Passenger rail service in northern Michigan being studied: Part one

County commissioners in the tip of the mitt learn about a study of the feasibility of passenger rail in northern Michigan.

Traveling by train in northern Michigan sounds like a romantic memory of days gone by, doesn’t it? Not too many years ago, that’s all it was, something from a history book, or grandma’s fond memories. Well, fast forward to 2017, and it makes more sense than many of us realize. Perhaps a way to travel and accomplish things other than just driving, maybe a way to save money, or simply transport people more efficiently.

Jim Lively, Program Director with the Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities, recently spoke to the Northern Michigan Counties Association about a feasibility study they are doing to look at the possibility of passenger rail service between Ann Arbor and Traverse City, known as A2TC. A total of $120,000 from both federal sources and communities along the route is funding the study.

Current passenger rail service is limited to Amtrak, which provides for travel between Port Huron and Chicago on the Bluewater Line, between Detroit and Chicago on the Wolverine Line, and between Grand Rapids and Chicago on the Pere Marquette Line. Other new projects under development include the M-1 rail along Woodward Ave. between downtown Detroit and the New Center area also known as QLINE, and the Washtenaw and Livingston Line between Ann Arbor and Howell, also known as Wally. There is also a study underway of a possible coast to coast rail link from Holland to Ann Arbor running through Grand Rapids, Lansing, and Howell.

The Groundwork study is looking at another possible route voted number 1 in a 2011 statewide rail planning process, Ann Arbor to Traverse City, with a possible spur to Petoskey. The track for this route is still in place, owned by the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), and leased and operated by the Great Lakes Central Railroad (GLC). Both MDOT and GLC support this passenger rail study. This rail is currently used for freight service. Lively shared that about 65% of it is capable of safely handling trains at 60 mph, and a daily passenger train could be added to the schedule without impacting the freight service.

In part two of this Michigan State University Extension article, we’ll learn more about the timing of the study and the potential benefits of rail travel in northern Michigan. To learn more about the Northern Michigan Counties Association, email John Amrhein at

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