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Plans for passenger train connecting southeast and Northern Michigan on track

CADILLAC — The goal of getting a passenger train that connects Southeast Michigan and Northern Michigan is one step closer to completion, as phase two of the longtime plan is now in the works.

The Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities is spearheading ‘The Northern Michigan Passenger Rail Project.

It all started back in 2018, when the Groundwork Center and many state, federal, and community partners began exploring the idea of how to have passenger rail service on an existing freight line between Northern and southeast Michigan.


Transportation Program Director Jim Bruckbauer said it could include stops in Traverse City, Petoskey, Cadillac, Ann Arbor and possibly Detroit.

“There was an initial feasibility study that looked at lots of different route options and lots of different scenarios. And this phase two process will really outline what exactly this train service will look like,” said Bruckbauer.

The project, now in phase two, is about to launch a national search for a transportation planning firm and seek input from local communities along the proposed line.

“Whoever is selected will be using existing data and some of their transportation planning methods to understand what makes sense in terms of train speeds, where the stops will be located, what infrastructure is needed around potential stops to connect people to their destinations,” said Bruckbauer.


Bruckbauer said it’s going to be a ground up rather than a top-down planning process, gathering feedback from local communities.

“That’s going to happen in Traverse City and Cadillac, Mt. Pleasant and all of the communities along this rail line. Kingsley Kalkaska, other communities like Alma, Owasso, and so people on the route will have a voice and what the train service looks like,” said Bruckbauer.

The surveying should take between one and two years.

One of those communities partnering with the Groundwork Center for this project is Cadillac Wexford Transit Authority, WexExpress.


Executive Director, Carrie Thompson, said it makes sense for transit to be part of the conversation.

“It’s going to be very important that the stations are placed in the right areas. It can help revitalize downtown, like specifically like Cadillac. Being able to connect the train with buses in the community and other modalities like bikes and pathways and all of those things that make communities better,” said Thompson.

Thompson said it would benefit the community as improvements to the infrastructure continue full steam ahead.

“When you improve passenger rail, you also improve freight rail. So, it’s kind of a two for one for us, right? It’s a good thing. And it’s important to the manufacturing base here as well as tourism, to be able to move both people into the community and product in and out,” said Thompson.

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