KEY ACTION: About three dozen people attended a forum hosted by a statewide coalition of community and nonprofit groups, Michigan by Rail, to brainstorm about the future of rail service in Michigan. The forums are designed to jump-start discussion among the public and between the public and government officials. The state will host other forums.
The future of rail could be an expansion, it could be reduction, it could be the status quo, explained Timothy R. Fischer, deputy policy director for the Michigan Environmental Council. “We’re simply trying to ask the question and figure out what the response is.”
Participants broke into groups to identify locations they considered home, another dot to identify important places to travel to in Michigan, then discuss and draw in ideas of where train routes might be considered in Michigan.
• The Holland event was the ninth of 16 forums held around the state. So far, Fischer said, forums have emphasized expansion, with three trends:
1. A strong desire for an east-to-west connector, not geared to
2. A strong desire for north-south rail, from Traverse City to Ann Arbor or Grand Rapids.
3. Appreciation for the current system, but want for more frequency, better on-time performance.
• High-speed rail is a long-range goal for the heavily used Chicago-Detroit corridor. Amtrak already owns 100 miles of rail from Porter, Indiana to Kalamazoo on which it can travel in excess of 90 mph. Michigan has applied for $350 million to $400 million of federal Recovery Act money.
• Thursday’s local discussion emphasized connections north to tourism areas, connections to university city hubs, as well as connections to major population and economic centers. “It was very interesting to see in our group a tourism focus first, but also a need to move people between employment centers,” said Steve Bulthuis, executive director of the Macatawa Area Coordinating Council.
• Questions and discussion touched on spending on trains when more people travel by road, about how many people use trains, about the need to plan ahead for when gasoline hits $7 per gallon, and about the need to consider “light rail” to connect Holland, Grand Rapids and Muskegon/Grand Haven.
UP NEXT: The state Department of Transportation is charged with developing a Michigan State Rail Plan. It is hosting four forums around the state, with the nearest to Holland set for Grand Rapids from 4 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, MDOT Transportation Service Center, 2660 Leonard St. NE.