Michigan will seek $20 million to $25 million of the $2.3 billion federal fund to improve the rail corridor.
Peter Anastor, director of the state Office of Rail Transportation, said his department will apply for a grant to help cover the cost of repair work on four railroad bridges that serve Amtrak passenger trains.
These structures are located between Ann Arbor and Kalamazoo on department-owned roads.
A new federal program allows states to apply for grants to build new intercity and high-speed rail lines, as well as upgrade rail corridors.
Amtrak offers three passenger routes in Michigan: the Wolverine between Pontiac and Chicago, the Pere Marquette between Grand Rapids and Chicago, and the Blue Water between Port Huron and Chicago.
Amtrak operates three trains daily in each direction at Wolverine between Chicago and Pontiac.
Some transportation-related organizations in Michigan have other concerns.
Stephen Vagnozzi, government affairs coordinator for the Michigan Railroad Passenger Association, said the organization supports keeping infrastructure reliable, but also wants to see improvements to Amtrak’s rail system.
“In addition to maintaining the existing infrastructure, we want to look at both more services and additional destinations,” Vagnozzi said.
He said frequency is an issue and hourly service between Chicago and Detroit would be an improvement, something he called “the most optimistic proposal.”
“Sold-out trains are frequent on weekends,” Vagnozzi said.
Laura Cleaver, director of the Midwest-based Illinois Interstate Passenger Railroad Commission, is also concerned about the availability and frequency of train routes in Michigan.
According to Cleaver, Michigan has a long list of rail plans, one of which is increasing frequency on the Blue Water, Wolverine and Pere Marquette routes.
“The more frequencies you have, the more people will take (the train). If you can better time yourself when you want to go, then you’re more likely to take the train than if it’s just once a day,” Cleaver said.
Next on the list, he said, will be adding service to Toledo and Cleveland from Detroit, as well as between Toronto and Detroit.
The rail passenger advocacy group is also pushing for siding improvements so freight trains can better accommodate Amtrak trains. Crossings are additional tracks that allow a train to pass another train.
The state wants to see expanded service and increased frequency, but equipment and funding are insufficient, Anastor said.
Anastor said the Legislature and governor need to address long-term funding to expand commuter service across the state.
Samuel Blatchford, a student at Michigan State University, writes for Capital News Service.