Michigan rail system discussed in Flint forum

Here is a short video recap of the Flint Michigan By Rail forum from WNEM in Flint, followed by an article on the forum from The Flint Journal.

Click to view the video from WNEM

Michigan rail system discussed in Flint forum

Published: Thursday, September 30, 2010, 9:19 PM     Updated: Thursday, September 30, 2010, 11:05 PM

FLINT, Michigan — As the state awaits a federal decision on how much Michigan gets in a second round of high speed rail grant money, a mix of Flint-area public officials and average residents met Thursday in a forum on the future of the state’s passenger and freight rail system.

The Michigan By Rail forum was part of a series of discussions being held across the state to gather ideas and encourage discussion on public transportation.

The Michigan Environmental Council and the Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers hosted the event with several local groups at the Mass Transportation Authority headquarters.

(Khalil AlHajal | Flint Journal) Richard Pekarek of the Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers speaks to Forrest Powell, 65, left, and Gordon Barden, 67, both of Otisville, as they ponder ideas for passenger and freight rail over a map of Michigan.

Timothy Fischer, Deputy Policy Director for the Michigan Environmental Council said the state has applied for about $400 million in federal funds for projects like a major rail line from Kalamazoo to Dearborn.

He said news of how much the state will get from the competitive federal program is expected tonight or Friday.

Fischer said the funds could be an indicator of continued and expanding support for public transportation in the state.

The state only received about $40 million in the first round of stimulus grants for high speed rail.

Fischer said the purpose of the forums is to get people talking about the system and engaging elected officials.

“There are many opportunities to have an integrated transportation system here in Michigan,” he said.

About 50 participants offered ideas on where passenger and freight rail would be useful and desired.

Broken into groups, they marked their ideas on large Michigan maps and presented results to the crowd. Most had similar themes and routes.

Common ideas included connections to the state’s public universities, lines from Flint to Grand Rapids, Lansing and Detroit Metro Airport, rails up north toward “wine country” and a connection Toledo — which would allow further access to the eastern and southern parts of the country.

“It’s actually a good way to build consensus,” said Nayyirah Shariff, 34, of Flint.

State Rep. Lee Gonzales (D-Flint Twp.) praised the effort but reminded the crowd that funding is hard to come by.

“We don’t have enough revenues right now,” he said.

“We in government have to really put our thiking caps on,” he said about finding ways to get funds and involve businesses in projects.

(Khalil AlHajal | Flint Journal) Nayyirah Shariff, 35, of Flint marks a map of Michigan indicating ideas on passenger and freight routes during a Michigan by Rail Forum at MTA headquarters on Thursday.

Fischer said the forums are meant to serve as the first stage of developing a stronger rail system in the state. He said determining what the public wants and how much it will cost has to come before funding is sought.

Gonzales agreed.

“If you can get all the ideas from all the different regions of the state… then we can articulate that from the state to the federal level and compete (for funds),” he said.

Gordon Barden, 67, of Otisville, said he uses the MTA’s Your Ride system frequently and is an advocate for public transportation, but that car culture and perceptions that public transportation is meant for people who can’t afford their own vehicles are major obstacles.

“We’re just starting to educate people about using good public transportation,” he said.

Shariff, 35, believes those obstacles can be overcome with time.

“I think that some of that is generational,” she said. “I feel like there’s a shift,
with gas prices rising, and it is a fossil fuel, people are looking for more sustainable ways to live. I think that as the yonger people get older, that that’s going to shift.”


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