Study to consider feasibility of Ann Arbor-Traverse City passenger rail

What would it take to get passenger rail service between Ann Arbor and Traverse City up and running, and how much use would it get? Those are a couple of the big questions a Traverse City advocacy group hopes to answer after a recently announced feasibility study is completed.

The study comes as part of an initiative led by the Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities to revive regular passenger train service between southeast and northwest Michigan by 2025. The Ann Arbor Railroad, which ceased operations in 1976, provided similar service from Frankfort to Ann Arbor and also continued south to Toledo.

Jim Lively, program director at Groundwork, says the study will be conducted by contractors who are still being selected. The Michigan Department of Transportation's (MDOT) Office of Rail and Great Lakes Central Railroad, which leases the tracks in question, will also collaborate on the study.

Groundwork will assist the contractors with public input from communities along the tracks, including Petoskey, Traverse City, Cadillac, Mount Pleasant, Alma, Brighton, and Ann Arbor.

"We will work with city departments, economic development [organizations], chambers of commerce, large employers, colleges and universities, and other institutions in the communities," Lively says.

One objective of the study is to determine community support and interest for various levels of service, including frequency, cost, speed, trip length, and amenities offered.

Another point of the study is determining where track upgrades are needed, as well as improvements to road crossings and passenger depots. MDOT and Great Lakes Central will be heavily involved in the technical details of track improvements, insurance, and funding.

So how likely is passenger rail service between Ann Arbor and northern Michigan in the next decade? Lively says time, money, and developing a management structure for operating a passenger rail system are all barriers to such a project, but he also cites a few "encouraging assets." Those include the fact that the state still owns the tracks along the corridor, as well as what Lively describes as a high level of support for the project so far at both the state and local levels.

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