Stopped in its Tracks: Proposed Detroit-Ann Arbor-Howell Railway Causes Controversy

The Michigan Department of Transportation’s plan to implement a railway system to connect Detroit, Ann Arbor, and Howell has stopped in its tracks. Beginning in 2010, the Department of Transportation leased twenty-three passenger rail cars from Great Lakes Central Railroad.  The vacant cars, which emerged in the 1950s and 1960s, were to be utilized on a railroad track from Detroit to Ann Arbor, and Ann Arbor to Howell.

Initially, the proposal for the rail cars’ refurbishment was well supported, and many viewed the transportation project favorably.  The Michigan Department of Transportation first leased the rail cars in 2010.  The proposal was put into place, and the operations began.  However, various federal regulations contributed to their delay, as the rail cars’ out-of-date design required necessary changes to pass the current standards imposed by the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Once the refurbishments were complete and the cars were inspected, the in-service rates rose.  The leasing of the train cars costs the State of Michigan $3,000 a day and more that $1,000,000 a year, though the cars are not currently in use.  The operation funding remains two years away from being approved.  Additionally, the railroad track utilized between Detroit and Ann Arbor will not be available for two more years.  It remains unclear when the cars may first be utilized.

Michigan lawmakers are not happy with the project’s current delayed state, and the prospect that the project may never be implemented.  Others argue that the project should not be rejected given the sum invested thus far.  So, what are the options for the rail cars’ future?  Currently, some of the cars are placed in Ann Arbor and Dearborn as a means of advertising for the prospective line of transportation.  Amtrak may also employ the rail cars for a year or two, and thereby lower the cost of lease and upkeep.  Additionally, the project director may return to Great Lakes Central Railroad to negotiate a lower lease price.

Through the railway’s use, students at the University of Michigan could benefit from easy access to educational, cultural, musical, service and athletic opportunities in Detroit.  While the refurbished rail cars would provide a convenient mode of transportation between two prominent cities in Michigan, the high cost of the cars may be a deterrent to the project’s successful implementation.  Is the proposed railway necessary?  To learn more, contact the Michigan Department of Transportation Office of Rail.

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About Melanie Boskovich

Melanie Boskovich is a senior at the University of Michigan. She currently serves as Editorial Editor.