A train from Ann Arbor to Traverse City?

Study looks at feasibility and impact of potential train service from Southeastern part of the state to Northern Michigan.

Passenger trains between Ann Arbor and Traverse City, Michigan, would attract 1.5 million riders a year and generate $100 million in annual revenue by 2040 according to a study released on Monday.

The Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities has released the results of an initial study that explores track repair, operating costs and potential revenue of a passenger rail line along an existing, mostly state-owned railroad corridor between Ann Arbor and the Traverse City and Petoskey regions.

“As travel to the Traverse City region increases, the train could take thousands of cars off the roads and provide people with a direct, downtown-to-downtown connection between Michigan’s cities,” says Groundwork Deputy Director, Jim Bruckbauer.

The study team says even at 60 miles per hour, trains would capture roughly 380,0000 existing trips taken by car along the corridor every year.

To test the market, the study team recommends launching low cost “special event” trains and then building the service as interest and demand grows.

The line would also serve approximately 90,000 university students who live along the route.

“The passenger rail project will be valuable in attracting the next generation workforce that wants to live and thrive in Michigan without always depending on a car to get around,” Bruckbauer added. “Trips Up North or downstate often feel too far to drive, yet too close to fly.”

The study outlines several operating speeds, costs and potential ridership associated with each option.

Today, the Federal Railroad Administration allows “special event,” or excursion train service, to operate on most tracks. Achieving daily 60-mile-per-hour service, which would create a five-hour travel time between Ann Arbor and Traverse City, would require about $40 million in capital costs, according to the study.

110 mile-per-hour trains would require nearly a billion dollars in track upgrades, but would cut the travel time to three and half hours and attract nearly five times the numbers of riders and revenue as a 60-mile-per-hour train.

The study was funded by a Federal Transit Administration grant program, the Michigan Department of Transportation,
the Petoskey Downtown Management Board, the Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau, the City of Traverse City, Traverse City Tourism, the
City of Alma, and Washtenaw County. Other funding partners include Rotary Charities of

Traverse City, the Les and Anne Biederman Foundation, the National Association of REALTORS® and the Traverse Area Association of REALTORS®.

In 2019, the Michigan Department of Transportation is expected to repair several miles of tracks near Traverse City, which might allow special events train service to run directly to Traverse City as soon as 2020.

Summary of study: groundworkcenter.org/railstudysummary

Full study: groundworkcenter.org/railstudy