On Dec. 10, the first Amtrak train of the day after 6 a.m. was the first ever to make a stop at Dearborn’s new transit center at 21201 Michigan Ave. (near Brady Street at the entrance to the west downtown business district).
Amtrak is moving its operations from the smaller train station behind the Dearborn Police Station at 16099 Michigan Ave., and is opening the new station at the 21201 Michigan Ave. site a few days prior to the dedication. The Monday morning grand opening and dedication of the John D. Dingell Transit Center will have a formal program which the city emphasizes will be by invitation-only, but the city also invites the public to an open house from 4-6 p.m. that day.
The public can tour the station and view informative displays. Though the open house scheduled for Dec. 15 will not have a formal program, Katie Hetrick of the Dearborn Department of Information (who is helping plan the station opening) announced that representatives from the Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers will be in attendance at the open house
“(They) will answer questions and distribute information about Amtrak travel,” Hetrick said. “We also expect to have someone from SEMCOG to talk about MiTrain, the planned commuter route connecting Ann Arbor, Wayne/Detroit Metro, Dearborn and Detroit.
“A MiTrain commuter car will be on display just south of the station on The Henry Ford property,” she said.
The Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit corporation established in 1973 to improve passenger train service and travel conditions for passengers, and to work for the preservation of historic rail stations. The 300-member organization publishes the Michigan Passenger quarterly and maintains a website at www.marp.org.
The Southeast Michigan Council of Governments was established in 1968 as a regional planning partnership in southeast Michigan. Membership is open to all counties, cities, villages, townships, intermediate school districts, community colleges, and public universities in Livingston, Macomb, Monroe, Oakland, St. Clair, Washtenaw, and Wayne Counties. SEMCOG supports local planning through its technical, data, and intergovernmental resources; and as the region’s designated Metropolitan Planning Organization; SEMCOG is responsible for regional transportation planning.
The construction of the new 16,000-square foot station was fully funded with $28.2 million in federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) dollars. The new intermodal passenger rail station is intended to connect travelers via train, bus, taxi and pedestrian/biking paths to work, education, cultural attractions, shopping and recreation in Dearborn and beyond.
The transit center features a pedestrian bridge over the tracks that will allow travelers to access a new entrance to The Henry Ford complex (the Henry Ford Museum, Greenfield Village, IMAX theater, Ford Rouge Factory Tours). The Henry Ford will have historic displays within the center (including a Davenport train engine), and the Ford Motor Co. plans to display a new F-150 at the transit center.
“The Henry Ford will have displays in the new transit center, and the hope is to add a kiosk or rack with information for visitors,” Hetrick said. “The station has room to create some small retail spaces inside.
“We also hope to soon be able to display one of Ford’s new F150 trucks with the all-aluminum body. The trucks are being assembled at the Rouge Plant in Dearborn,” she said.
Also inside the building is a large tile mural created by students and volunteers in the Pockets of Perception (POP) art project. Led by the Dearborn Community Fund, POP brings together high school students from across Dearborn to create community art. Students designed the mural and enlisted volunteers to help create some of the tiles.
A POP representative will be on hand during Monday’s open house to share more information on the project. Those attending the open house can enter a drawing to win free tickets to The Henry Ford’s Holiday Nights in Greenfield Village, and they can also get a look inside the MITrain car (positioned outside the station on The Henry Ford’s side). While the DPI hopes to provide information at the open house on parking; and on how passengers at the Transit Center can use the station’s intermodal transportation to connect with bus, taxi and bike transportation; Hetrick admits “some of those details for those services are still being worked out.
“Shuttles and other services should increase when the commuter rail starts running,” Hetrick said. “Bikes are allowed on Amtrak and SMART buses and will be allowed on MiTrain.
“Bike racks are installed outside the station. I can see serious bikers using the station to connect to the Rouge River trail, which starts across the street,” she said.
Walkers and bikers will be able to cross Michigan Avenue safely now that the stop light in front of the station is operating, according to Hetrick. While the downtown is directly accessible from the station only by pedestrians, Hetrick said it is obvious that the city desires the vacant property standing between it and the downtown (next to the station and west of Elm) be improved in the future.
“Development experts predicted the city would see millions of dollars in commercial and residential development connected to the station,” she said. “Outside experts worked with the city to create a Transit Oriented Development plan for the area.
“While all of the suggestions in the plan will probably not be realized, city officials are excited to see what will develop as a result of the station opening. Tim Hortons is already building a new site just outside the station,” Hetrick concluded.
The city of Dearborn owns the station and seven-acre site, and Amtrak will run the facility. The six Amtrak trains that stopped daily at the existing Dearborn Amtrak station (almost 79,000 passengers used it in fiscal year 2014) will continue to stop daily at Dingell Transit Center. Currently, about 1.6 million people yearly visit The Henry Ford.
