|Penn Central Railroad's Michigan Executive service schedule, October1974|
Ten years later, the Southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority (RTA) included a similar proposal in its Regional Transit Master Plan. This proposal included more than just “commuter service” the plan was for eight trains each way during the week, fewer on weekends. Unfortunately, when the proposal went to the voters for funding in November, 2016, it lost by less than 1 percent of the vote in the four-county Southeast Michigan RTA district.
|RTA Transit Master Plan, with Wake Up Washtenaw proposed additions (see blogs of 2017-02-17 and 2017-03-10)|
But Ypsilanti had already been discussing the need for a station platform. Amtrak officials agreed that some or all of the Wolverine Service trains would stop at Ypsi, in large part because of the presence of Eastern Michigan University and its more than 21,000 students. In March of 2016, state and local elected officials formally kicked off a two million dollar project to design, acquire permits, and construct a platform with transit-style shelters. Funds were raised from non-profits as well as the Ypsilanti City Council.
|Bergmann/OHM Ypsilanti Staion Plan 1a|
In July of 2016, the two engineering firms contracted for the job, Bergman and OHM, had presented several possible station models, from a single platform with six shelters, to a two-platform layout with overhead crossover, elevators, and accessible ramps. But City Council had other problems to deal with, including massive debt for a contaminated property in the City. By October, Council put the project on hold, and it has remained on hold ever since.
|Bergmann/OHM Ypsilanti Station Plan 3a|
Many people ask, “Why not use the Freight House?” The Ypsilanti Freight House is a classic 19th century building that has been repaired and renovated by a dedicated group of Ypsi citizens, the Friends of the Ypsilanti Freight House. It’s a grand old building; noble, but nothing fancy. However, it is a Michigan Historic Building, and no alterations are permitted. This has ruled out using it for passengers, because it would require extending the existing platforms and substantially changing the shape and appearance of the building.
|Ypsilanti Freight House historic building plaque.|
|Rep. Ronnie Peterson|
54th District, Michigan House
Nothing daunted, Rep. Peterson has undertaken to raise support in other ways. He has held discussions with Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) and Amtrak. He has requested staff support from the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority (AAATA). And he has organized a spectacular event to raise awareness and get the process moving again.
|Derrick James, Amtrak|
|Amtrak Wolverine Service 350, boarding passengers on Cross Street, Ypsilanti|
Many of the group had never traveled by train, and were amazed at the comfort in Coachclass, at the quiet running, the smooth ride, and the apparent speed of the train. Most were surprised how quickly and easily the train brought them to Detroit, after a brief stop in Dearborn’s beautiful new Dingell Transportation Center. John O’Reilly, Mayor of Dearborn, was among the enthusiastic participants.
|Sean Duval, President, Golden Limousine|
As if that was not enough, the group was treated to a beautiful tour of the Detroit Institute of Arts, including explanations of the unforgettable Diego Rivera Detroit Industry murals, and a special exhibit of Claude Monet and Frederick Church paintings.
Heading home, a lively duet was playing for the group and fellow passengers in the Detroit Amtrak station. Train 355 arrived pretty much on time, and again group members were impressed by the rapid comfort of the trip to Ypsilanti.
Arriving in Ypsi, crowds of Friday night revelers were on hand. Normally unfazed by Amtrak blasting noisily through the middle of Depot Town, many were amazed to see the train stop, and a large group of passengers actually get off. One young woman danced around hugging her friends, shouting, “The train is coming! The train is coming!”
|Amtrak Wolverine Service 355 stopping in Cross Street to let off tour group. Enthusiastic onlookers, hugs.|
Impressive as the event was, there is clearly a great deal of work to be done. The first step is for Ypsilanti City Council to approve continuation of the station project. This should be somewhat easier, now that city voters have approved a debt retirement millage, freeing the city from the “albatross hanging around its neck” or at least giving it some breathing room to invest in its future. Many details need to be ironed out, but the enthusiasm generated by this event seems very likely to translate into action.