Michigan By Rail Forum
There was something of a Grand Vision twist to last night’s Michigan By Rail Forum at the Civic Center.
Roughly 130 people attended and they certainly did not sit around listening to a series of experts talk about rail. Instead, everyone broke off into groups around large sized Michigan maps. And with a variety of stickers, they got to point out where their hometowns were and where they felt are special places in the State they would like to travel to. Then with rulers and pencils they drew out where they felt the rail lines should go.
Each group then got to show off their map with their ideas about the future of rail to the entire crowd. What is special about this, is that the maps are now going to go to the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) to aid in the creation of of a statewide rail transportation plan.
“This is the Grand Vision in action,” said Hans Voss, Executive Director of the Michigan Land Use Institute. “I think this is a rail revival we are about to participate in.”
And people did participate as the floor was opened up to questions. On hand were the MDOT State Transportation Director Kirk Steudle, Tim Fisher of the Michigan Environmental Council, State Representative Wayne Schmidt (R-104th), State Representative Dan Scripps (D-101st), State Representative Bob Genetski (R-88th), and Derek James from AMTRAK.
“So what about rail?” asked the audience.
What would it take to get rail in Michigan?
State Transportation Director Steudle responded by saying that “We have to figure out how we are going to pay for this.” He said that as taxpayers we are going to have to make rail a priority.
State Rep. Genetski echoed the same sentiment. He spoke to the need to shorten existing travel times across the state from seven to eight hours to only a few hours. But, he noted, it costs between $300-$350,000 to improve just one mile of track.
That is just improving an existing rail line, not laying down a new track.
Some people asked about federal money, noting the eight billion dollars that was recently promised for high speed rail.
Steudle pointed out that the only corridor that qualified for that federal funding was between Detroit and Chicago. He also said that a significant high-speed rail network system across the United States would cost into the hundreds of billions of dollars.
So current federal spending, is more of an investment start, rather than the fix, in and of itself.
Some residents asked about opening rail up to private enterprise.
Steudle said that last year, Lansing, approved an initiative for private rail in Detroit. The advantage, he said, to keeping AMTRAK as the provider is that because they currently exist they can absorb the administrative functions and structure. However, he said, if there was private interest, that would absolutely be a possibility.
This forum was the fourth stop on a nine forum tour of the state.
Interested in getting involved and having your say? You are in luck. These nine forums are the prelude to MDOT’s official public input sessions that will take place this fall. More details will be forthcoming in the months ahead.
Plus, for residents in Northern Michigan, Rep. Schmidt is the chair of the Rail committee in Lansing and is a strong advocate for increasing rail in Michigan.
And, of course, there is the Grand Vision Transportation Working Group and Rail Subcommittee that would be happy to have you join them and move the region forward towards rail.
From the Traverse City Record Eagle
Citizens, officials discuss rail service
Some like the idea of a better train system
BY SHERI McWHIRTER firstname.lastname@example.org
Traverse City — Emery Gyr loves to take trains from place to place, and saw much of the country by doing so.
Gyr, of Traverse City, attended Thursday’s rail forum at the Grand Traverse County Civic Center, part of the regional planning Grand Vision project.
More than 100 area residents packed into the meeting to talk about what they want to see happen with freight and passenger rail service.
The crowd broke into groups and gathered around state maps to lay out their ideas for Michigan’s railways.
“It’s energy efficient in comparison to car travel. It’s very easy and makes sense for people on business or students because they can get work done rather than driving,” Gyr said.
Susan Cooper, of Traverse City, spoke during the forum about the importance of linking Traverse City to the Detroit Metro Airport, where many domestic and international flights depart and arrive. She also said her group believes the state should investigate building monorails down the middle of existing interstates and divided highways.
“We already own the right-of-ways,” Cooper said.
It would be far more convenient for locals who take trains, should passenger service be restored to Traverse City, said Jim Sluyter, of Traverse City.
“We travel by rail some and the only way to catch the train is to drive to Kalamazoo, Battle Creek or Grand Rapids,” he said.
Sluyter also wants to see passenger rail service expanded in Michigan because it would help reduce the population’s carbon footprint, he said.
Karen Pontius, of Traverse City, owns a spice business, Suttons Bay Trading Company. She said her interest in local rail lines is not only for passenger convenience, but also for business. Much of her inventory arrives by truck, a method with variable costs.
“I think it would be nice to have this opportunity with gas prices going up,” Pontius said.
But expanding Michigan’s railway infrastructure won’t be easy and conceivably could cost billions, said Kirk Steudle, Michigan Department of Transportation director.
“But that shouldn’t deter us from saying, ‘This is what we want,'” he said.
Michigan is developing a new state rail plan and will host similar forums across the state in coming months, Steudle said.
Visit http://www.thegrandvision.org for more information.