Friday, June 29, 2012

Can government do a good enough job?

I'd like to continue my series of German railways by thinking about how well "government" can do at running railways. Here in the U.S., many of the opponents of passenger rail are not only opposed to spending tax money on it, but hold the philosophical position that "government" cannot, by it very nature, do as good a job as private enterprise.

Most of the passenger railways in Europe, including Germany, are owned and operated by government agencies comparable to Amtrak. How are they doing? Is there significant customer dissatisfaction?

Fortunately, we have the British model to compare them with: The U.K. reorganized its rail system in the 1980s, retaining ownership and responsibility for the track and traffic control, but letting private companies operate the trains. How does that system, instituted during the conservative government of Margaret Thatcher, compare with the state-run systems in the rest of Europe?

Personal observation

When I was in Germany last month, I have to say that service was quite good. Punctuality was not as good as on Japanese railways, which was generally good enough to set your watch by - that is, within a minute of the scheduled time. German trains were occasionally 5-10 minutes late, but normally within a couple of minutes of schedule. Courtesy of staff and cleanliness of the trains was quite good, though there was one railway travel agent who seemed to find me a nuisance; but he was counter-balanced by two who were very friendly and helpful.
My last visit to England was 12 years ago, but at that time the punctuality was about the same as Germany's is now. We found the train and station staff to be reasonably courteous, not exceptional in any notable way.

Survey: England

This survey by Passenger Focus, "the independent consumer watchdog for Britain’s rail passengers and England’s bus, coach and tram passengers", was summarized in RailPersonnel:
1. 26 January 2012. UK. Big differences in train passenger satisfaction

A survey of rail passengers has found a massive difference in levels of customer satisfaction depending on the area in which customers are traveling. Passenger Focus, which surveyed 30,590 rail travelers for its annual study, said the satisfaction scores for individual routes provided by different firms varied from 72% to 95%. Nationally, the percentage of passengers satisfied with their journey overall remained the same, at 84%. National Express East Anglia had the lowest overall satisfaction rating at 77%, while Grand Central, which operates routes between London King's Cross and the north of England, had the highest rating, at 95%.
So this survey confirms what most of us already knew about private companies: some are much better than others. Still, the 77% approval for National Express East Anglia isn't horrible, and Grand Central's 95% rating is truly commendable. (DB operates service in five areas of the UK under the "Arriva Group" name; their Grand Central lines to York won the top UK satisfaction rating of 95%, but other companies in the group earned a range of ratings down to CrossCountry's 82%.)

Survey: Germany

I haven't found any independent survey of German rail passenger satisfaction, but Deutsche Bahn (DB) does conduct its own survey. Interestingly - and inconveniently for us - DB asked survey participants to "grade" their experience using the German school grading system, where 1 is the highest grade and 6 the lowest. This makes is difficult to compare the results of their survey with that of the UK. DB's overall "grade" was 2.8, which corresponds roughly to 70% using my home-grown conversion formula; in US school grades, 2.8 is closer to a B- or C+. Either way you look at it, that grade leaves plenty of room for improvement!


Given the difference in survey reporting and methodology, it would be unwise to put too much weight on the differences between Germany and the UK. However, the competition between private railway companies in the UK does seem to have led to some very high satisfaction ratings, and all the companies have done at least as well as DB. This affirms Wake Up Washtenaw's position encouraging more private participation in public transportation.

To learn more:

Monday, June 25, 2012

WALLY in Texas - part 2

In the previous post, I mentioned two WALLY-like commuter rail projects in Texas: Austin and Denton. I wrote about Austin's, so let's take a look now at Denton's.

Denton County A-Train

In conversation with Charles Emery, Chairman of the Denton County Transportation Authority (DCTA), I learned that Denton County began its efforts to use this rail line in June of 2001, the first year of DCTA's existence. Mr. Emery and his friends were very active in promoting the A-Train concept, bringing their message to each jurisdiction within Denton County, to Austin (the state capital), and to Washington D.C.

The Alternatives Analysis, begun in 2004 and approved in 2005, recommended the route now being used, just east of I-35E. The Final Environmental Impact Statement was completed three years later, but rather than apply for Federal funds, DCTA used funds from the Regional Transportation Council and a local sales tax, the latter approved by 72% of county voters in 2010.

As usual with old rail lines, a fair amount of work had to be done to make it suitable for passenger traffic. Stations were designed and built, track was doubled at some of the stations, and an overpass was built to clear a busy highway. A long bridge over an arm of Lewisville Lake appears to have been in good enough condition to leave as-is.

