Passenger Rail Service Between Ann Arbor and Traverse City Getting Closer to Reality

Traveling up north on summer weekends and holidays may be getting less stressful if organizers behind creating passenger train service from Ann Arbor to Traverse City have their way.

The plan involves establishing passenger service on freight lines from Ann Arbor to Traverse City with stops in between by summer 2019 for special events such as Traverse City’s Cherry Festival and Ann Arbor’s Art Fair.  These test case train runs would be used to build support for eventually running scheduled daily routes.

Early findings from an ongoing feasibility study, sponsored by the groups Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities and Bay Area Transportation Authority of Traverse City, MI, show the new train, dubbed A2TC, could be wildly popular with people on both ends of the route.

Jim Bruckbauer, Deputy Director for Groundwork Center, tells us,

“There’s widespread interest in establishing passenger rail service to northwest Michigan. It would provide much needed transportation options for travelers—including the roughly 90,000 students along the line, boost downtown economies, and solidify Michigan as a leader in a new era of travel.  Revitalizing train service between Traverse City and Ann Arbor is a unique opportunity for Michigan because the state owns the tracks, much of the line is in good shape, and there’s already tremendous public support. Groundwork has received dozens of support letters from communities and civic groups along the line, and we’ve raised funds to advance a major study on the project, a study that is due to be released in the summer of 2018. Preliminary cost and market data look promising, and we are excited to share it with the public, so stay tuned!”

The train route wouldn’t just be a boon for Ann Arbor and Traverse City tourism.  Passenger train service would benefit the towns along the way.  College students at Baker College in Owosso, Alma College, Central Michigan University, Ferris State in Big Rapids, Northwestern Michigan University in Traverse City, and U of M would have a new mode of getting around the state to and from school.

The 2011 comprehensive report, Michigan State Rail Plan, received feedback from residents attending public hearings about Michigan’s rail system favored expanding passenger rail service and chose Traverse City as the #1 destination followed by Detroit.  From that study The Traverse Rail Plan was conceived and is supported by a growing coalition of businesses and organizations who are working with state officials and departments such as MDOT on a business plan that will answer many of the early questions.

But don’t make your getaway plans just yet.  The concept is easy but finding a way to pay for it isn’t.  So far, the consultants working on the A2TC project have yet to release cost estimates.  Any plan would require state and federal investments as well as funds from communities along the tracks to build train stations.

“For now, the state has been on the periphery of discussions about the A2TC train and is waiting to see the outcome of the study”, said Tim Hoeffner, director of the Office of Rail at the Michigan Department of Transportation. “There needs to be a much bigger dive into the numbers,” he said. “But it is intriguing to see the amount of support for it.”

“So far, we think there could well be a lot of potential here, but only if there are good financials,” says Alex Metcalf, President of Transportation Economics and Management Systems, the Maryland-based consult firm working on the study.

Traverse City Manager, Mary Colburn, says “Costs could add up to $500 million over a couple decades for infrastructure improvements and operations.”

Results of the study are expected to be released late summer or early fall.  Organizers and backers of the A2TC are confident it will happen with the only question being when.

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