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Detroit to Chicago in less than 4 hours? 3 upgrades for Michigan passenger rail

The 135 miles of rail line from Dearborn to Kalamazoo will be owned by the state of Michigan. The state is purchasing the line from Norfolk Southern Railway with the help of federal stimulus money. Once completed, the upgraded line will increase speeds.

Most of the upgrades are happening along the Detroit to Chicago route. That's because this line was designated as a high speed rail corridor by the federal government back in 1992.

With that designation comes federal grant dollars.

And recently, it has meant hundreds of millions of federal stimulus dollars.

$639.5 million of the $687.4 million being invested in Michigan's rail system is coming from the federal government. The rest is made up of state and local funds.

Here's a list of the improvements being made to passenger rail service in Michigan:

1. Track improvements - a trip to Chicago in less than 4 hours?

A trip that has been notoriously slow because of complications with freight train traffic should be much improved in the coming years.

With the help of federal grants, the state of Michigan will buy a 135-mile stretch of track between Dearborn and Kalamazoo for $140 million. That stretch of track will be improved to increase train speeds (passenger trains that traveled at a peak of 79 m.p.h. will top out at 110 m.p.h. after the improvements are made next year).

That 135-mile stretch will be matched up with other stretches that allow higher speeds. Janet Foran of the Michigan Department of Transportation writes:

When all 281 miles between Detroit and Chicago can handle accelerated service, travel time between the two cities will drop from six hours to less than four.

The Dearborn to Kalamazoo track was purchased from the Norfolk-Southern Railway.

While the purchase price has been set, details of the sale are still being worked out with the freight company and are expected to be finalized by next spring.

The Detroit to Chicago corridor will also receive "a new state-of-the-art signal system and train control technology" according to Foran.

2. New trains and coaches

All three Amtrak lines in Michigan (the Wolverine, the Blue Water, and the Pere Marquette) are in line for funding for new train coaches.

The Wolverine and Blue Water routes have funding for new modern locomotives. These modern locomotives will be built for accelerated speeds.

$268.2 million from the federal government's Midwest Next Generation Equipment Procurement will help purchase these new trains.

Marc Magliari of Amtrak says these new trains won't be online for a few years. Details and specifications are still being worked out. Magliari says existing trains could be used to supplement service on these lines.

3. New, and upgraded train stations

New train stations

  • Grand Rapids - ground breaking for the new $3.8 million station took place on Oct. 14.
  • Pontiac - the new Pontiac Transportation Center opened on August 8.
  • Troy-Birmingham - MDOT officials say the are "working with the city of Troy and the Federal Railroad Administration to secure funding to move the existing platform stop in Birmingham to a new station location in Troy."
  • Dearborn - the new station in Dearborn is being built with the help of $28 million from the Federal Railroad Administration. It will serve as the "gateway" to The Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village. It could also link up with a planned Ann Arbor to Detroit commuter rail service.
  • Ann Arbor - federal money has been provided for a study of a new train station in Ann Arbor.

Upgraded train stations

  • Battle Creek - money will be spent to upgrade the station. Construction began in August, according to Amtrak, and should take nine months to complete.
  • Jackson - this historic station will be preserved and upgraded

*Corrections - MDOT staff reviewed the information above and made the following corrections: A "renovated train stations" section previously posted was removed since the renovations listed were made without federal high speed rail money; The Detroit New Center Station was removed from the "new station" list since no activity is occurring at the site; The Battle Creek station was added to the upgrade list and the Kalamazoo station was removed (the Kalamazoo station was renovated in 2006); and the Pere Marquette line is not in line for new locomotives as previously written, just new coaches. The corrections have been made in the copy above.

Mark Brush was Michigan Radio’s Digital Media Director. He succumbed to a year-long battle with glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer, in March 2018. He was 49 years old.
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