Michigan’s Rail Revival: Connecting Communities with Passenger Trains

by Jun 10, 2024

Original story from ‘Michigan Communities on Board for Rail’s Return‘ by Jim Bruckbauer, featured in the May/June 2024 issue of The Review by the Michigan Municipal League. Michigan is moving ahead with plans to improve and expand its train infrastructure, including smaller towns like Kalkaska, Cadillac, and Mt. Pleasant. These communities are partnering with various organizations to prepare for the return of passenger trains.

The push towards trains comes from several factors: high road maintenance costs, environmental concerns, and the public’s preference for the comfort and safety of trains. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act has provided $66 billion for rail improvements across the country, benefiting Michigan significantly.

Investing in Michigan’s Rail Infrastructure

Michigan is currently focusing on the Amtrak Blue Water, Pere Marquette, and Wolverine lines. Over the past decade, about $600 million has been invested in the Wolverine corridor, improving speeds and efficiency. Future plans include more frequent trains and new connections to Toledo, Ohio, and Windsor, Ontario.

A new project aims to connect northern Michigan to the Blue Water and Wolverine lines using an existing freight rail. This route would link southeast Michigan to Traverse City and Petoskey, passing through towns like Owosso, Mt. Pleasant, and Cadillac. The Northern Michigan Passenger Rail Phase II study, expected to be completed in 2025, will outline the service’s details, including station locations and ridership potential.

Supporters believe the new passenger rail line could reduce road congestion, lower carbon emissions, and provide better access to larger metropolitan areas. This would be especially beneficial for college students and others who need efficient travel options across the state.


Speeder Rail Cars stopping at Railroad Square in Downtown Kalkaska This Summer.

Benefits of the Rail Revival

Local transportation authorities, like the Cadillac/Wexford Transit Authority (CWTA), see this project as a chance to boost both passenger travel and freight capabilities, enhancing local economies. CWTA highlights the need to integrate public transportation options with the new rail services to ensure smooth travel for passengers.

Kalkaska, located at key northern Michigan shipping lanes, aims to become a hub for both freight and passenger rail. The village is considering a truck-to-train shipping facility and a downtown passenger train terminal, which are expected to drive economic growth by providing efficient freight transportation and more travel options for residents and visitors.


Future Projects and Community Impact

Kalkaska’s Railroad Square already serves as a boarding platform for seasonal leisure train rides, and there are plans to enhance this facility for regular passenger services. As these projects progress, Michigan’s small towns are set to become important parts of a larger rail network, promising a more connected and sustainable future for the state.

For more information on the Northern Michigan Passenger Rail Phase II Planning Study, visit Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities.

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