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Ann Arbor to Traverse City Passenger Rail Project Picking Up Steam

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For over ten years, the Ann Arbor to Traverse City (A2TC) Passenger Rail Project has been a discussion across the state.

After COVID-19 put a halt on the project, those involved in the plan are ready to get it back on track.

“This is really about bringing rail back,” said Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities Transportation Program Manager Carolyn Ulstad. “To us, having other transportation modes beyond just the car to get around, that meant that rail was important and we should have that in our community.”

Their most recent victory was Monday’s signing of President Biden’s $1 Trillion

“It’s a historic time. We have never in a very very long time seen this much rail investment within the entire country, and then within our state,” said Ulstad. “We are really excited that rail is a big component of this.”

This past summer, Groundwork Center applied for a $700,000 U.S. Department of Transportation grant, which would fund a federal study by the Federal Railroad Administration.

“The Federal Railroad Administration requires certain studies to be done before can establish a passenger service,” said Ulstad. “We’ve been working with our partners along the line, and also with our state representatives, senators, our elected officials and then also MDOT to apply for grants to get those studies in place.”

Groundwork Center completed a local feasibility study in 2018, but this study from the FRA, Ulstad says, would be different.

“This study would be much more focused, much more detailed, and look much closer at costs and also how the system would function,” she said.

They’re hoping to hear if they got the grant in the next couple of weeks.

“It’s a pretty robust study that usually takes a rail consultant about a year to complete,” said Ulstad.

Trevor Tkach, President and CEO of Traverse City Tourism, has been following this project closely.

“It definitely adds an element of excitement, it’s something that tourists and locals would both be very interested in,” he said.

Tkach is hopeful these new developments will continue to keep the project going.

“Having a new novel way, nostalgic way to come north and be a part of all the excitement of Traverse City is very exciting for them, but also for us in northern Michigan having a chance to head down south,” he said. “There’s a lot of potential and a lot of interest and excitement around this.”

One thing Groundwork Center is hoping to bring in 2022 is “event trains”—a small scale train ride that would occur along a portion of the A2TC railway.

“They have that tactical experience with something people can really identify with, they’re in the train, they see it’s in place,” said Ulstad. “We’ve been talking with different rail organizations that have the trains, have staff. Now it’s just kind of determining what date we want to land on and where we want that event train to go. We can do something up to Traverse City now that line is open up into the city here, we can also do events mid-state, down state.”

Ulstad says while A2TC has a long way to go before the project is complete, they still want to keep people interested.

“[The FRA] study will take about a year, so that’s a few years in time just for the studies,” she said. “In the meantime, we want to be able to get people on the tracks, experiencing it, and kind of building that momentum.”

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