Ypsi Amtrak station plan moves forward despite challenges

Plans for an Amtrak stop in Ypsilanti have been submitted to city council, but an effort to bring passenger rail service back to Depot Town still faces an uphill climb.

Initial designs for the stop include a platform with public access, lighting, and covered shelter areas. The parking lot at Maple Street and Depot Drive is being considered as a parking option for train passengers.

Beth Ernat, Ypsilanti's director of economic development, says the design meets basic requirements from the Michigan Department of Transportation, Amtrak, Norfolk Southern Railway, and the Federal Railroad Administration, which all have to sign off on the plan.

The minimal platform is simply meant to "get the train to stop," says Pete Murdock, city council member for Ypsilanti's third ward.

The stop would be on the Wolverine Line from Chicago to Pontiac, and it could later be expanded to accommodate a new commuter train proposed by the Regional Transportation Authority of Southeast Michigan (RTA). If voters in Washtenaw, Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties approve the RTA's proposed millage this November, the Detroit-Ann Arbor commuter line could begin service in 2022.

"Having the train, particularly the commuter train, stop in Ypsilanti would increase property values and potential development near Depot Town," Murdock says.

An Amtrak stop would also increase transportation options for residents and make Ypsi more of a destination, Ernat says.

"The stop puts Ypsilanti on the map, adds vibrancy, and opens up economic opportunities for businesses that require travel and transportation," she says.

Before all that can happen, the city will need to present the plans to the public for comment, secure financing for the $2 million project, and get approvals from all involved agencies.

If all goes well, the stop could open by the end of next year, but Murdock expects it will take longer.

"The failure of the RTA plan in November may lead to a re-evaluation and, even with passage, it might be preferable to put this all together on the same timeline," he says.

Amtrak service in Ypsilanti stopped in the 1980s due to lack of ridership and the city's proximity to other stops. Over the last five years, Ernat says Amtrak has expanded its service, and studies have shown Ypsilanti is primed for its return.

Photo by Doug Coombe.
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