Interestingly, many of the crossings were modified to meet recently-issued "quiet zones" standards, where sounding the train horn is only required if the engineer considers the situation to be of concern. In order to be a "quiet zone", the Federal Railway Administration (FRA) requires measures that prevent motorists from driving around lowered gates. One grade crossing has "wayside horns" which are intended to focus the warning sounds onto the roadway, thus reducing the overall noise level. (These don't meet the noise reduction goal, in my opinion. A train is required to sound the warning pattern only once, but the wayside horns sound the pattern repeatedly, until the train has entered the crossing - and they're loud and ugly-sounding!)

Budd RDCs on DCTA's line approaching Medpark Station from the south
When the line was ready for service, the railcars that had been ordered were neither ready nor approved by the FRA. So DCTA leased ten classic Budd rail diesel cars (RDCs) from DART. These cars had been used by Trinity Railway Express for several years, running between Dallas and Fort Worth. And before that, they had been in use since the 1950s and '60s on various railways around the country and in Canada. Using the Budds, service began on June 20, 2011, and when I rode the A-Train last Thursday, these sturdy classics were going strong. Chatting with the conductor, however, I learned that keeping them running was both expensive and difficult: parts are no longer available for them, so when anything wears out, parts have to be machined individually. They are also heavy, meaning that they use much more fuel than the lighter Stadler vehicles which were on order. But I was thrilled to be able to ride such classic railcars! They give a feeling of solid, dependable comfort, despite their practical difficulties.

It was during my chat with the conductor that I learned the Stadler railcars had arrived several months ago. They are made in Switzerland, not far from Zurich, and are very widely used in Europe. (I saw many of them in local service when I was in Germany last month). As I mentioned in the Austin post, because they are made to European standards, the FRA restricted their use to tracks that have no "heavy" U.S. built passenger or freight running on them. Two weeks previously, however, the FRA issued a waiver for the Stadlers, so DCTA would be running one the first time in revenue service on Saturday.
So with some careful planning, I arrived at Trinity Mills Station, where passengers can transfer from the DART Green Line to the DCTA A-Train. I was in plenty of time to set up my tripod and get video footage of the Stadler's first revenue arrival; that footage (unedited) is up on YouTube.

Left: DCTA Chief Operating Officer, mechanic (in camoflage);
Right: Federal Railroad Administration officer

On board, I found a group of happy officials, including Mr. Emery, several other DCTA Board members, operating officials, a representative of the Federal Railway Administration, a Stadler customer engineer, and a DCTA mechanic - one of the "magicians" who had kept the Budd RDCs going. Oh yes - and several wives, children, and grandchildren of DCTA people, not to mention a few dazed-looking passengers who were just trying to get from point A to point B. I was honored to be the second person to have their ticket checked by the conductor (but disappointed not to be the first!).

From Wikipedia:

A-train (Denton County Transportation Authority)

I want to give the Stadler vehicles a full posting on their own, so I won't say any more about them here. Instead, let's look at the DCTA line and its performance so far. I've said this is like the WALLY line, and it many respects it is. But there are some important differences, too. Unlike WALLY and Austin's MetroRail, the A-Train line does not have a single, well identified "anchor". For Austin, it's the city's downtown. For WALLY, it's the University of Michigan's North Campus and the hospital. A-Train runs from Trinity Mills Station in North Carrollton (population 119,097), a suburb 20 miles north of downtown Dallas, to Denton (pop. 113,383), a suburb 41 miles north. And Denton is home to the University of North Texas (enrollment about 34,000) and a campus of Texas Woman's University (enrollment about 15,000) giving it a student population of about 49,000. (University of Michigan enrolls about 43,000.) DCTA runs the campus bus service for UNT.

The line has a total of six stations. Just south of Denton, served by the Medpark station, is a cluster of medical facilities: Denton Regional Hospital, a 208-bed full-service facility; North Texas Hospital, a smaller organization; and the usual group of doctors' offices that surround hospitals. Medpark station is also the site of an obvious transit-oriented development, an expanding apartment complex.
Apartment complex expanding at Medpark Station

Another obvious TOD is Victoria Station in Denton (not a real station), which looks like a renovated legacy building, but is actually newly built one block from the Denton transit center.
Victoria "Station" - new apartments 1 block from Denton Intermodal Transit Center
South of Medpark are three intermediate stations that are suburban in character and - like all the others - feature large park-and-ride lots.

