Cadillac Hosts Community Forum on Passenger Rail Service

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The idea for passenger rail service to and from Northern Michigan is picking up speed.

Planners say the dream was put on track by the “Grand Vision” process, a three year series of public input sessions dating back to 2007.

Consultants and regional planners are holding community updates this week on rail service plans.

The Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities is hosting the events.

Tuesday night the forum rolled into the After 26 Depot building in Cadillac.

Groundwork Executive Director Hans Voss says passenger service between Traverse City and Ann Arbor is on track for a slow roll-out by the spring of 2020.

“It’s a viable proposal, and now we’ve moved this concept from a big dreamy idea to a practical plan, but now (it) has a timeline,” Voss says.

It will likely start with special events.

“As early as the spring of 2020, we’re going to be doing excursion trains, special event trains, to get people used to the idea that these tracks are in good shape and trains are running,” Voss says.

That will require changes in infrastructure and improvements to the tracks.

Voss says tracks near Traverse City are scheduled for upgrades in 2019.

Alex Metcalf is the President of Transportation Economics and Management Systems. He’s worked with rail projects throughout the country and has been working with the Groundwork Center.

“By 2025, what we’d like to see is the first scheduled passenger rail service, and eventually would like to see the train speeds improve to about 110 miles per hour,” he says.

Metcalf says a build-up of passenger traffic and trains reaching that speed would mean rail service could, in theory, operate without government subsidies.

Joy VanDrie, with the Cadillac Area Visitors Bureau, says rail service could be a huge win for all of the communities along the route.

“I’m pretty excited,” she says. “We have a lot of tourists, a lot of visitors, and a lot of residents that are very excited about being able to travel via rail back and forth, north and south.”

And Voss adds there is potential for economic growth in each community that hosts a depot.

“The potential to stimulate new economic development adjacent to the station and then providing service for all the people who get off the train will create real jobs and real economic growth,” she says.

The route is envisioned to run from Detroit to Ann Arbor with stops in Northern Michigan including Cadillac, Traverse City, Mancelona and Petoskey.

There is another community meeting scheduled for Wednesday from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Traverse Area District Library.