Passenger Rail is an Investment in Michigan’s Future
Tell Michigan leaders to preserve access to passenger rail infrastructure
Representative Larry Inman (R) 104th District (Grand Traverse County)
Representative Bruce Rendon (R) 103rd District (Kalkaska & Missaukee County)
TOLL FREE: 888-347-8103
Representative Phil Potvin (R) 102nd District (Wexford and Mecosta County)
Representative Ray Franz (R) 101st District (Leelanau, Benzie, Manistee & Mason Counties)
Michigan House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
Chairman Peter Pettalia (R) 106th District (Rogers City, Alpena, Tawas)
TOLL FREE: 877-737-4106
Ben Glardon (R) Majority Vice-Chair, 85th District (Owosso, Corunna)
PHONE: (517) 373-0841
TOLL FREE: (877) 558-5426
Triston Cole (R) 105th District (Antrim, Charlevoix, Otsego Counties)
The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) is under fire right now from state legislators about the department’s lease of 23 passenger rail cars—and unless rail supporters in the state speak up, future passenger rail plans could be in jeopardy.
The passenger train cars, which are owned and refurbished by Great Lakes Central Railroad, were expected to be up and running on two separate commuter lines connecting Howell, Ann Arbor, and Detroit. But a change in federal agency oversight delayed the commuter rail projects. Now trains won’t be up and running until 2017, which leaves MDOT on the hook for the lease payments even though the cars aren’t being used.
After a recent Detroit Free Press article criticized the lease, members of Michigan’s House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee have suggested that MDOT discontinue the lease of the cars, a move that MDOT officials say could effectively delay commuter train service another decade.
The decision to lease the cars wasn’t as much a mistake as bad timing. The cars are ready to go, but the commuter service is not. Had the commuter train service been ready, and the train cars not available, MDOT would be under just as much fire.
Criticism of MDOT’s spending is expected, with an upcoming May ballot proposal that could increase overall transportation funding. And, since MDOT is spending $1.2 million a year to lease the cars, it’s time to re-evaluate the deal with Great Lakes Central. We appreciate the need for those cars to generate revenue while awaiting use in Michigan, and could support lease arrangements outside the state as long as the cars can be made immediately available for use in Michigan when new passenger service is operational. But we must not lose sight of the bigger transportation picture and jeopardize future projects.
We’re fortunate that Michigan’s transportation leaders have made rail travel a priority. In 2011, Michigan created its first State Rail Plan, a 30-year long-term strategy for modernizing the rail system. Since then, the state has been accelerating rail projects at a pace it hasn’t seen since the 19th century. Projects include the Howell to Ann Arbor “WALLY “ commuter line, 110-mph service between Detroit and Chicago, and a modern streetcar in downtown Detroit. The projects are reshaping downtowns, and attracting and retaining talent to the state.
MDOT’s new focus on rail is a positive sign. The passenger cars are an investment in the future. They could soon be used to expand train service between Grand Rapids and Chicago, on commuter rail lines in Ann Arbor—and eventually to bring passengers up to Traverse City.
We encourage you to reach out to your state representative, as well as those on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, to tell them that you support investments in passenger rail.