This Denton Transit Center anchors the north end of the line. It's a new facility that includes a large, air-conditioned waiting room, ticket office, meeting rooms, operator lounge, public rest rooms and parking lot. There are bus bays for several local bus lines. The train platform is across the bus drive from the building and fenced off so that passengers have to walk around to one end or the other to reach the platform itself - a minor inconvenience.
Denton Intermodal Transit Center
Left: Park-and-Ride, Waiting-Ticketing-Meeting
Right: A-Train shelter and platform

Yonah Freemark, in The Transport Politic, has criticized the A-Train pretty harshly. Without actually using the phrase, he described it as a train to nowhere. It is true that the south end at Trinity Mills station isn't a destination in itself - it's a transfer point to the Green Line light rail. Freemark points out that the DCTA express bus (route 101) gets to downtown Dallas faster than taking the train and changing to light rail.

He offers the helpful suggestion of running the A-Train on the light rail line to downtown as a "tram-train", but wonders why DART would want to let DCTA do this. My observation has been that the region's transit agencies are very cooperative with one another - DART cooperates with Fort Worth's system, "The T" and jointly, these two agencies own Trinity Railway Express, the commuter line that connects Dallas with Fort Worth and the DFW Airport. With light rail running at 20-minute peak hour headways, it should be a fairly trivial dispatching exercise to run the A-Train as a limited express to downtown and back, stopping only at stations like Bachman (where the Orange Line branches off toward DFW airport), Inwood-Love Field (Dallas's second airport), Parkland Medical station, and Victory station (sports arena and transfer point for the TRE) before leaving the Green Line and arriving at Dallas Union Station. This doesn't involve any "street running", and the weight of the Stadler units is probably comparable to light rail vehicles; so if FRA and FTA give their approval for the operation (granted: a non-trivial assumption!) all that's needed would be a short track connecting the DCTA and DART lines at Trinity Mills.

Left: DCTA Small Cities Board Member Tom Spencer
Right: DCTA Boad Chair Charles Emery
Freemark certainly makes good points, but much of what he faults the A-Train for is...not doing everything at once. DCTA is making a good start with a view to encouraging sustainable development around transit stations. Mr. Emery emphasized to me his concern about unsustainable sprawl in Denton County, and explained his vision of using the rail service as both an alternative to the high cost of driving, and as a catalyst for more compact, walkable development. Emery is a man of vision who knows how to make dreams come true. I applaud him for that, and wish for the A-Train both great ridership and significant TOD.

Dallas-area Rail Services

To conclude my posts on transit in Texas (for now, anyway), here's a summary of rail in the Dallas area.

The Dallas area has equipped itself with several rail transit services in the last couple of decades:

  • Light rail, starting about 1996: Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) Red, Blue, and Green lines in operation; Orange line under construction.
  • Trinity Railway Express, starting in December, 1996: a commuter line connecting Dallas with Fort Worth and DFW International Airport (main hub of American Airlines)
  • Denton County A-Train, began service in June, 2011: the newest addition, running from North Carrollton to Denton.
DART and Fort Worth's transit agency, "The T", each own 50% of Trinity Railway Express (TRE). They are considering a fourth area rail service, another commuter line using an existing rail corridor originally owed by the Cotton Belt Railroad, and now mostly owned by DART. North Texas is a prime illustration of how an automobile-dominated region can quickly come to realize the important benefits of rail transit. It takes cooperation between jurisdictions, vision, and persistence, but once a single rail line is in, citizens and businesses can't get enough.

To learn more:

Thursday, June 21, 2012

WALLY in Texas x 2

Yes, two very similar projects in Texas are a lot like WALLY, the Washtenaw-Livingston commuter rail projects.

Both the Texas projects head north from a larger city to a rural/suburban area, just as WALLY will. The two Texas lines are the Capital MetroRail, from downtown Austin to the northern suburb of Leander; and the Denton County Transit Authority's A-Train, from Carrollton (itself a northern suburb of Dallas) to Denton, a town even farther north. I've had the opportunity to talk to the people who spearheaded each of these rail lines, and over the past few days have ridden each line from end to end.

