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Posted on Fri, Aug 16, 2013 : 3:40 p.m.

Commuter rail showcase, John Dingell help kick off Ypsilanti Heritage Festival

By Tom Perkins


Two-year-old Isaac Letter checks out recently purchased passenger cars for an Ann Arbor-to-Detroit commuter rail line. Officials showed off the cars Friday at a press conference at the Ypsilanti Heritage Festival.

Tom Perkins | For

When Susan Greenberg graduated from Lincoln Consolidated Schools, she took a trip via rail to Washington, D.C., to celebrate.

Greenberg boarded that train in Ypsilanti’s Depot Town.

Now, almost 60 years later, Greenberg once again got the chance to board a passenger train in Depot Town.


The interior of one of the rail cars.

Tom Perkins | For

The demonstration passenger rail car she boarded is one of 23 that will be a part of the Ann Arbor-to-Detroit commuter rail that will make regular stops in Depot Town when service begins in what officials expect will be about three years.

Greenberg said she is excited to see rail return and thinks it’s a service Ypsilanti and the region needs.

“Most people are finding it harder to pay for and run an automobile,” she said. “Wages aren’t keeping up where everyone can afford it and it helps to have rail where many people are traveling together.”

A press conference Friday that showcased the recently purchased cars helped kick off the Ypsilanti Heritage Festival weekend.

Representatives form the city of Ypsilanti, Southeastern Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) Washtenaw County, the Ypsilanti Visitor’s and Convention Bureau, Eastern Michigan University and U.S. Rep. John Dingell all spoke at the event.

Ypsilanti Mayor Paul Schreiber reminded more than 100 attendees that as they walk around the Heritage Festival and think about Ypsilanti's past and it’s tie to rail, they should also consider the role rail will play in the city’s future.

Specifically, he noted how Depot Town has been on an upswing since it was full of derelict buildings in the 1970s.

“Depot Town has made big strides since the 1970s and this is the next big stride,” Schreiber said.

Dingell also recalled that rail was once a central component of Ypsilanti.


U.S. Rep John Dingell speaks at the MiTrain Press Conference that showed off the newly purchased commuter rail cars.

Tom Perkins | For

“A lot of people forget that this used to be a railroad town. And it's going to be a railroad town again,” he said. “I want you to know it’s going to be a success.”

But, like several other speakers, he told the audience many challenges to making the Ann Arbor-To-Detroit rail line a success still lie ahead.

“Don’t pat yourself on the back yet. There’s still a lot more work to be done,” he said.

The purchase of the cars showcased at Friday’s event was a milestone, however. The Michigan Department of Transportation recently bought 23 cars from the Chicago Metra and refurbished them for around $300,000 each.

SEMCOG and MDOT are now working on a multi-million-dollar effort to upgrade the tracks between Ann Arbor and Detroit to reduce travel time and improve the ability of passenger and freight trains to share the tracks.

That effort will take several years, and SEMOCG Executive Director Paul Tait said the organization is simultaneously working to secure more funding for the estimated $10 million in annual operating costs.

Tait underscored the positives that the Ann Arbor-To-Detroit corridor has working for it. It holds three of the state’s top 10 employers; it has 135,000 college students, four of the state’s most populous cities, several health systems and a variety of sporting and entertainment venues.

‘We have to be patient, but rightfully optimistic about the potential,” Tait said.

Ypsilanti Visitors and Convention Bureau Director Debbie Locke-Daniels, like most in Ypsilanti, is eager to see the potential of a train stop in Ypsilanti realized.

“It will bring thousands of new visitors,” she said. “We already know what we have here in Depot Town, and we want many, many more people to discover it.”


Ren Farley

Mon, Aug 19, 2013 : 12:01 p.m.

Amtrak and other rail operators in the US such as the Downeaster organization that runs trains from Boston to Portland cover about 85 to 90 percent of their above the wheel operating costs from the tickets passengers buy. We hope that there will be continued economic growth in the Detroit to Ann Arbor to Lansing corridor, especially related to the high tech end of manufacturing and the medical/advanced education sectors. High speed commuter rail in this corridor may help to attract investors and the high skill employees who will be needed. There are signs of a rather strong economic revitalization of downtown and Midtown Detroit. It would be great to link those opportunities to similar opportunities in Ann Arbor and the Lansing area. Investing is high speed rail is a very appropriate governmental expenditure to promote economic growth.

Nicholas Urfe

Sun, Aug 18, 2013 : 4:52 p.m.

Dingell? Is that the same Dingell whose adult son was caught using a taxpayer funded SUV to drive with taxpayer paid gas for personal use? Hardly an inspiration for mass transit.


Sun, Aug 18, 2013 : 5:40 a.m.

