current costs as opposed to the long term.


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 4:42 p.m.

Forget about mass transit . . . Just stay home . . . Teleconference and Skype . . .

Don B

Mon, Jan 23, 2012 : 2:24 p.m.

Quality teleconference equipment is expensive and Skype isn't reliable enough.


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 6:51 p.m.

oh yes...I LOVE sightseeing via Skype. The vibrant colors...the realness...and the food. Nothing like watching someone else eat a good Chicago style pizza...yummy.


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 4:51 p.m.

Yeah, I know when I go attend a trade show, there is nothing easier than a Teleconference or Skype to see 1000s of vendors within a couple of days. You really are clueless


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 4:42 p.m.

What is it that people seem to feel so threatened in the Midwest with any idea of public transportation? No one's going to take your precious cars away by force? Or do you know something I don't? I'm not the biggest &quot;greenie&quot; in the world, but I grew up with fine public transportation in the East and found the Midwestern hostility to it to be puzzling (except for the expected desire to sell more cars in autoland).


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 6:39 p.m.

Good point (same story for me, grew up in NYC).


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 4:31 p.m.

Unless you live completely off the grid and - Grow your own food - Use homing pigeon's to send and receive mail - Will never require the services of an ambulance, police car, bus service, utility truck, etc. Then I would like to sincerely apologize that you are being asked to help subsidize the road system the supports the rest of society.


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 6:49 p.m.

in which case, you ain't reading this :-)


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 4:19 p.m.

There's another option for people who don't like to drive: buses. But the private sector has already taken care of that option so it's of little use to politicians. It might be nice to be able to pay up for flights from the Ann Arbor Airport to Chicago. Too bad Meigs Field was closed down. People would start whining about all the puddle jumpers taking off from the A2 airport anyhow.

Ron Granger

Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 4:12 p.m.

&quot;I looked at Amtrak's website, and they often charge up to $75 for a ticket from Detroit (or Ann Arbor) to Chicago. That's more than double the cost of fuel, even at $4 per gallon. Google Maps reports the distance from Detroit to Chicago to be 286 miles; my 2011 Chevy Cruze gets 32 mpg, and at $4/gallon, I would spend $35.75 on fuel for the entire trip.&quot; -- How much would buses cost? The neat thing about buses is they can route around accidents, and slowdowns. They don't get held up because another bus is slow or has a mechanical problem. Or, more common with the trains &quot;just slow, I don't know why&quot;. Buses don't require special railroad right of ways, and costly tracks. Just the roads that we already have. Why must we pay the railroad robber barons such princely sums when they aren't even princes?


Mon, Jan 23, 2012 : 7:36 p.m.

Ron, The Railroad robber barons don't exist in this case. Amtrak, a company wholly owned by &quot;We The People&quot; own 95 miles of the line in Michigan. The US DOT holds 100% of the voting stock in trust for Congress and the citizens of the US. The State of Michigan now owns most of the rest of the line in Michigan used by this service. So the only &quot;robber barons&quot; would be &quot;We The People.&quot;


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 4:04 p.m.

The problem with rail systems in America is that except for cities such as New York and maybe Chicago it's nearly impossible to get to your destination conveniently by public transportation. Take a train to LA or Miami or a small town like Jackson and see how easy it is to get to your desired location without a car, taxi, or having someone pick you up in their car. Before we waste vast sums on high speed rail we need really convenient public transportation within cities and towns. No one in their right mind trys to drive a car in London or Paris because both cities have wonderful and convenient subway systems that really will get you close to where you want to go. It's said that in Paris there is no spot that is more than five hundred meters from a Metro Station. When that kind of convenience is created in American cities then rail travel between cities makes sense.


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 3:37 p.m.

Talking with the actual railway workers as they were repairing the rail lines, they told me that the railroad tracks have so many curves that you could never have &quot;high speed&quot; without replace a good porton of the raillines.

Richard Carter

Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 3:31 p.m.

If speed were the only issue, I'd agree. But consider this one fact: when I'm taking the train (which I do to get to Chicago), I have a lot more options of how to spend those four hours than I do when I'm driving. Books on tape and the radio are nice, but I can get a lot of useful (personal or professional) work done on a train -- reading, typing, even catching up on movies on my computer are all available to me on a train trip -- not to mention sleeping. I can arrive in Chicago tired out from driving, or I can arrive relaxed from letting Amtrak deal with the weather while I doze.


