Published: Thursday, September 23, 2010, 8:26 PM Updated: Thursday, September 23, 2010, 8:26 PM
HOLLAND — The Michigan By Rail traveling public forum made a whistle stop in Holland on Thursday to find out what kinds of statewide rail service people want.
High-speed rail transportation is a hot button issue with state and local officials these days because of a federal push being driven by stimulus money funneling out of Washington, D.C.
“The Michigan Department of Transportation has put in an application for a grant for around $400 million from the high speed stimulus money that could be used to purchase track for a dedicated high speed line,” said Tim Fischer, deputy policy director of the Michigan Environmental Council.
The forum, held at Holland East K-8 School, drew about three dozen people, mostly government officials, trying to find out where and when rail improvements might be coming.
The answer: it’s getting closer, but there’s still no light showing down the track.
“High speed rail transportation in Michigan has the ridership and the population corridors to support it. But, we can’t project when it could occur because a lot of things have to happen first,” Fischer said.
The MEC is holding meetings in 16 areas across Michigan to gather input from residents and governments for development of a statewide rail plan, required by Washington for future funding.
Holland was the ninth stop on the tour that has been to rail centers like New Buffalo, Traverse City, Dearborn and Kalamazoo. Sessions also were held in South Bend, Ind. and Chicago.
“The trend we’ve been getting (in Michigan) is that there is a strong desire for expansion of an east-west cross-state rail service, with Chicago not as a primary destination,” Fischer said.
Earlier forums have recommended a regular north-south train crossing the state.
“But mostly, people want to see more frequency for passenger service and on-time performance,” Fischer said.
John D. Langdon, chairman of the local chapter of the Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers, said the forums have generated some solid ideas.
“People have told us they’d like to see a morning train from Chicago that gets to Grand Rapids by noon. And service that would take students from Hope College and other schools home to Chicago or Detroit on Friday and get them back Sunday night,” said Langdon.
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