Officials hope that the changes will results in increased ridership and lower state subsidies for train service. (Brandy Baker / The Detroit News)
East Lansing — Amtrak and the state of Michigan plan to invest millions of dollars over the coming years to improve service on the state’s three passenger train lines, resulting in quicker trips and more amenities for travelers.
Upgraded tracks between Kalamazoo and Dearborn will allow trains to travel up to 110 mph in that area. Officials hope that the changes will results in increased ridership and lower state subsidies for service, the Lansing State Journal reported.
For years, Michigan has underwritten the Blue Water line between Port Huron and Chicago, which includes a stop in East Lansing, and the Pere Marquette line between Grand Rapids and Chicago.
Changes taking effect this month in the way the nation’s passenger rail service is being funded mean the state also must pick up the tab for the Wolverine line between Pontiac and Chicago.
Michigan taxpayers will pay more than $25 million for the fiscal year that started last week to operate the lines, up from previous years. Amtrak had nearly 800,000 riders in Michigan last year, and without the state subsidies, Michigan wouldn’t have passenger rail service.
“If we don’t pay for any Amtrak service … we have no Amtrak service,” said Tim Hoeffner, the state’s rail director.
Some travelers don’t need to be persuaded to ride. Marla Schroeder, who was traveling last week from East Lansing to meet a friend from Kentucky in Chicago, said she would rather spend a trip leafing through a book than navigating freeway traffic.
“It’s cost-effective, because by the time you drive in and pay the gas and the tolls and the parking, the ticket is free,” she said.
Most passenger trains through Michigan travel at a top speed of 80 mph, so the track improvements between Dearborn and Kalamazoo will be noticeable.
To draw passengers, Amtrak opened up space for bicycle storage on its Blue Water line. Packing a bike costs a passenger an extra $10. The Michigan Department of Transportation also will spend about $1 million to bring Wi-Fi to the three lines by January.