A $15.8 million project will add a new track between Detroit and Dearborn, giving Amtrak passengers and freight cars their own dedicated lines.
The changes to the West Detroit Connection Track, which is the key link between the new Dearborn multi-modal transportation station and Detroit's station downtown, were OK'd by the federal Department of Transportation
last week. Feds will pay for half the project and the Michigan Department of Transportation
will pay the other half as they look for ways to alleviate a bottleneck on portions of the track.
The West Detroit Connection Track is also a key part of the Detroit to Chicago line, known as Amtrak's Wolverine line.
The project, which will break ground later this year, will alleviate a bottleneck that is increasing waiting times for trains, costing companies money and slowing down travelers.
Carmine Palombo, director of transportation programs for the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments,
says the changes make sense economically because they allow goods and people to move more quickly and efficiently.
"When you have 10 minute and more delays that are caused by the bottleneck that is there now, that is huge," Palombo says.
But metro Detroit and Michigan are still a long way off from trains carrying coffee-drinking, newspaper reading commuters. Improvements such as new stations, including in Dearborn, Detroit, Troy and Pontiac, as well as changes to increase train speeds up to 110 mph, are lining up to make Michigan a train-riding state.
"It's all part of the overall series of events to improve passenger service," he says.
As of now, the line is mostly for travelers and freight. He says a commuter train between Detroit and Ann Arbor is inching along but still far from a done deal.
"Part of what happens now is existing Amtrak trains start in Pontiac and go to Chicago…The problem is the times are not conducive for a lot of commuters .. The times are geared for getting you to Chicago, not points in between. And the costs are not necessarily in step with what commuters want to pay."
He says legislation that will have the state of Michigan financially supporting the train service could change that.
"When that happens we can have a little more say in the schedules and how that service is run," Palombo says.
In the meantime, the feds, who are executing President Barak Obama's High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program, see the project as a way to address congestion of the Midwest Regional Rail Network and promote alternative forms of transportation and to create jobs and spur economic development.
Source: U.S. Department of Transportation and Carmine Palombo director of transportation programs, Southeast Michigan Council of Governments
Writer: Kim North Shine