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Planning moves forward on passenger rail line through Livingston County

A proposal that would create a railroad corridor from Detroit to Traverse City, coming through Livingston County, has received funding to further along planning efforts.

Starting in Ann Arbor, with a potential alternative route to Detroit, stops along the line include Howell, Durand, Owosso, Alma, Mt. Pleasant, Clare, Cadillac, Kingsley, Traverse City, Kalkaska and Petoskey.

$1 million in funding for the State of Michigan’s 2023 Labor and Economic Opportunity budget was passed by the Michigan legislature last month to be used for a Phase II planning study on the Northern Michigan passenger rail project.

That will be combined with $1.3 million announced last week by U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg that will go to the Cadillac/Wexford Transit Authority to complete the planning study.

That money will come from the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) grant program, which supports transportation projects across the United States.

The planning study, which is expected to be completed over the next 18 months, will identify and prioritize improvements needed along the corridor as well as develop a passenger service business plan, including determining stations, transit connections, and a service schedule.

In 2018, the Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities and other partners completed an initial feasibility study that explored what it would take to get trains up and running along an active state-owned railroad corridor that runs from southeast Michigan to the Traverse City and Petoskey areas.

The study showed that the proposed service is economically viable, and since the study’s release, the state has been improving the tracks for freight and potential future passenger service. In 2019 and 2021, state lawmakers approved funding to repair tracks near Traverse City. Then, in 2022, the Michigan Department of Transportation was awarded a $21 million federal railroad grant to repair tracks just north of Ann Arbor.

“This is a major milestone in the effort to bring passenger rail service to northern Michigan and give families and workers a safe and environmentally friendly way to travel throughout state while reducing cars on our highways,” says Jim Bruckbauer, Transportation Director for Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities.

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