Readers may find the following link interesting as it provides details and discussions about building a $10 billion high speed (220 mph) railroad between Dallas and Houston (239 miles) using only investment dollars and no tax dollars. The following statements from the article should stimulate further interest: "...a private team that includes Central Japan Railway -- a group that has offered to begin service from Dallas to Houston by 2020, with no public funds..." and "By connecting areas outside the population centers, the private team operating as Texas Central High Speed Railway Llc., which is collaborating with Central Japan Railway on the technology it wants to use on the line, can control parking and station-related development. Those elements help make the venture profitable, so public dollars aren't needed, RTC members said." (RTC= Regional Transportation Council) Read more here:

lou glorie

Sun, Aug 18, 2013 : 4:31 a.m.

At this stage in the development of alternatives to the auto, I think it's best if we look at all transportation options. Public transit is a public good. We cannot say that rail is necessarily the best means of conveyance in this area, in this case. It may turn out that this is true, but we need to carefully study the routes. Busses offer us a wonderful opportunity we didn't have when rail was first established in this country--namely we can use busses to help determine the viability of routes and eventually rail. MDOT's leasing of these cars is silly. I'm afraid that the rush to rail comes more from the romance of the choochoo than from a desire to ensure good quality public transit. Also, in terms of tax expenditures, maybe it's time to prioritize the proximate over the transportation of people from here to there and back again. The long commute from A2 to Detroit is one issue, but too many of us need to travel a good distance for milk and bread. It's easier for us to address auto-dependency here at home--and starting where we are might actually have a larger impact. It just isn't trendy.

Tom Whitaker

Sun, Aug 18, 2013 : 3:21 a.m.

Did they demonstrate how difficult and time-consuming it is to get a wheelchair on to one of these old and obsolete commuter cars?


Sun, Aug 18, 2013 : 5:06 a.m.

The process of getting a wheel chair onto and off of a railroad car was demonstrated when the demo car was in Ann Arbor. I watched the complicated procedure which took at least five minutes per wheel chair. The loss of time is significant for a forty-five to fifty minute trip from Detroit to Ann Arbor.

Jaime Magiera

Sun, Aug 18, 2013 : 3:40 a.m.

If you have found this to be a problem, contact the MDT and let them know. Public input improves the system for everyone.

Jaime Magiera

Sat, Aug 17, 2013 : 11:56 p.m.

Excellent. It's nice to see the continued momentum on commuter rail in Michigan.

Jaime Magiera

Sun, Aug 18, 2013 : 3:37 a.m.

There were two links posted. Both work correctly. The demographics are changing. Non-automobile transportation is becoming less and less "alternative" (again, see the links). Someone biking from one part of Ypsilanti to the train station, then coming into Ann Arbor for work or pleasure is completely feasible. This is a path used in other cities with commuter rail (e.g. Boston, New York, Chicago). I'm unclear why you think there wouldn't be traffic from Detroit to the UM Hospital. Overall, you'll see more infrastructure, job and education changes based on the shift in travel. Lastly, this is *necessary* for the health of our persons and environment. It's not really optional any more.


Sun, Aug 18, 2013 : 2:54 a.m.

Jaime Magiera - Unfortunately, when I tried to access the website which you list I get an error message. Please post the correct URL site. Biking is an alternative choice of transportation for Ann Arbor citizens living close to where they work as would be walking or taking a bus. Commuters will likely use the high speed railroad IF they live within ten minutes travel time to a railroad station, IF the train schedule is compatible with their work schedules, IF the overall cost of train travel (including parking fees, railroad ticket costs, additional public transportation fares) is similar to or cheaper than driving a car and the railroad offers an overall convenience and comfort advantage. The singe track commuter railroad with stations in Detroit, Dearborn, near the Romulus (Detroit) airport, possibly in Ypsilanti and at the UofM Hospital is unlikely to attract enough commuter customers to warrant operation and will be expensive to maintain and operate by Ann Arbor tax payers.

Jaime Magiera

Sun, Aug 18, 2013 : 1:21 a.m.

Actually, I'm more than happy for a significant portion of my tax dollars to go towards public transportation - including commuter trains and bikes - and a decrease of car usage in the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area. Here are several articles that discuss research showing a steady decrease in car usage and ownership across the nation:, . This means that other modes of transportation will increase and less resources will be needed to accommodate the automobile. The shift is happening.


Sun, Aug 18, 2013 : 12:43 a.m.

You will not be so happy when you learn what you, as a taxpayer (presumably), will have to pay for rail service and the meager number of commuters who will take "advantage" of the subsidized service.


Sat, Aug 17, 2013 : 4:24 p.m.

A hearty thank-you to Ms. Armentrout for continuing to post actual information that helps shine light on incredible folly. And what's with spending so much on refurbishing something that you're leasing? Tax dollars, so who cares. What's the cost of building a new car? Can it possibly be more than what was spent on these ones? This whole rail project is the Affordable Housing of transportation; craploads of money is used to maybe do about 1/100th that money's worth of good under the guise of charity or community good, or whatever. Speaking of which, do Avalon and Three Oaks still maintain ownership of the properties we paid to demolish for them because they sat on it and let it deteriorate and then didn't pay to have it demolished?

Vivienne Armentrout

Sat, Aug 17, 2013 : 5:03 p.m.

