Federal funds will upgrade commuter rail connection

Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN – Federal money originally bound for Florida now is on track to increase the speed of train travel in Michigan.

Officials from the U.S. Department of Transportation announced May 9 that $196.5 million, from the Federal Railroad Administration, has been awarded to repair the commuter rail corridor between Dearborn and Kalamazoo. The railroad administration also will provide $2.8 million to construct a high-speed rail station in Ann Arbor.

The repairs to the track and signal systems will allow for increased speeds to between 79 and 110 mph on the route from Kalamazoo to Dearborn.

Mayor John O’Reilly Jr. said the money originally was supposed to be awarded to Florida, but that it was allocated to Michigan after officials in the former state declined it. He said the new rail line will allow for faster travel between Detroit and Chicago, and that travel time will be reduced substantially.

Gov. Rick Snyder said in a statement released by the Michigan Department of Transportation that the new rail system will allow for economic and social improvements.

“Accelerated rail service has the ability to enhance our economy, environment and overall quality of life,” he said. “Reliable, fast train service is attractive to businesses that want to locate or expand near it. This investment in our rail system is critical to Michigan’s recovery.”

O’Reilly agreed, saying that some states, including California, already have approved a high-speed rail system and are doing well economically. California is expected to begin construction in 2012.

He said the new rail system will expand the city’s reach. “It means (Dearborn) is a principal link in the rail system,” O’Reilly said. “It connects us. We’ve been a stop on the Amtrak rail line for decades.”

He said that a timeline for completion of the projects has not been determined yet, and that the process will happen in stages, beginning with the purchase of the rail line.

“First we have to negotiate with the state,” O’Reilly said. “It will take time to get the pieces in place.”

(Daniel Heraty can be reached at dheraty@bewickpublications.com.)