Students and local residents anticipating a new daily commuter train line that would run from Ann Arbor to downtown Detroit will now have to wait a while longer, as the agency responsible for the transportation project announced a setback to its plans.
Southeast Michigan Council of Governments cited a lack of funding and interest from the public in the commuter service as reasons for the delay. While SEMCOG had initially planned to make the service available by October, it has not yet announced a new date for the line’s opening.
The organization eventually hopes to offer a train line that makes four round-trips on weekdays and three on weekends. The commuter train, which will start from Ann Arbor, will make stops in Ypsilanti, Dearborn and the Detroit Metro Airport before reaching downtown Detroit. A one-way trip from Ann Arbor to Detroit is expected to take approximately one hour, with the cost of a round-trip ticket starting at about $6 or $7.
In the meantime, SEMCOG will provide a line service for various special events in the Detroit area beginning in October. Carmine Palombo, SEMCOG’s Director of Transportation Programs, said the organization hopes the demonstration line will promote the train service and increase interest for its use.
“We hope to first of all introduce commuter line service to the region, since there hasn’t been a commuter line service since the early 1980s,” Palombo said. “There will be a learning curve to learn how to ride and a learning curve for us to make sure that we are providing efficient service.”
Last December, as part of a larger grant to the state of Michigan, the U.S. Senate budgeted $3.5 million specifically for the construction of a rail between Ann Arbor and Detroit, with the hopes that the daily service would be available by October. However, Palombo pointed out that the project still needs more funds to cover all its costs.
“As we were continuing to move forward with the project, we had made certain assumptions about certain aspects of the project being done and dollars showing up,” Palombo said. “It got to the point that it was pretty obvious that the dollars weren’t going to show up to do all of the projects that need to be done.”
Despite reports that a $100 million federal transportation earmark made in 2005 may also be available to SEMCOG, Palombo said the agency has not fulfilled all the requirements necessary to qualify for the additional funds at this time.
However, Palombo said there is a possibility the earmark might become available in the future for the commuter line project’s use. Meanwhile, SEMCOG has been raising money from various federal programs, the private sector and a secondary high-speed rail fund to cover the program’s expenses.
According to a Jan. 10 article in The Michigan Daily, many students are looking forward to the proposed commuter line, since it promises many advantages to its passengers. For example, fans taking the train to Michigan football games on Saturdays would be able to avoid the parking fees, which can run up to $20 or more.
As reported in the January Daily article, Ann Arbor City Councilmember Carson Hohnke said Ann Arbor is also hopeful the commuter line will benefit the City of Ann Arbor by reducing incoming traffic on weekends and decrease pollution levels.
While the city has been pressed to contribute to covering some of the costs, the economic downturn has left little room in its budget to assist with the commuter line project, Hohnke told the Daily at the time.