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 3:17 p.m.

There are lots of ways to spend money. There are lots of questions surrounding the Detroit to Chicago corridor. It sounds like Mr. Leckrone is a smart kid. I will sit back and pessimistically watch this unfold but I have some real-world experience that I'm happy to share here. I have made the Ann Arbor-Chicago Amtrak trip over a dozen times. I learned the hard way that you plan ahead and spend a few extra bucks to get the &quot;business class&quot; ticket. That way you sit in a larger seat and have a smaller sample size of fellow riders. This is important because you never know what you're going to get. Even in &quot;business class,&quot; you can be assured that the era of elegant travel is long gone. Fellow travelers share their diversity in entertainment choices via big and small screens, headphones, and speakers. They spend hours talking on the phone in loud voices. You learn what they like to eat, regardless of how pungent and aromatic. The aforementioned can refer to the meal on the train or, worse, the one enjoyed the night before. The Amtrak staff can be anywhere from cheerful and helpful to rude and clueless. Even if you score a good crew, the train cars themselves can range anywhere from pretty good to pretty bad. Don't count on riding in European style coaches. You can tell if you look closely, that back when the carpet was the original color, the walls were clean, the signs were readable, the windows were clear, the heat and a/c worked, the doors closed and sealed, and the plumbing worked, they were pretty cool train cars. But that truly was a while ago. The trains today are capable of speeds around 95 MPH. You just engage the gps function on your smartphone and you know how fast you're going. If it's going slower, you can expect a repeated diatribe over the PA system from the train staff telling you about the politics of rail lines. So, the place to improve is in the train experience. Driving is faster but the train COULD be better. Wor

Mike S

Mon, Jan 23, 2012 : 6:50 p.m.

Are you referring to loud conversations in business class? So far I've only taken a dozen trips on the Wolverine service, but nobody in regular class has been a big nuisance. Sure, sitting too close to the restrooms reminds you that Americans eat too much meat, but the newer cars have better ventilation.


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 2:58 p.m.

Obviously Mr Leckrone has not driven in Chicago traffic much. he says how long it takes to get to the Indiana border, but fails to say how long it would be to get to downtown Chicago. That is because he has no clue. Traffic could make it another 2-3 hours. He says the trains run slower when it is cold. I guess in snow and cold his Cruz travels at 75MPH too? I guess that is why I see portions of I94 being closed regularly. The National Safety Council puts train accident deaths at .03 per 100 million passenger mile. That number for automobiles is .8. That is 26 times more likely to die from an automobile than a train accident. Energy consumption per passenger mile is estimated at 1754 BTU's, an automobile is 3501 BTUs, more than double (source is the Bureau of Transportation statistics). I will also point out that there are added costs to driving to Chicago. Have you ever spent a night in a hotel in Chicago? What was the cost of parking. I travel to Chicago frequently on business and the last hotel I was at charged $40 per night. I randomly picked a weekend stay in late February and costed out Amtrak. It is $76 for a round trip. It is about 240 miles to Chicago. Average cost to operate an automobile is rated at 50 cents per mile by the IRS. Round trip that comes to $240 for a car. Add in 2 days parking and you have a trip that costs $320. Let's say two people decide to take the trip together. That comes to $160 per person. The train TOTAL cost for two is $152. Being an engineer, I am sure you had some math classes in your life. $152 is less than $320. But don't stop believing Finally, you said &quot;Look at how many subsidies go into mass transit&quot;. How much of I-94 is subsidized? 100% I pay taxes for that road EVEN IF I DONT USE IT. You obviously failed in using your engineering background to come to your faulty conclusions.

Jake C

Mon, Jan 23, 2012 : 6:40 p.m.

Johnny, good job on a concise and well-written response, you summed up most issues I also had with Sam's opinion piece. However, one big issue both you and Sam missed is the convenience factor of riding a train compared to both cars and planes. Yes, I might be able to drive from Ann Arbor to Chicago a little faster than taking a train, but I have to be 100% engaged in the driving process from start to finish. A train ride, whether slow or high speed, lets you do just about whatever you want along the route. Get some work done, read a book, take a nap, whatever. Likewise, a plane ride from Detroit to Chicago might be faster in terms of flight time, while also allowing you to relax for most of the time. But you're also dealing with all the hassles that come with flying (travel to the airport, parking fees, showing up early, TSA screening, cramped quarters, lost luggage, etc). Plus it's usually more expensive than than the alternatives. It's a balance between factoring in all the costs of each method of travel, vs. the convenience factor of each. If you're looking for a weekend vacation to Downtown Chicago, then a train might be the best method. If you're going to visit some family in the suburbs, then it might be better to drive. As for the discussion about whether government funding for high-speed rail is a good idea in general, I'm generally inclined to believe that investment in America's Infrastructure is almost always a good thing.