Thanks for your commendation. Regarding tax dollars, it is especially poignant that CTF dollars were spent on this. I've explained the role of CTF in state transportation funding here: The CTF is where transit funding comes from the State (dispensed by MDOT). It seems remarkable that over a million was spent on this rail car contract at a time that DDOT and other Detroit Metro transit programs are in such distress. The Regional Transit Authority is fishing around for funds and is likely to withdraw some of the operating funds from the authorities it now supervises, including AAATA. So these state dollars spent on the rail cars were precious.

Honest Abe

Sat, Aug 17, 2013 : 3:30 p.m.

Good ole John Dingleberry.

Vivienne Armentrout

Sat, Aug 17, 2013 : 2:53 p.m.

There are several misleading words here. "Recently" "MDOT bought"? No, these cars were purchased by Great Lakes Railroad as early as 2006. MDOT contracted with GLRR to lease (not purchase) the cars and refurbish them. Here is the text from July 2013 minutes of the Michigan State Administrative board: Amendatory Contract (2009-0489/A3) between MDOT and Great Lakes Central Railroad, Inc., will provide for the performance of additional services and will increase the contract amount by $350,000. State funding will be increased by $350,000, including $262,416 to provide for additional work on the refurbishment project and $87,584 for an additional three months of lease payments. New work items will include installation of restrooms and some additional features on two coaches. The original contract provides for the refurbishment and leasing of 8 cab cars and 16 coaches for the Ann Arbor-Detroit Regional Rail Project and the Washtenaw-Livingston Line Project. MDOT will continue to lease the cars for up to 60 months. The contract term remains unchanged, April 6, 2010, through December 31, 2015. The revised contract amount will be $9,511,632. Source of Funds: Federal Highway Administration Funds - $2,756,342; FY 2009 State Restricted Comprehensive Transportation Funds - $5,413,083; FY 2012 State Restricted Comprehensive Transportation Funds - $178,661; and FY 2013 State Restricted Comprehensive Transportation Funds - $1,163,546. Note that over $6 million of state transit funds (CTF) have been spent only on the lease and refurbishment of the cars. They still belong to GLRR. Here is the SEMCOG site that contains numerous updates on the Ann Arbor - Detroit commuter rail project, beginning in 2010. To date, no funds have been obtained to operate a commuter rail. Some funds from the Federal high-speed rail grant have been used for track improvements. That is about the total progress.

Roger Kuhlman

Sat, Aug 17, 2013 : 2:51 p.m.

Is not 57 years as Congressman for John Dingell absurd? No wonder he sponsors another basically absurd idea commuter rail. Despite being absurd, plenty of John Dingell's friends will get rich off the government and that is what matters for politicians


Sat, Aug 17, 2013 : 4:22 a.m.

Dog and pony show; need to spend more....................


Sat, Aug 17, 2013 : 12:43 a.m.

When it comes to railroads dingell should know ..he's been feeding off the public trough since they drove the golden spike....


Fri, Aug 16, 2013 : 11:26 p.m.

Money printing => Government spending => inflation=> Money printing


Sat, Aug 17, 2013 : 1:45 a.m.

Well, the private sector is certainly welcome to step up and fulfill our public transportation needs...still waiting...


Fri, Aug 16, 2013 : 10:59 p.m.

it sounds like a lot of good, interesting things are going on over at Ypsilanti Heritage Festival this weekend. I'll be bringing the kids over. I love that the Heritage Festival is still free!


Fri, Aug 16, 2013 : 10:49 p.m.

Why was $6,900,000. (23 cars x $300,000 each) spent to refurbish rail cars (after paying to buy the cars from METRA) when it's so many years before there may even be commuter rail travel that stops in Ypsilanti as well as other places?


Sun, Aug 18, 2013 : 1:26 a.m.

"Stimulus" dollars. Spent.


Sat, Aug 17, 2013 : 4:23 a.m.

Because China is still willing to loan us money and we still have a government printing press..........


Sat, Aug 17, 2013 : 1:44 a.m.

Because big projects take both investment and time?


Fri, Aug 16, 2013 : 9:31 p.m.

Who wants to go to Detroit? They've had over 50 shootings since last Friday. Clean up the city and then maybe people will use the rail. The rail will only bring crime in to Ann Arbor from Detroit.


Sat, Aug 17, 2013 : 1:38 a.m.

That assertion is completely unfounded. It's simply based in fear. This has never been shown to be the case in other areas that have implemented commuter rail. This will only be a positive for all communities involved. Stop being such a pessimist.


Fri, Aug 16, 2013 : 10:52 p.m.

:-D That is exactly the kind of grouchy, pessimistic mumbling that I have come to expect from commenters! Jeez, we're connecting cities and people here! We can go to Comerica Park and the DIA and so on, and Detroiters can come to the Art Fair and Elvis Fest and whatnot. This is a good thing. Way to go, commuter rail!

Jack Gladney

Fri, Aug 16, 2013 : 9:23 p.m.

Hehe... You said "John Dingell" and "kick off" in the same sentence. Be careful; that could get you sent to sensitivity training these days.