Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

Commuter rail by March?

4. February 2007 • Murph
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'The long and winding tracks...' from Flickr.com user nonsooth.

With this summer’s construction season promising to turn US-23 into whatever the next thing slower than a parking lot is, pieces are coming together for parallel commuter rail service that could alleviate congestion. From Wednesday’s Ann Arbor News:

Southbound commuters would start from a parking lot at an old industrial site at Eight Mile Road near Whitmore Lake. They would debark in Ann Arbor along Plymouth Road a short distance north of Barton Drive, where they would be picked up by Ann Arbor Transportation Authority buses. The buses would take passengers to various destinations around Ann Arbor, perhaps the University of Michigan and hospitals, for example . . . The proposal envisions six round trips each morning and evening five days a week. The first train in the morning would leave Eight Mile Road at 5:55 a.m. and would take 20 minutes at top speeds of 40 mph to reach the Ann Arbor debarkation point. The earliest evening train would leave Ann Arbor at 3:55 p.m.

The new owner of Great Lakes Central Railroad and the owner of the 26-acre potential park-and-ride lot are on board with the proposal. The railroad notes that the time frame is tight, with 30 days of good weather needed to make repairs – not to mention cash. MDOT, which would need to provide around $2.4m for capital and operating costs, minus passenger fares, is currently reviewing the proposal.



  1. Boy, I really don’t see this working. Depending on where they’re coming from, commuters would have to make half or more of their normal drive just to get to the northern end of the line (at 8-mile road) and then do another 30-40 minutes to get to work (20 minute train ride plus transfer time plus bus time). And they’d have to pay $120/month besides. If I were in that position, I’d just use an alternate route (Whitmore Lake Rd or Dexter-Pinkney Road to the west or Pontiac Trail to the east). Even with traffic, it’d take less time than the car+train+bus rigmarole. The only people I could see using this service in any numbers would be UM folks if the U picks up the cost.


       —mw    Feb. 5 '07 - 11:51PM    #
  2. mw –

    I’m with you on the problems involved, but my take is a little more optimistic. This is in no way a complete service, and the only way anybody’s going to ride it is going to be because 23 will be ridiculous.

    It would be a whole lot better if they could get it extended on the south end into downtown, and, even better, all the way to the Briarwood area; on the north, to Brighton or Howell.

    Transfers will need to be “direct, express shuttles waiting when the train pulls in,” and not “wait here for the #2 to arrive,” and I’d hope it goes without saying that the transfer is free once you’ve got the train ticket.

    I’m hoping this goes forward, but I don’t see it as an end product. This is an experiment or prototype that will have to be expanded into a more full-service route by the time construction on 23 is done, if it’s going to continue. On those lines, though, I fully approve – we too infrequently see opportunities to run experiments before we plunk down tons of money on infrastructure, and we even less frequently take those opportunities. $2-3m to test out a rail service before we make the decision to spend hundreds of times that much expanding 23 seems like a no-brainer to me.


       —Murph    Feb. 7 '07 - 07:01PM    #
  3. I ranted about this elsewhere, but want to respond to a couple things specifically.

    mw, I think you may be underestimating the impact of US23 construction on traffic both on the highway and on alternate routes. Those alternate routes are not set up for heavy traffic, especially at intersections. Furthermore, there is no room to accomodate traffic flow around an accident on one of those smaller routes. A fender bender could cause majoy delays on two lane roads with heavy traffic.

    Like Murph, I think the construction period presents a great opportunity for linking rail service to congestion relief (or, more accurately, congestion avoidance). My concern is that if the route, terminals, and transfers aren’t useful to commuters, rushing the implementation will only go to prove that rail is not an effective alternative. Coming from the Brighton area to downtown A2 requires multiple transfers (car-train-bus-walk). That’s more likely to put off potential riders than the cost.

    If the rail service does get funded, the business community and the DDA, should be planning now for financial incentives/assistance for rail commuters. A program similar to the go!pass would be great.

    The other big question mark is the layout of the A2 terminal. A train stop requires more than a platform for disembarking and a bus stop. If 100 people ride the train to A2, 20 might get picked up by friends in cars. 50 need to board one of 2-3 buses. Hopefully a few will have a bike with them or parked at secure, on-site bike parking, so they will need a staging area. Pedestrians need to be able to cross the road safely. As many as half of them may not know where they are or how to get to work from the stop. The terminal needs to accomodate all of these needs at once. I’m not sure there is space for all that at the corner of Barton and Plymouth. Has anyone seen a layout of this stop?


       —Scott TenBrink    Feb. 8 '07 - 04:58AM    #
  4. Of course the location of the A2 terminal is crutial for project success. However, automobile traffic and congestion will only get worse over time, which will make the commute by car longer and a rail alternative more appealing (I rather spend 30 minutes every morning reading the newspaper, checking email, etc on a train than 20 minutes in traffic).

    The obvious alternative to the rail is adding more lanes to U.S. 23. Historically, this solution only encourages more drivers, which in turn requires more money and land dedicated parking structures and auto services (with rail, these costs could be put back into expansion of mass transit).

    Transit options have an ENORMOUS effect on the health, economics, and diversity of any City because it broadens the appeal to include those who choose not to be car dependant. This is a growing, educated, and affluent, group.

    Business consider transit options when relocating or expanding.

    Also, because of the large debt owed by recent college graduates, many determine where they live based on the availability and access to good mass transit to save on the expense of owning a car (I moved from Ann Arbor/Detroit to Boston).

    All Southeastern Michigan needs to look at the recent investments into transit alternatives by other cities.


       —Richard Reaume    Oct. 17 '07 - 09:15PM    #
  5. Interesting that the ubiquity of email and increased mobile access to the Internet may impact the adoption of mass transit.


       —Steve Bean    Oct. 17 '07 - 11:01PM    #