Mon, Jan 23, 2012 : 5:59 p.m.

@SEC Fan Based on that argument, there is already a highway between Detroit and Chicago. We should therefore to spend the money to improve it either? If making the train ride faster, even nominally why shouldn't we? You do understand that things need to be improved upon. If a faster more efficient rail system is available why shouldn't it be done? I have no problem having roads repaired and improved upon either. I do no believe in an either or when it comes to transportation. I travel to Florida frequently and use airline travel, I also travel to Cincinnati and taking he train there is impossible. Strong basic infrastructure of roads, bridges, trains and airports are what makes things better.


Mon, Jan 23, 2012 : 3:12 p.m.

Uhh..Mr. Eagleman, it's 4th grade math. A High School diploma should suffice for the &quot;background&quot;. Johnnya2 is simply pointing out that a number of costs were omitted by the article's author. This is commonly done when people want to manipulate numbers to support their argument. That's why most government projects have such high cost overruns. You deflate the costs while inflating the benefits to get the approval and worry about the overruns later. That being said, I still agree with the author that I don't see the appropriate benefit of expending these monies with little to no improvement to service. You can already travel by train to Chicago now without this so-called &quot;High Speed&quot; train (in about the same amount of time and cost) .


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 11:57 p.m.

Eagleman, I pointed out EXACTLY where all my numbers come from. If you can not understand the basic math of the issue I do not have time to go back to teach you third grade arithmetic. Every number I used is easily shown any number off web sites: So here goes: Distance between Ann Arbor and Chicago <a href=";Ke3L9NA8LA6IMQDAwAmtpuCv&ei=TaAcT7jfK4SE0QHn8u3ICw&sa=X&oi=geocode_result&ct=title&resnum=1&ved=0CCoQ9w8wAA" rel='nofollow'>;um=1&amp;ie=UTF-8&amp;gl=us&amp;saddr=ann+arbor&amp;daddr=chicago&amp;dirflg=d&amp;geocode=KTMfQ9QNsDyIMeK1yIZG-Qnb;Ke3L9NA8LA6IMQDAwAmtpuCv&amp;ei=TaAcT7jfK4SE0QHn8u3ICw&amp;sa=X&amp;oi=geocode_result&amp;ct=title&amp;resnum=1&amp;ved=0CCoQ9w8wAA</a> Cost of an Amtrak ticket on Feb 24th with a return trip on he 26th <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> I actually used last years IRS numbers on car operations, it is actually more this year <a href=",,id=240903,00.html" rel='nofollow'>,,id=240903,00.html</a> The Hyatt parking rate is more than I quoted, but you can find discounts to make it $40. The Hyatt quotes $52 for an overnight <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> Everything else was taken directly from the cited sources. His credentials as a civil engineer do not trump my financial abilities as running a division of my company and being responsible for a P&amp;L every month. I take many business trip sot Chicago, and almost always take the train due to the financial advantage it brings to my bottom line. My example was used more to illustrate a couple spending a weekend in Chicago which actually HELPS the driving argument.


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 8:42 p.m.

Who says that your own conclusions are not faulty? What is your background Johnny? Mr. Leckrone shared with us his credentials. What are yours?


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 6:41 p.m.

I would like to hear his response to these plain statistics. Thanks for the dose of common sense, Johnny.


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 2:55 p.m.

Sam is correct, the train would be a huge waste of money. I go to Chicago from Ann Arbor almost once a month and I drive 80 on I94 the whole way. Yes, when I get to Chicago I park the car and use a cab there but I can beat the train every time driving. The other factor here is I always take at least one other person and sometimes more with me. So my cost of gas stays the same but 2-4 people are in the car. If we were on the train all of us would have to buy tickets at an additional cost.


Tue, Jan 24, 2012 : 2:05 a.m.

