A rail project that began in 2011 has gained momentum, thanks to recent federal grant funding provided by the US Department of Transportation.
Dubbed the A2TC Train, this commuter rail service has the potential to connect Ann Arbor to Traverse City, with stops in several small towns along the way.
Jim Bruckbauer, transportation director at the Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities, has been working to make this transportation option a reality.
“We, at Groundwork, are exploring the possibility of passenger train service along a state-owned and active set of tracks that run between southeast Michigan and Traverse City,” Bruckbauer said. “The line would reconnect mid and northern Michigan to the other rail lines in the state and help Michigan travelers have more options for getting around the state.”
The Benefits of Connection
A feasibility and cost estimate study conducted in 2018 found that a growing number of visitors between the two regions could greatly benefit from this service.
Passengers traveling to the northern region can take advantage of tourist destinations, while those traveling to the southeast can benefit from the area’s medical and educational resources along with sporting and cultural events.
In addition, the study found that the train would be beneficial to over 90,000 university students who travel throughout the state.
“The potential train line would give Ann Arbor families another great option for traveling to the mid and northern region,” Bruckbauer said.
Exploring the possibilities
Over $2 million in upgrades have been made to tracks along the route, with more improvements expected in the future.
Test trains could begin runs with small groups of passengers by 2023, with hopes of offering a consistent service within the next five years.
“There will be a study team in place that will prioritize the improvements needed along the corridor to maximize freight and passenger opportunities and develop a business plan for passenger service,” he said. “The study’s result will be a clear vision and plan for how the train service will actually work.”
The Groundwork Center hopes to gain citizen input on the project over the next eighteen months.
“We want public engagement to be an essential part of the process, and over the next year or so there will be many opportunities for residents and travelers in communities along the route to shape future train service they want to see and use. Through this process, the team will conduct surveys and hold events to get feedback from people who live along the line. We’d like to place a particular focus on people and communities who are often left out of transportation planning discussions.”
Bruckbauer noted that the center does not yet have a clear idea on the costs of the project, or how those costs will be covered. He did suggest that it could be a private investment opportunity rather than a publicly-funded service.
“We have found that a lot of Michigan families prefer to have more options for getting around than just a car,” he said. “Test trains will be part of the planning process in 2023, so the public might see trains carrying a group of passengers from time to time along the tracks. We’re hopeful we can invite the public on a train ride in the next couple of years.”