Metro Detroit and Michigan's high speed rail system moved into the fast lane this week with the announcement of nearly $200 million in federal funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation to improve lines from Dearborn to Kalamazoo.
The grant goes toward the purchase of tracks, signals and other rail infrastructure that will address congestion points and separate rail and freight trains -- currently the reason train travel is slower than ideal. The changes will allow trains to travel up to 110-mph along certain portions of the line. This will also decrease the travel time between Chicago and Detroit by one hour on what is known as the Amtrak
Wolverine line. The 135-mile-long corridor will receive $196.5 million in funding while a separate $2.8 million will pay for a new train and bus station in Ann Arbor to serve Amtrak and other local transit providers.
Michigan will also receive funding to purchase the latest in locomotives and coaches as part of a joint application with Illinois, Wisconsin and Missouri. The new cars will be added to Amtrak's Wolverine, Blue Water, and Pere Marquette lines.
The projects are expected to start next year and be completed by 2013 or 2014. Once the new rail network is built, Michigan workers and residents will have greater access to high speed rail than most states. According to the Michigan Municipal League, 69 percent of Michigan residents and 71 percent of employers would be within 15 miles of a station, including Pontiac, Detroit, Dearborn, Ann Arbor, Jackson, Albion, Kalamazoo and Battle Creek.
The announcement comes at a time when ridership on the trains is rising substantially, an illustration that high speed rail is desired by Americans and will be a part of American life across the nation, as Federal Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said during the accelerated high rail funding announcement in Detroit Monday.
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and other transportation advocates say the high speed rail projects will mean jobs and economic development, but critics complain that Michigan is not a high speed rail or mass transit kind of market and the money is a waste.
"Accelerated rail service has the ability to enhance our economy, environment and overall quality of life," Gov. Snyder said in a statement. "An investment of this magnitude can spur economic development in our communities with rail stations, and provide access to a 21st century rail system that will help Michigan citizens compete in a global economy. Reliable, fast train service is attractive to businesses that want to locate or expand near it. This investment in our rail system is critical to Michigan's recovery."Michigan Municipal League
CEO and Executive Director Dan Gilmartin says the funding caps many years of working in unison.
"Here in Michigan, we have been fortunate enough to have strong bi-partisan support for high-speed rail. Our political leaders on both sides of the aisle fully understand how important this money is to creating jobs, increasing affordable transportation options, and jump-starting our economy."Source: Sara Wurfel, spokesperson for Gov. Rick Snyder; Dan Gilmartin, executive director, Michigan Municipal League
Writer: Kim North Shine