Is driving over the speed limit in everyones best interest?


Mon, Jan 23, 2012 : 3:35 a.m.

Ah yes, Ann posters do not speed sir and they certainly make sure to stop at all cross walks.


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 8:33 p.m.

Technically speeding is not criminal behavior it is a civil infraction. Also, I have driven quite a lot on I-94 and I would say 80 mph is a fairly standard speed.


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 7:04 p.m.

Endangering people's lives so you can get somewhere faster. Thanks a lot.


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 4:47 p.m.

So you basically are admitting you engage in criminal behavior AND nowhere do you discuss the cost of parking your car. If time is your only issue with the train, THIS is exactly what they are trying to make more equal.


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 2:48 p.m.

HSR is all about OPM (Other People's Money) and the need to do something that makes OPM spenders &quot;feel good&quot; about the process. Examples are AATA (loser), Solyndra (loser), etc., etc.


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 2:59 p.m.

Every road in this country is built with OPM. I guess you want every road to be a toll road? Unless you propose that, you are disingeniuous at best, and a liar at worst

Jim Walker

Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 2:32 p.m.

Mr. Leckrone's analysis is right on the money (pun intended). Transit systems are financial boondoggles in almost every case. The level of fares that can be charged do NOT pay the costs of the systems and the balance is paid by the taxpayers - most of whom NEVER use the transit systems. The 85th percentile speeds on most rural Michigan freeways (safest speed of travel and the point that the posted limit should be set) vary from about 76 mph to 85 mph. Mr. Leckrone is quite correct that travel speeds for the average driver are often 75 mph and a bit above, because that is what is safest and most efficient. The only reason the freeways are not posted with the safest speed limits is the arbitrary limit set by the Legislature, NOT by qualified engineers from MDOT and State Police officials. Any &quot;extra&quot; dollars to be spent on transportation should go the roads, not to transit boondoggles that benefit only a tiny percentage of the population where the exact start and end points coincide with their needs. James C. Walker, National Motorists Association, <a href="," rel='nofollow'>,</a> Ann Arbor, MI

Superior Twp voter

Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 7:45 p.m.

Thank you, Mr. Walker, for once again being spot on!


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 6:52 p.m.

DonBee, you are simply wrong. Gas taxes in Michigan do NOT go to alternative forms of transportation. Jim Walker... pass me whatever you are smoking, dude, because it must be strong. &quot;speeds for the average driver are often 75 mph and a bit above, because that is what is safest and most efficient.&quot; This is so ridiculous I don't know where to start. Wrong on both counts. Lower speeds are always safer and more efficient. If you think 75+ mph is the ideal for both safety and efficiency, and you spout this opinion publicly, well you are serving as a real detriment to society.

John Q

Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 5:24 p.m.

We know that the costs of roads aren't covered by user fees. Otherwise, there would be no need for the city of Ann Arbor to levy millages to pay for road reconstruction. Roads are heavily subsidized in the US and would still be even if you eliminated every dollar that goes to other forms of transportation.


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 3:43 p.m.

They do NOT cover them. State and local fuel tax revenue in 2009 (latest available was around $37 BILLION. Road construction and maintenance cost is $58 BILLION from the federal government alone. Do you propose raising gas and fuel taxes to cover this extra or do you prefer toll roads. I would also point out that if you think the roads in this state are in need of less maintenance you are delusional.


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 3:22 p.m.

johnnya2 - So the gas taxes and the excise taxes that drivers pay don't cover road costs? Think again, much of that money goes to cover trains, bike trails and other non-automotive costs.


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 3:02 p.m.

Roads are &quot;financial boondoggles in almost every case&quot; as well. Name on piece of road in the state of Michigan where it is supported by user fees. hint, there is only one, and it is a giant bridge connecting the two peninsulas. Otherwise, motorists steal money from those that do not use cars.

Norman Alred

Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 2:28 p.m.

The cost of operating a car is a lot more than just the cost of fuel. When you state the cost of a trip to Chicago in your Cruz as being less than a $75 train ride, you are incorrect. The IRS makes a living on this stuff, and they say $.50 a mile to cover vehicle cost, fuel, maintenance, etc. Using that figure, a trip to Chicago in your Cruz costs more like $143, making the train quite a bargain. There are other positives to a train trip. Maybe you don't like fighting traffic for 4 - 5 hours. Maybe you are unable to drive - too old, ill, etc. Perhaps the money could be well spent in other places, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with an upgraded rail to Chicago.


