Planning work that will decide the future of one of America's most important rail corridors is being worked on in Michigan. Potential future services like hourly trains between Chicago and Detroit and commuter service in eastern Michigan depend on the corridor being designed in a forward-thinking way. It is critical those affected by this project submit comments to ensure MDOT's plan can meet the travel needs of Midwesterners over the next two decades. Click here to tell your representatives to plan for more frequent service in the future.
The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), in partnership with the Illinois, Indiana and United States Departments of Transportation (DOTs), has released a Draft TIER I Environmental Impact statement (EIS) for the Chicago–Detroit/Pontiac, MI passenger rail line. The EIS is will create a 20-year master plan for the corridor.
The Chicago-Detroit/Pontiac project can be seen as two distinct segments split at Porter, IN, a junction about 50 miles east of Chicago. West of Porter, MDOT is designing a double-tracked passenger mainline to reduce congestion-related delays for trains entering Chicago, for all point east. You can read more about the South-of-the-Lake Reroute, as these 50 miles are called, here.
For the segment between Porter and Detroit/Pontiac, MDOT plans on upgrading a single track to accommodate 10 daily trains over 20 years. A single track does not allow for flexibility to introduce new or expanded service in the future. The decision to only design the corridor to handle 10 Amtrak trains per day is based on ridership estimates in the Draft EIS.
Unfortunately, it’s apparent the ridership estimates are not very ambitious. Chicago and Detroit anchor a populous and economically vibrant region. Today’s Amtrak service has seen ridership gains, while study after study has showed that Americans are driving less and taking trains more. Over Thanksgiving weekend, Amtrak added extra trains to handle the overflow in passengers. The study took none of this into account. If Amtrak doubled service tomorrow – instead of in 20 years – the trains would run at capacity. This planning work is much more suited as a five-year plan.
The fact they’re studying how to improve passenger rail at all is major progress. Going forward, it is critical that rail advocates press transportation planners to think bigger and take note of the monumental shifts in travel patterns seen this past decade.
Check out the EIS at MDOT's official project website.