Craig Sanders

MDOT and Amtrak prepare for improvements to high speed rail

CHICAGO and LANSING — Amtrak and the Michigan Department of Transportation are preparing for improvements along the former Norfolk Southern Railway from Kalamazoo to Central and Eastern Michigan. The portion of the rail is used by Amtrak's Wolverine service and Blue Water trains.

MDOT used a $140 million grant from the Federal Railway Administration to purchase the 135 miles of NS rail. As a result of the purchase, nearly 80 percent of the Amtrak route between Detroit and Chicago is now publicly owned, allowing MDOT to maintain the tracks for high-speed passenger rail.

MDOT's goal is to expand the length of track that allows passenger trains to reach speeds of 110 mph. Through infrastructure improvements, Amtrak has cut at least 20 minutes from the Detroit to Chicago trip from their 2001 schedules. Their ultimate goal is to trim that trip to a mere five hours.

“Amtrak looks forward to working with the FRA, Michigan, Illinois and Indiana to improve this corridor and better connect these vital cities in the Midwest with travel times far better than driving, more comfortable and productive than flying and with a smaller carbon footprint than either of those modes,” said Joe Boardman, Amtrak President and CEO in a Feb. 15 press release.

Amtrak has been welcoming record-breaking ridership in the past few years as well. MDOT announced in January 2013 nearly 800,000 passengers traveled on Amtrak in Michigan in 2012, which set a ridership record for the state's routes.

“Rail is an important  component of Michigan's economic comeback,” said State Transportation Director Kirk T. Steudle. “Investments in intercity passenger rail will reduce travel times, improve service and set the stage for increases in capacity along the Wolverine Service. The first anniversary of 110 mph train travel in Michigan is the perfect time to give a shout-out of appreciation to passengers who are riding Amtrak trains in record numbers.”

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