Mon, Jan 23, 2012 : 11:04 a.m.

Of those hypothetical 200,000 miles, how many are trips to Chicago? One owning a vehicle and letting it sit in the garage would find the cost of ownership rises per mile driven (ownership cost is separate from operating costs). Amortizing a $25k vehicle over 200k miles is a lot better than over 50k miles, isn't it?

Basic Bob

Mon, Jan 23, 2012 : 12:59 a.m.

@Dcam, People who drive their cars 200,000 miles in 5 years have a worn-out car, and probably have gone through countless oil changes, filters, replaced transmissions, water pumps, and other moving parts. People who drive 50,000 miles in 5 years have a car that still has many years of useful life, but the battery will likely be worn out. You may choose to ignore the marginal costs of driving more miles but they are still there.


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 3:25 p.m.

You might include vehicle overhead items in the trip cost for an occasional trip to Chicago, but, for the most part, those costs are still there if you're riding on the train while the car sits in your garage.


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 2:59 p.m.

And the rate from Ann Arbor to Chicago is $32.

Richard Wickboldt

Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 2:24 p.m.

Sam does correctly point out the design of the high speed rail (HSR) system presently discussed here in Michigan and the US is ill conceived. I emphasize 'design'. A true HSR system achieves speeds in excess of any seen here in the US and by factors greater than two. The global average of installed HSR systems is 186 mph. The US DOT defines HSR as 125 or greater sustained speed. The only HSR system tried here in the US was a failure. Why has such a great nation as ours failed in HSR. One reason; we are married to our cars and trucks! So described above by Sam. We even break the law doing so at break neck speeds, and all the while spewing out air pollutants. Second to build a correctly designed system requires money and lots of it. Why? We can't use the existing track for HSP, nor are most existing rail corridors wide enough for the additional track lines needed for a proper design and track. Unfortunately our country is broke! We could build a proper HSR system for sure (layered over or under the interstate highway system). We already owe 16 Trillion $! What did we get for it? We could have built a state of the art HSR across this country for the money we spent on make believe wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead we will be driving down our interstate highways breaking the law and hope we do not get killed by somebody texting/talking on a phone while driving 80 plus MPH. A HSR does work and is a viable transportation system component when designed and installed correctly. Europe and Japan is proof; and China is in the process of proving it also (built with our tax dollars on the debt we owe them from those wars). Somehow I think we are becoming a laughing stock of the world. Can't you hear them?


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 5:40 p.m.

Exactly! 4.5 to 4.45 hours from Ann Arbor to Chicago (about 243 miles) is not &quot;high speed&quot;. I used to take the train from Mannheim Germany to Paris France in 3 hours 10 minutes. Distance about 310 miles. Price of that ticket...57 Euros (about $70) round trip.


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 2:16 p.m.

I hear people complain all the time at work that they want to go to Chicago for the weekend, but don't WANT to drive. I realize this metric is hard to measure, but that feeling is out there. I would consider paying $70 a ticket and 5-6 hours reading a book or playing on some electronic device to not have to duck and dodge the people going 50mph and the people going 90mph on 94.


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 5:35 p.m.

I'm not sure I understand. You can already take the train from Ann Arbor to Chicago for between $32 and $55. Trip time is 4.5 to 4.45 hours. What's so &quot;high speed&quot; about the new proposed system? An extra $15 to $38 to save 15 minutes? The problem with these so called &quot;high speed&quot; systems in the U.S. is that the tracks can't support the truly fast trains.


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 2:58 p.m.

arbormike....and it's $32 from Ann Arbor to Chicago....a bargain in my book.


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 1:57 p.m.

Mr. Leckrone - I find your analysis to be flawless, but the conclusions are a bit flawed. I do go to downtown Chicago for work and I can get where I want to be on the Elevated Train (EL). I would love if Amtrak were reliable enough to allow me to ride early in the morning and ride back in the evening for those days when I have meetings in Chicago. It would let me work on the train and nap on the train. I do that a lot in Europe. I agree 70 MPH is silly, but it would cost BILLIONS to make the train a 200 MPH train and it would have to only stop in Detroit, Lansing, Kalamazoo and Gary at most to make it really worth being a 200 MPH train. That means that feeder trains would be needed to move people to the high speed stations (similar to Europe). This is more infrastructure than our leadership is willing to think about.


