Amtrak back in Depot Town? Ypsilanti officials to consider request
The question was posed by an audience member at the Michigan By Rail's forum Dec. 9 at Washtenaw Community College: Why doesn't the Amtrak train stop in Ypsilanti?
After the meeting, Derrick James, Amtrak's senior director of government affairs for the Midwest, approached Ypsilanti Mayor Paul Schreiber and told him the first step was for the city simply to ask.
And so on Tuesday, the Ypsilanti City Council will consider a resolution asking Amtrak to explore adding a stop in Ypsilanti. The effort is separate from the planned Ann Arbor-to-Detroit commuter rail, which was originally scheduled to start running in October, but was delayed because of logistical and funding issues.
The council’s resolution to approach Amtrak Midwest’s government affairs office would start the process to get an Ypsilanti stop, said Marc Magliari, an Amtrak spokesman. Amtrak and the Michigan Department of Transportation would have to seek approval from Norfolk-Southern Railroad, the freight train company that owns the rail lines, and make sure the new stop wouldn't interfere with freight traffic.
Amtrak also would conduct an economic analysis to determine whether an Ypsilanti stop would be beneficial to its service. One of the concerns Magliari noted is the proximity of train stops in Ann Arbor and Dearborn.
Depot Town "is very attractive, but you are also very close to other stations," he said.
Depot Town currently doesn't have a place where a train can stop. The Southeast Michigan Council of Governments and MDOT are funding a 300-foot platform with a kiosk on the west side of the tracks, and the Ypsilanti Freighthouse is inching closer to opening at least part of its historic structure, which includes a bathroom and a cafe.
City Planner Teresa Gillotti said existing plans slated the platform for completion in late spring or early summer, but she said that could change with a new administration in Lansing. Officials are still waiting on approval of the platform's environmental assessment, and after that the parties must figure out the process for issuing a request for proposals.
City Manager Ed Koryzno said a design for the Freighthouse's cafe still must be approved by the State Historic Preservation Office, which is funding the project. He said he hopes the cafe will open when the platform does, or just after. Amtrak trains’ last roundtrip stops in Ypsilanti came in 1982, although the eastbound train stopped in Depot Town until 1984. Magliari said that line, the Michigan Executive, was a remnant of the commuter train that connected Detroit with western suburbs and cities up until 1975. As Amtrak focused more on inter-city connection instead of commuter, or suburb-to-city lines, it phased out the Ypsilanti stop, Magliari said.
The Wolverine train runs three times daily each direction between Chicago and Pontiac. In 2010, the line saw its ridership increase by 8 percent from 444,000 to 476,000 passengers. Ticket revenues on the line also jumped by 12 percent and Amtrak recorded its best annual figures in fiscal year 2010 with 28 million riders.
Magliari said rail grants offered by the federal government since 2008 have resulted in an increased number of local governments seeking a stop in their community. Schreiber said most residents he has spoken with strongly support the idea of trains stopping in Ypsilanti again.
“I think there’s a lot of people who would like to see a train stop in Depot Town,” he said. “It would help Depot Town businesses and help Ypsilanti as a whole, so you’ve got to try for it.” Tom Perkins is a freelance writer for AnnArbor.com. Reach the news desk at firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-623-2530.