Plans for a commuter train from Ann Arbor to Detroit have been temporarily derailed. The Southeast Michigan Council of Governments planned to have the line up and running by October, but the project has been delayed. Though the project initially received federal funding in a larger grant to Michigan, monetary difficulties have halted progress. But there are more federal funds that could be available, though currently the project doesn’t meet all of the requirements. This commuter train would be beneficial for both Ann Arbor and Detroit communities. SEMCOG should make sure the project satisfies the federal requirements so they can get this commuter service back on track.

The proposed commuter train would run between Ann Arbor and Detroit, with stops in Ypsilanti and Dearborn and at Metro Airport. The train would make four round-trips a day during the week, and three per day on the weekends. One-way tickets would be around $6 and the trip from Ann Arbor to Detroit would take about an hour. In December, the U.S. Senate allocated $3.5 million to the project, but SEMCOG says it needs more money to keep moving forward. For now, the project has been halted. SEMCOG hasn’t announced a new start date. The project could qualify for an additional $100 million from a 2005 federal transportation earmark if it reworks plans to meet all of the requirements.

Hopefully, this postponement will be only temporary, because the commuter line holds a great deal of promise for Southeast Michigan. It could lead to some hefty economic benefits. Among other things, the rail line would give commuters between Ann Arbor and Detroit access to cheap, speedy transportation and save them money on parking and gas. This would be significant considering that, according to Ann Arbor City Councilmember Carsten Hohnke (D–Ward 5), between about 60 and 70 thousand commuters travel to Ann Arbor by car each year. The rail line would also make it easier for people to move between Ann Arbor and nearby cities, opening markets up to new consumers. Add to this the benefits from reducing car traffic, pollution and congestion, and the project is obviously a worthwhile investment.

And the train would also be a useful resource for students. Cheap, hassle-free travel to Detroit would help kick Detroit-based outreach and volunteer programs into high gear. University departments could expand interactive course offerings in Detroit and students would be free to travel to events in the city. And out-of-state students would have a reliable, inexpensive way to travel to and from the airport when the Michigan Student Assembly-sponsored Airbus isn’t running.

But money troubles are stalling the train. Currently, the project isn’t eligible to receive the federal aid because its cost per rider exceeds federal standards. But federal funding is the most reliable — and probably most easily accessible — source of financial support. SEMCOG should tap into this resource and find ways to decrease the cost of a ride to allow it to reapply for federal cash.

An inexpensive, easy form of transportation would improve cities’ economies and students’ learning experiences. And SEMCOG must do whatever is necessary to ensure that the train starts rolling.

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