With Michigan costs rising, rail group proposes surge in seats for high-speed Amtrak line

July 12, 2013

From the July 11 issue of Bridge Michigan:

Riding the rails in Michigan hasn’t been this good for a long time.

More passengers are boarding Amtrak trains on its three lines in the state. Many trains now run over 110-mph-capable track. And work will begin later this summer to bring even more track up to 110-mph speeds.

Yet, come Oct. 1, the state also will have to increase its subsidy for Amtrak service by more than 200 percent.

Michigan, along with California and Illinois, is awaiting the construction of new rail cars with all the modern conveniences, but deliveries won’t start until 2016. And those new cars won’t allow Michigan to ramp up service to bag the customers it needs, says James Coston of Corridor Capital LLC in Chicago.

Coston is part of a small group – ranging from himself to a former congressman in Battle Creek to an Owosso-based railroad firm — pushing an unusual plan… to double the number of trains on the Detroit-Chicago run – eventually.

His firm has acquired 50 old double-decker cars, which he proposes to rehab, with the help of a Michigan firm, Great Lakes Central Railroad. The state would then lease or buy the cars, eventually allowing Amtrak to double the roundtrip runs between Detroit and Chicago from the current three per day to six, and maybe even to eight or 10.

“…Chicago-Detroit is the most robust corridor between the coasts. It has two major metros at its ends and significant cities along it, such as Kalamazoo and Ann Arbor,” Coston explained. “It’s filling up trains on weekends. … No one can predict how the demand is going to explode…”

Coston argues that the best way for Michigan to compensate for higher costs is to make more money by increasing capacity.“In order to push revenue up to help, you need more seats,” he said. “These trains will have more capacity than Amtrak trains, which are, right now, operating at 1,500 seats. We are proposing almost 4,400 seats on daily basis on roundtrips. When you match demand, projections and new capacity and add frequencies, you start to generate enough revenue and trains pay for themselves…”

Read the rest of the article in Bridge Michigan.

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