By BOB OLIVER
DEARBORN — Senior project managers from the Michigan Department of Transportation and a Lansing-based engineering and planning firm came together to update residents about progress made in creating a high-speed passenger rail line between Pontiac and Chicago.
A presentation of the rail line was given at the DoubleTree Hotel in Detroit on Sept. 24.
The managers discussed MDOT’s “Passenger Rail Corridor Program,” which is focused on the 300-mile stretch between the cities. Passenger rails traveling on the line can reach a maximum speed on 110 mph in some stretches but are considerably slowed down in others.
The section with the slowest speed, between Chicago and Porter, Ind., was the focus of the route planners at the meeting.
The section is under scrutiny because the train speed greatly reduces due to freight traffic, which has the right of way, and because there are many tracks through the area, but none dedicated to double-track passenger rail, which MDOT is looking for.
MDOT Senior Project Manager Mohammed Alghurabi said the section being discussed was not in Dearborn or southeast Michigan, but that it was still an important part of the conversation.
“If we can’t come up with a solution to the piece between Porter and Chicago, what’s the point of even getting on a high speed rail train?” Alghurabi said.
Alghurabi also said the line drastically slows down through Porter, down to speeds around 35 mph, but from Porter to Kalamazoo it reach speeds of 110 mph. The reduction in speed greatly adjusts the total rail time of the commute for passengers.
“We need a route going through the area south of (Lake Michigan) that will allow the rail to continue to stay high speed, not 110 mph, but a higher speed than 35 mph, through the area leading in to Chicago’s Union Station,” Alghurabi said. “That will encourage more people to take the passenger rail, because anyone who has tried to make the journey by rail knows that there is a drastic slowdown in that area.”
Porter is situated just south of Lake Michigan, leading planners to dub the area the route will travel through as the “South of the Lake” section.
Alghurabi added that the rail line between Kalamazoo and Dearborn, roughly 130 miles, was purchased earlier this year by the state of Michigan from Norfolk Southern, and MDOT is in the process of improving line so that trains can reach speeds of 110 mph.
HNTB Corp. Senior Project Manager Matt Webb said that by going through all of the rail lines owned and operated along the whole corridor, there are 85 possible routes for a train to take to make it through Porter.
He said that by going through each route and using a system of elimination that included factors like freight traffic and how many rail changes would be necessary because the rails are owned by different companies, they were able to narrow the possible routes to four.
Webb said they are looking for public help in reducing that number and creating a definitive route through Porter. He added that maps and slides of the area in question can be found online.
Alghurabi said that MDOT and the transportation departments for Indiana and Illinois plan to continue doing research and accepting community comments and then complete their research and submit their recommendation on the rail path through Porter to the FRA in the spring of 2014. A final plan is expected by the end of that year.
Comments and opinions about the rail route can be submitted by filling out a comment card online at www.greatlakesrail.org, calling 877-351-0853 or by mailing a letter to MDOT Public Involvement and Hearing Officer Bob Parsons at the Van Wagoner Building, P.O. Box 30050, Lansing MI, 48909.
Webb advised those wishing to submit comments to do so before Oct. 28.
(Bob Oliver can be reached at [email protected])