The city publicly stated it regards the new station as “an important component” in initiatives to boost commuter rail from Ann Arbor to Detroit, and accelerated speed rail from Pontiac to Chicago. The completely refurbished double-decker commuter MITrain cars are to be used to connect passengers to Ann Arbor, Detroit Metro Airport, Dearborn and Detroit in the future. The city expects commuter service to be added between Ann Arbor and Detroit, with faster and more frequent Amtrak trains, in the coming years.
“Dearborn is excited to be part of the future of rail,” said Mayor John B. O’Reilly Jr., who is scheduled to join Dingell, Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo, Michigan Department of Transportation Director Kirk Steudle, The Henry Ford President Patricia Mooradian and Tom Carper from the Amtrak board of directors as speakers at the morning dedication. “We will continue to work with our partners to increase convenient travel that starts in Dearborn and takes rides throughout southeast Michigan, as well as between Dearborn and Chicago.”
The state of Michigan has partnered with Indiana and Illinois in currently working on a plan to add trains to, and improve the reliability of, the travel-time schedule of the 300-mile-long corridor linking Pontiac and Detroit to Chicago. Public comment is still being taken until Dec. 19 on a draft environmental impact study presenting the proposed project’s purpose and need. This Tier 1 Draft EIS for the Chicago-Detroit/Pontiac Passenger Rail Corridor Program also identifies route alternatives, the affected environment, and analyzes the potential environmental impacts of the alternatives considered.
According to Larry Krieg, the chair of the advocacy organization Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers, the study focuses on alleviating “a major choke-point in the busy rail corridor at the south end of Lake Michigan.” By the state’s acquisition of track between Dearborn and Kalamazoo for upgrading, and increasing speeds to 110 mph between Kalamazoo and the Indiana border, the association suggests as much as two hours of train travel time could be cut between Chicago and Pontiac.
This draft study is available on CD at the Dearborn Administrative Center, 16901 Michigan Ave.; as well as public libraries: Henry Ford Centennial Library, 16301 Michigan Ave.; Esper Branch Library, 12929 W. Warren Ave.; the Caroline Kennedy Library, 24590 George St., Dearborn Heights; John F. Kennedy Jr. Library, 24602 Van Born Road, Dearborn Heights; and Bryant Branch Library, 22100 Michigan Ave. A self-guided presentation with more information is also available on the www.GreatLakesRail.org website.
Anyone who has not attended one of the public hearings on the study draft can still provide a comment by next week: by using the online comment form at http://greatlakesrail.org/~grtlakes/index.php/site/contact-us, mailing written comments (addressed to Robert Parsons, Public Hearings Officer, Michigan Department of Transportation, P.O. Box 30050, Lansing, MI 48909), emailing MDOT-HSR-Detroit-Pontiac-Chicago@michigan.gov, or calling the toll-free number at (877) 351-0853.
SEMCOG is working to establish commuter rail service between Ann Arbor and Detroit within a segment of the Pontiac/Detroit-Chicago Amtrak corridor, using much of the existing infrastructure in place whenever possible (SEMCOG and the Michigan Department of Transportation are working closely with Federal Railroad Administration to ensure the commuter and Amtrak service track improvements are coordinated). Two new stations in Ypsilanti and the airport would be added to the existing Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Detroit New Center Amtrak stations.
SEMCOG has completed refurbishing all of the passenger coaches, SEMCOG Coordinator Alex Bourgeau said, so they are ready to be used with the cabs (push-pull locomotives that engineers will be driving to control the MITrain cars from the rear). He added that the installation of restrooms are currently in process.
But completing the track improvements are still a couple years away, Bourgeau said, as the environmental review and construction are yet to be done (some new construction is underway on the West Detroit Connection Track to the New Center station). Bourgeau has been assured that the environmental should go faster, since the track improvements take place only in the existing right-of-way, not involving any wetlands.
In the meantime, SEMCOG has been displaying its completed MITrain cars, showing them of last year in the Ypsilanti Heritage Festival, Ann Arbor’s Mayor’s Green Fair, and Hamburg Township Historical Days. This year, parking the MITrain car under the pedestrian bridge, on The Henry Ford side of’ the tracks, will be the car’s third display after Howell, and doing the Polar Express for the Steam Railroading Institute in Owosso. Bourgeau hopes SEMCOG will start using special commuter trains by next year, for events such as Detroit Tiger games or parades.
The transit center has a silver certification from the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design (LEED). The building has a metal roof with solar collectors, energy-efficient lighting, and geothermal heating and cooling.
The old station, also owned by the city of Dearborn, will now be closed, Hetrick said. She noted the long-range plan for the site is a new building for the Dearborn Animal Shelter, and that Friends for the Dearborn Animal Shelter have been fund-raising for a more accessible location for the shelter and its patrons.
For further information on the Dec. 15 official opening of the Dingell Transit Center, call Hetrick at (313) 943-2183 or DPI Director Mary Laudroche at (313) 943-2285, or go to the city’s website as updates are posted.