Amtrak pitches new, improved train routes including Detroit to Toronto

Amtrak continues push for Detroit to Toronto service route on heels of Biden infrastructure plan

An Amtrak train departs 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, Wednesday, March 31, 2021. Looking beyond the $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill, President Joe Biden and lawmakers are laying the groundwork for another of his top legislative priorities a long-sought boost to the nation's roads, bridges and other infrastructure that could meet GOP resistance to a hefty price tag. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

DETROIT – With President Biden’s new infrastructure plan including $621 billion for transportation infrastructure, with $80 billion of that for passenger and freight rail, Amtrak is pitching a list of new or enhanced service routes.

Amtrak’s “Connect US” map includes a newly proposed service route from Detroit to Toronto, and from Detroit to Toledo. It also includes enhanced services (more trains) from Detroit to Chicago, Grand Rapids to Chicago and Port Huron to Chicago.

Amtrak unveils ‘Connects US’ map March 31, 2021 (Amtrak)

The light blue lines represent what would become new services, while the yellow lines would be enhanced services. Amtrak’s 15-year proposal to boost rail services in America claims to be more energy efficient than people driving or flying. It claims traveling on Amtrak rail is up to 83% more energy efficient than driving and up to 73% more energy efficient than flying.

“President Biden’s infrastructure plan is what this nation has been waiting for,” reads a statement from Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn. “Amtrak must rebuild and improve the Northeast Corridor and our National Network and expand our service to more of America. The NEC’s many major tunnels and bridges – most of which are over a century old – must be replaced and upgraded to avoid devastating consequences for our transportation network and the country.”

Right now, Amtrak operates three routes in Michigan:

  • Blue Water (364/365): Chicago to Port Huron
  • Pere Marquette (370/371): Chicago to Grand Rapids
  • Wolverine (350/351/352/353/354/355): Chicago to Pontiac
Michigan Corridor Amtrak map (2021) (Michigan Department of Transportation)

Stops on these routes include: Albion, MI (ALI), Ann Arbor, MI (ARB), Bangor, MI (BAM), Battle Creek, MI (BTL), Dearborn, MI (DER), Detroit, MI (DET), Dowagiac, MI (DOA), Durand, MI (DRD), East Lansing, MI (LNS), Flint, MI (FLN), Grand Rapids, MI – Vernon J. Ehlers Station (GRR), Jackson, MI (JXN), Holland, MI (HOM), Kalamazoo, MI (KAL), Lapeer, MI (LPE), New Buffalo, MI (NBU), Niles, MI (NLS), Pontiac, MI (PNT), Port Huron, MI (PTH), Royal Oak, MI (ROY), St. Joseph-Benton Harbor, MI (SJM), and Troy, MI (TRM).

According to the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) rail stats, annual ridership among Michigan’s three main Amtrak routes had risen from 503,243 annually in 2003 to 770,486 in 2019, with a steep decline to 237,312 riders in 2020 due to the pandemic.

There were some dips in ridership between 2003 and 2019, and a peak near 800,000 in 2013.

Take a look at the annual ridership summary chart for the Michigan routes, per MDOT:

Amtrak annual ridership on Michigan routes -- April 1, 2021 (MDOT)

Note from Amtrak: Prior to 2004, service was provided between Toronto and Chicago through Port Huron. As of April 25, 2004 this service terminates in Port Huron. Thus in the Annual Ridership Summary, Toronto-Chicago, Toronto/Port Huron-Chicago and Port Huron-Chicago, all refer to the same corridor.

Detroit to Toronto not in service since 1971

Amtrak has been seeking to bring back a Detroit to Toronto corridor for years -- such service between Detroit and Toronto ended in 1971. That wasn’t even a direct service, like the new proposal calls for. That previous service involved a change of trains and carriers at Welland, Ontario and Buffalo, N.Y. The last direct train from Detroit to Toronto was in 1967, and that was before Amtrak existed as a corporation, according to CBC.

The current “direct” rail service between Detroit and Toronto actually starts just across the river in Windsor, Ontario. Detroit riders have to head to the VIA Rail station across the border to take that direct route. Amtrak’s “Maple Leaf” service route out east, meanwhile, excludes the Michigan service routes.

Amtrak is banking on increased federal funding, through its National Network Grant, to create the new service routes and enhance existing ones.

“With a growing and diverse population, a global climate crisis and longer traffic jams, America needs a rail network that offers frequent, reliable, sustainable, and equitable train service. Amtrak has the vision and expertise to deliver it,” reads part of the pitch from Amtrak.

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