Mon, Jan 23, 2012 : 7:22 p.m.

Don, Unfortunately Mr. Leckrone's entire analysis is flawed. It start right in the first paragraph where he notes a top speed of 79 MPH. On page 3 of that report that he linked to from the Michigan DOT right at the top of the page it quite clearly states &quot;Phase I of the MWRRI is defined as the implementation of high speed train service up to 110 mph on the following routes&quot; And already a little more than 95 miles of the run through Michigan currently operates at 95 MPH. That will soon be raised to 110 MPH, if it hasn't already been raised. With the State purchasing the rest of the line from Norfolk Southern late last year, the bulk of the line running through Michigan will also run at 110 MPH. Ergo, Mr. Leckrone is operating from a totally false premise for his entire opinion.


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 1:56 p.m.

FINALLY! Someone with sense! Of course high-speed rail is nonsense and a boondoggle. And the problem with rail service is that on days where it is very cold, the trains run even slower (metal to metal tracks). Even if we have a bus service running from one county to another, we will have very few &quot;takers&quot;. Look at AATA's ridership. To have &quot;mass&quot; transportation, there has to be transportation support at the trains' or bus' destination that is reliable, fast, and dependable to get to one's job or other destination. I don't think anywhere in Michigan or contiguous states is set up for that. Once again, a pork-barrel project to pay off or to seduce voters.


Mon, Jan 23, 2012 : 7:16 p.m.

Deb, Fifteen years ago total Amtrak Ridership in 1999 was 21,508,699. Last year, 2011, total ridership was 30,186,733


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 7:16 p.m.

Deb Yes, I believe he's referring to the record numbers of Amtrak riders this past year.


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 6:29 p.m.

You mean the numbers that are just now getting back to where they were 15 years ago and barely surpassing that to get a record??????

John Q

Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 5:21 p.m.

I guess your logic explains the record number of riders on Amtrak this past year.


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 1:56 p.m.

Sam, You do not use cars in use their train system. Thousands of people do so every day. Our roads are crumbling and the gov is proposing a tax increase to fix them. In favor of that? Highways are ALL subsidized. In favor of that? Transportation is the lifeblood of any country....good article in NYT this morning regarding how Apple couldn't count on American companies/employees to mobilize quickly enough to produce as they do in China, etc. In other words, WE didn't KEEP UP! Thus Apple moved all of it's mfg to foreign countries where they could mobilize their workforce overnight to produce what Apple needed NOW. And even though China's laborforce has become more expensive they still beat us with the ability to move people quickly. If we ever want to compete with China et al....we'd better find ways to move people quickly and cheaply.

Angry Moderate

Mon, Jan 23, 2012 : 1:42 a.m.

You think we could build high speed trains and pay 8,000 workers to come into a factory for a 12 hour night shift with no notice cheaper than China? Are you joking?


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 8:21 p.m.

You are right about taking your car to Chicago. When we went to just the downtown area we certainly did not need it. I suppose it depends on where you want to go. Also expect to pay a lot to park. On the other point, I do not think manufacturing in China has as much to do with mobilization of employees than it does with just cheap labor. Chinese workers are beginning to figure out someone beside them is getting wealthy and they are demanding more. Between that and transportation costs, it could begin a shift back to manufacturing in the USA. Angry Moderate makes a good point. They have manufacturing communities in China highlighted in a recent issue of Wired magazine which pointed out there have been so many suicides, they have netting like those used under circus high wire walkers hanging on the buildings.


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 6:57 p.m.

So if we had no regulation and were able to build work camps we could compete. yes I get it


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 6:54 p.m.

And if we could move people en masse high speed, then we could compete....get it?????

Angry Moderate

Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 6:23 p.m.

Cash, the article was referring to workers living in a compound at the factory who could be called in to work in the middle of the night. They weren't taking a high speed train-- they live in a dormitory slum right at the plant.


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 5:43 p.m.

Most communities along the AMTRAK run do not have a convenient public transportation.


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 3:08 p.m.

deb, they mobilize quickly because they can MOVE people! We cannot. We are sluggish and behind the times. If we don't move with the new economy, we are doomed to lose our middle class.


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 2:38 p.m.

They mobilize quick in China do to the lack of regulation