Enhanced passenger train service between Detroit and Chicago will become a reality after the Michigan House of Representatives approved today state match money to access $161 million in federal grants awarded to Michigan for projects along the corridor. The Michigan Senate passed the bill last week.
The federal grants – totaling over $400.7 million in the last two years – provide money to acquire and rehabilitate 135 miles of Norfolk Southern railroad track between Kalamazoo and Dearborn, upgrade stations (Dearborn, Troy-Birmingham and Battle Creek), and rework congestion points to separate passenger and freight trains. The result will be a Chicago-Detroit trip in about four hours – shaving up to 90 minutes off the existing travel time. More importantly, perhaps, these projects will provide greater consistency in keeping trains on schedule.
$198.6 million of the total grant awards represent re-granted ARRA funds from Florida after the governor there foolishly rejected the money. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder directed the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) to apply for the redirected funds and eagerly accepted them at a ceremony in Detroit this summer.
Governor Snyder has proven a strong supporter of passenger rail. The budget he presented earlier this year fully funded the state’s passenger rail (and public transportation) programs at the outset for the first time in recent memory. He takes up and disposes of issues methodically, viewing them through a “business case” lens. Passenger rail has fared favorably in his reviews.
The governor appointed former Congressman Dr. Joe Schwarz as a private sector representative to the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission (MIPRC) earlier this year. Dr. Schwarz was a strong supporter of passenger rail during his many years as an elected official. He is the Governor’s advisor on passenger rail issues. He made the case for this supplemental appropriation in the Senate Appropriations hearing last week. He addressed the concerns of the Senators and smoothed the way for the House to act today.
MDOT should be commended for putting together solid ARRA applications and explaining them to decision makers over the years.
The appropriation, $39,213,600, includes $18,950,000 in private funds contributed by the Norfolk Southern railroad, which currently owns the track. It also includes $1.5 million in local funds contributed by the City of Ann Arbor for work on its new multi modal station.