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All aboard?

Metro Detroit commuter train possible in 2007
Years of studying rapid transit between Detroit and Ann Arbor may bear fruit this year. The Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) is proposing a trial commuter train service that could start up within the year and connect to Oakland County as well.

This service will not be as extensive as many people hoped. In November 2006, SEMCOG released the results of the much-anticipated Ann Arbor-Detroit Rapid Transit Study, concluding that predicted low ridership and high cost make it unlikely that the project will receive significant federal funding.

However, SEMCOG’s proposal for a locally-funded demonstration commuter train would provide real commuter train service for the first time in 20 years, and could generate ridership numbers to bolster the case for federal funding.

This demonstration service would run approximately eight commuter train trips each way each day on the existing Amtrak route from Ann Arbor to Detroit and potentially into Oakland County. There could be train stops in Chelsea, Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Wayne (with shuttles to Metro Airport), Dearborn, Detroit’s New Center/Techtown area, Royal Oak, Birmingham/Troy and Pontiac.

The demonstration service is quite promising but faces several challenges. In order to be successful, service must be convenient, comfortable and timely, or ridership will suffer. The new service must be negotiated with the rail-freight companies that own these tracks, to ensure that the new service is not frequently delayed by freight trains.

If done right, this could be a wonderful first step towards quality regional rapid transit. However, if done cheaply without concern for the rider experience, the result could be slow service in uncomfortable trains with frequent delays. It is critical that SEMCOG, the state, the counties and the cities all make serious investments in this initial service.

Commuter trains decrease traffic congestion, air pollution and global warming gasses, and encourage urban revitalization. The demonstration service could be the backbone of a true regional rapid transit system for greater Detroit. For more info or to get involved, visit www.DetroitTransit.org.
-Megan Owens, Transportation Riders United
RELATED TOPICS: transportation policy
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