Northern Michigan passenger rail plan, from Ann Arbor to Traverse City, one step closer to reality

Northern Michigan passenger rail planning group gets new funding

A2TC rail route. (WDIV)

A plan to activate a railroad corridor that runs from Southeast Michigan to Traverse City and Petoskey has received new funding to advance planning stages.

In July, Michigan state lawmakers, led by northern Michigan’s Senator Wayne Schmidt, included $1 million to advance the Northern Michigan passenger rail Phase II planning study in the State of Michigan’s 2023 Labor and Economic Opportunity budget.

Last week, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg announced that project partners will be awarded the remaining $1.3 million through the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) grant program to advance the northern Michigan passenger rail Phase II planning study. RAISE is a competitive grant program that supports transportation projects all over the United States.

The RAISE grant was awarded to the Cadillac/Wexford Transit Authority, which will work in partnership with the nonprofit Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities and other community groups and transportation agencies to complete the planning study.

The planning study will focus on an active state-owned railroad corridor that runs from southeast Michigan to the Traverse City and Petoskey areas and will focus on both passenger and freight rail development.

The study team will identify and prioritize improvements needed along the line to maximize freight and passenger opportunities to northern Michigan; evaluate the changes in supply chains so that Michigan businesses can have more efficient and affordable shipping connections to the rest of the world; and develop the business plan for passenger service, which includes updating the project’s market forecasts and laying out the stations, transit connections, and schedule of service.

In 2018, a study from the Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities reported that trains running between Ann Arbor and Traverse City (or “A2TC”) would generate $100 million annually by 2040, with an expected 1.5 million riders a year. It would require an estimated $40 million in capital costs for 60 mph service (a five-hour trip). Trains reaching speeds of 110 mph would require track upgrades closer to $1 billion and would shave 1 1/2 hours off travel times to 3 1/2 hours.

A2TC route. (Groundwork Center)

“This is a major milestone in the effort to bring passenger rail service to northern Michigan and give families and workers a safe and environmentally friendly way to travel throughout state while reducing cars on our highways,” says Jim Bruckbauer, Transportation Director for Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities.

“We see the planning period as a great opportunity for residents and travelers along the line to shape the future train service. We will be out asking people what they want to see, conducting surveys, and holding events throughout the process,” Bruckbauer said. Towns along the line include Petoskey, Kalkaska, Traverse City, Kingsley, Cadillac, Clare, Mt. Pleasant, Alma, Owosso, Durand, Howell, Ann Arbor, and a potential alternative route to Detroit.

The northern Michigan passenger rail Phase II planning study team will be made up of local, state, and national transportation experts and agencies. The study is expected to be completed over the next 18 months.

Previous coverage from 2018: Could an Ann Arbor-Traverse City passenger train be on horizon?

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About the Author:

Ken Haddad is the digital content and audience manager for WDIV / ClickOnDetroit.com. He also authors the Morning Report Newsletter and various other newsletters. He's been with WDIV since 2013. He enjoys suffering through Lions games on Sundays in the fall.