by Graham Sturgeon, co-editor
The Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities hosted a discussion at The Armory on Monday, Nov. 26 regarding the proposed Ann Arbor to Traverse City Passenger Rail Project, which would utilize existing state-owned tracks to restore passenger rail service to Owosso residents. The Groundwork Center’s project study team presented its Northern Michigan Rail Ridership Feasibility and Cost Estimate Study on Monday, sharing that the project could strengthen Traverse City’s regional economy and stimulate development along the entire route. It was also pointed out that increased train usage would take cars off the highways, which could result in cleaner air and less fuel consumption.
The study showed that ridership potential is strong, with the region attracting six million visitors per year, a number that is expected to grow by four percent each year. The study also showed that track upgrades would be needed to improve travel times along the state-owned lines. With $40 million in track repairs, a 60-mph “special event” train could complete the trip from Ann Arbor to Traverse City in five hours. A 90-mph train would make the trip in 4.5 hours, for an additional $611 million investment, while a 110-mph train would shorten the trip to 3.5 hours, for an additional cost of $140 to $400 million.
The study recommends the following next steps:
• Launch “excursion” or special event trains, such as a Cherry Festival or film festival train from Ann Arbor to Traverse City or a University of Michigan football game train from Petoskey to Ann Arbor, which presents a low-cost way to test the market for rail service.
• Create a nonprofit management structure that would be responsible for developing the operating plans and schedules, fundraising and promotion.
• Advance a detailed and extensive feasibility study to more accurately predict how the various train speeds and associated ticket costs would affect rider numbers.
The study team also noted that the line would serve several major colleges and universities, with approximately 90,000 students living along the route. They shared that organizers should explore extending the line to Detroit and adding a connection between Williamsburg and Kalkaska. The study shows that repairs are needed in a few key areas – Traverse City, Cadillac, Petoskey and some crossings – to achieve 60-mph service, that planners should look forward to 110-mph service as a long-term goal and make near-term investments that also build infrastructure for high-speed rail, and that 110-mph service could cover its operating costs, with economic benefits that could substantially exceed a high-speed rail’s capital and operating costs.
More information can be found online, at www.a2tc.org.