Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

Forums promote better railroad access

By PAIGE LaBARGE
Capital News Service

LANSING — An online transportation forum is trying to promote improvements in railroad systems throughout the state.

The website, called michiganbyrail.org, is intended to see what people in different regions want when it comes to improving rails, according to Tim Fischer, deputy policy director at the Michigan Environmental Council (MEC).

In addition to the online site, there were 18 public forums around the state.

“In every forum, we found people were interested in expanding the railroad system,” Fischer said.

The purpose of the forum is to see what each city wants and to give residents a way to interact with state programs, Fischer said.

Fischer said the information is going through a series of legislation-related meetings.

“We look at common themes expressed by the public and use that to see how Michigan rails should be fixed,” Fischer said.

One theme appeared in Traverse City, where the participants emphasized tourism and more passenger access to rail service.

“Traverse City wanted to be connected more to other parts of the state. They also wanted more rails out of Chicago and the southern part of Michigan, so more people could travel easier to the area,” Fischer said.

Chris Kolb, president of the MEC, said different communities have different transportation needs, and in Traverse City, people want tourism and visitors.

“Also, gas prices are very high for residents, and better railroad transportation would help to save money,” Kolb said.

More railroad service to northern regions of the state would also be a successful economic development tool for businesses and the tourism industry, Kolb said.

Fischer said other common themes included cities along east-west routes that want better passenger rail connections between Detroit and other large cities like Grand Rapids.

He said the other major theme is a connection among universities throughout Michigan.

“Many students don’t have cars,” Fischer said.

The forum took place because a federal law required each state to create a rail plan, which involved an investigation of the state rail systems, according to Fischer.

“It was for both passenger and freight railroads and it required a public input process,” Fischer said. “This is where we wanted to contribute and the reason why we created the forums.”

Kolb said another common accommodation that people requested was high-speed rail service between Detroit and Chicago.

“Michigan was rewarded with $161 million in federal grants to buy some of the rails between the two major cities to improve them, and we already built some new train stations,” Kolb said. “But we still need more funding to completely finish the high standards we have for transportation.”

With such improvements, people will be able to travel faster and that makes railroad transportation more appealing, he said.

Fischer added that there is only one high-speed rail in the state now, the Wolverine between Chicago and Pontiac.

Allan Green, a Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) railroad safety inspector in Traverse City, said money is a major issue.

“We are in the very beginning of this transportation change and there have been no concrete proposals for the northern parts of Michigan,” Green said. “The reason for this is funding.”

Green said further meetings in Traverse City are in the planning stages.

“For people in Traverse City, easier access is the number-one priority,” Green said.

Dave Lorenz, managing director of Travel Michigan, said better railroad systems would help tourism and allow easier traveling for business.

Travel Michigan is the official state tourism promotion agency.

Lorenz said Travel Michigan is helping to improve tourism through transportation by distributing promotional material at the Amtrak station in Chicago at Union Station.

“We pass out information packets from Michigan travel bureaus, and last year we sold 7,000 travel magazines,” Lorenz said. “We’re doing this to advertise areas in Michigan that aren’t always visited because of limited access in transportation, and hopefully our information can change that.”

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.Forums Promote better railroad access

By PAIGE LaBARGE
Capital News Service

LANSING — An online transportation forum is trying to promote improvements in railroad systems throughout the state.

The website, called michiganbyrail.org, is intended to see what people in different regions want when it comes to improving rails, according to Tim Fischer, deputy policy director at the Michigan Environmental Council (MEC).

In addition to the online site, there were 18 public forums around the state.

“In every forum, we found people were interested in expanding the railroad system,” Fischer said.

The purpose of the forum is to see what each city wants and to give residents a way to interact with state programs, Fischer said.

Fischer said the information is going through a series of legislation-related meetings.

“We look at common themes expressed by the public and use that to see how Michigan rails should be fixed,” Fischer said.

One theme appeared in Traverse City, where the participants emphasized tourism and more passenger access to rail service.

“Traverse City wanted to be connected more to other parts of the state. They also wanted more rails out of Chicago and the southern part of Michigan, so more people could travel easier to the area,” Fischer said.

Chris Kolb, president of the MEC, said different communities have different transportation needs, and in Traverse City, people want tourism and visitors.

“Also, gas prices are very high for residents, and better railroad transportation would help to save money,” Kolb said.

More railroad service to northern regions of the state would also be a successful economic development tool for businesses and the tourism industry, Kolb said.

Fischer said other common themes included cities along east-west routes that want better passenger rail connections between Detroit and other large cities like Grand Rapids.

He said the other major theme is a connection among universities throughout Michigan.

“Many students don’t have cars,” Fischer said.

The forum took place because a federal law required each state to create a rail plan, which involved an investigation of the state rail systems, according to Fischer.

“It was for both passenger and freight railroads and it required a public input process,” Fischer said. “This is where we wanted to contribute and the reason why we created the forums.”

Kolb said another common accommodation that people requested was high-speed rail service between Detroit and Chicago.

“Michigan was rewarded with $161 million in federal grants to buy some of the rails between the two major cities to improve them, and we already built some new train stations,” Kolb said. “But we still need more funding to completely finish the high standards we have for transportation.”

With such improvements, people will be able to travel faster and that makes railroad transportation more appealing, he said.

Fischer added that there is only one high-speed rail in the state now, the Wolverine between Chicago and Pontiac.

Allan Green, a Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) railroad safety inspector in Traverse City, said money is a major issue.

“We are in the very beginning of this transportation change and there have been no concrete proposals for the northern parts of Michigan,” Green said. “The reason for this is funding.”

Green said further meetings in Traverse City are in the planning stages.

“For people in Traverse City, easier access is the number-one priority,” Green said.

Dave Lorenz, managing director of Travel Michigan, said better railroad systems would help tourism and allow easier traveling for business.

Travel Michigan is the official state tourism promotion agency.

Lorenz said Travel Michigan is helping to improve tourism through transportation by distributing promotional material at the Amtrak station in Chicago at Union Station.

“We pass out information packets from Michigan travel bureaus, and last year we sold 7,000 travel magazines,” Lorenz said. “We’re doing this to advertise areas in Michigan that aren’t always visited because of limited access in transportation, and hopefully our information can change that.”

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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