Michigan State Rail Plan

This article was contributed by Larry Karnes, Michigan DOT
With hundreds of public comments and notes from dozens of stakeholder outreach meetings in hand, the Michigan Rail Plan team is rounding the bend toward completing MDOT’s first major rail plan in decades. The lead consultant, HNTB Michigan, Inc. is on-track to deliver the draft document by the end of March, after which a second round of public meetings is being planned.
One of the team’s first deliverables was the Technical Memorandum #1 concerning the plan’s vision, goals and objectives. As noted, Michigan’s future is envisioned to include “A rail a system that provides enhanced mobility for travelers and the efficient movement of goods while supporting economic development and environmental sustainability.”
The goals are to:

  • Promote the Efficient Movement of Passengers
  • Promote the Efficient Movement of Freight
  • Encourage Intermodal Connectivity
  • Enhance State and local Economic Development
  • Promote Environmental Sustainability
  • Promote Safe and Secure Railroad Operations

More than 200 people attended the initial set of four public meetings in September held in Negaunee, Traverse City, Detroit and Grand Rapids. As expected there was strong interest in expanding passenger service in Michigan, with more than three-quarters of the comments addressing it. Common themes included the need for greater transportation choices, more energy efficient travel, improved quality life, economic development, and concern over divesture, loss of right-of-way and funding. Of the comments dealing with passenger service locations, Traverse City, Detroit and Grand Rapids were mentioned most frequently.
In addition to 350 comments received at the MDOT meetings and through an on-line comment form at www.michigan.gov/mirailplan, the Michigan By Rail initiative has offered to share input from its 15 public forums held throughout the state last fall. Michigan By Rail is a coalition of passenger rail advocates led by the Michigan Environmental Council and the Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers.
A second Technical Memorandum also is available for download that describes the existing conditions of Michigan’s rail system. The report presents the freight rail system profile, freight rail traffic, passenger rail service profile, federal and state funding programs, and a review of existing studies. Canadian National operates the most miles of rail in the state, 1,017, while Norfolk Southern and CSX each operate 642 and 569 miles respectively. Nearly 119 million tons of freight rolled on Michigan tracks in 2009. Amtrak ridership has been on the rise in recent years, reaching 500,000 riders in 2010 alone.
The MI Rail Plan will address the serious problems facing Michigan’s rail system, including the need to identify funding sources to fill any current and future funding gaps. It will address the key concepts defining Michigan’s rail priorities and “business as usual” investment pattern, plus explore strategic concepts/opportunities to improve upon “business as usual” through strategic investment.
The plan will satisfy a federal requirement in the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008. The law established new federal funding programs for passenger rail services, including high speed rail. MDOT anticipates applying for additional federal funds in mid-year, if available, that would further improve services on the federally-designated high speed rail corridor between Chicago and Detroit/Pontiac. Applying for those funds will require completion of the State Rail Plan.
For more information about the Michigan state rail plan, visit www.michigan.gov/mirailplan.