Capital MetroRail

I blogged about this line in 2009 (links below) before it opened for business. Austin to Leander service started in March of 2010 on 32 miles of existing freight railroad with improvements to allow higher speeds and avoid conflicts with freight traffic. Like WALLY, the rail line is actually owned by the government - in this case, by Austin's Capital Metro itself. And like the Michigan's state-owned rail lines, it was purchased in the 1980s (1986, to be exact) when the original railroad-owners put it up for abandonment.
The line serves nine stations, including some in Austin's urban area and others with large park-and-ride lots in suburbs.When service started in 2010, trains ran only in rush hour, but now 18 trains are run in each direction Monday-Thursday. Beginning this month (June 3), six more trains were added each way on Friday evening, plus Saturday service with 14 trip-pairs in the afternoon and evening, to allow riders access to Austin's sports, music, and entertainment. During the first year, ridership averaged 1800 daily, but overall ridership will probably go up now that extra trains are running.

I say "trains", but that may be a bit misleading. Capital Metro runs single, articulated Stadler GTW 2/6 rail diesel cars, with seats for 108 and standing room for 92 more - a total of 200 passengers. These are run in the street for a couple of blocks in downtown Austin, and on the shared track the rest of the way. Because they are built in Switzerland to European standards, they are not allowed to at the same time as freight trains, so the freights are allowed to run only when the Stadler cars aren't running. The Austin and Western Railroad, the short-line which runs the freights, is not apparently inconvenienced by that arrangement.

Among the improvements made before passenger service began: the line was leveled for higher-speed (I believe they run up to 79 MPH), and passing-tracks were built at several of the stations. Schedules are arranged so that northbound and southbound trains meet at these stations; there were no delays due to late trains when I rode on June 18, so the arrangement seems to work well.

What about transit-oriented development? There is some, but it's not coming as fast as former Leander Mayor John Cowman hoped. I didn't have a chance to talk to Mr. Cowman or look around as much as I would have liked, and I can't find any evidence that the Valence Technology plant (mentioned in the October 23 blog) was actually built.
I discussed the rail initiative with Mr. Cowman in October, 2009, at the Rail~Volution conference in Boston. You can read the summary in my October 31 entry (linked below). One thing that stood out: it took a tremendous amount of energy, "moxie", and political maneuvering to arrive at agreement to go forward with the rail initiative. It didn't just happen through the normal bureaucratic process!

I'll blog about the Denton County line next time...
To learn more:

Monday, June 11, 2012

Sustainable Lifestyle in the Black Forest

They worked hard, they lived sustainably, and they lived well.

Black Forest house built 1599.
(Freilichtmuseum Vogtsbaurerhof, Hausach, Germany)
That's my conclusion after getting acquainted with the pre-industrial lifestyle of the Black Forest region (Schwartzwald) of Southwestern Germany.

It was only a short visit (in space, not time!), but I was quite impressed. My cousin, Franzjörg Krieg, was born in 1948 in Rotenfels, a small town in the Black Forest. His father Heinrich was a Master Wagner (wagon-maker), and Franzjörg learned much of the craft as a boy in the old-fashioned, hands-on manner. And not just wagon-making, but the whole life-style that went with it: raising animals for food, growing fruit and vegetables, processing them for preservation, and making good food and drink from them. His Dad made great schnapps (trust me - and there's still some left!), but that was actually a normal part of life in the Black Forest - most families made a wide variety of tasty food and drink.

Farm wagon
(Freilichtmuseum Vogtsbaurerhof, Hausach, Germany)
The tools, the clothing, the animals, the machinery, and especially the houses - all are lovingly preserved in the Freilichtmuseum (Open Air Museum) at Hausach. It's a lot like Greenfield Village.

Perhaps the houses are the most impressive, because they were crafted for sustainability, efficiency, and comfort. The earliest one was built in 1599, and continued in active use through the mid-20th century - nearly four centuries. Completely made of local materials.
Storehouse and main building
(Freilichtmuseum Vogtsbaurerhof, Hausach, Germany)
The term "house" is misleading. These are more like compounds. Typically, they were three stories high, built on the side of a hill (there are plenty of hills in the Black Forest!) so that each story had a ground-floor entrance. Very practical when you have animals on the lowest floor, people on the second floor, and a combination storage-workshop on the third. The walls were build of thick, squared logs joined with mortar; roofs were of wooden shingles, often with thick straw thatch over the top. One of the houses at the museum had a double wall for insulation, with a passage-way between inner and outer walls that was used for storage. The climate in the Black Forest region is very similar to Michigan's, so winters can be quite bitter (or they could...).

Running water was provided by drilling out logs with a huge, hand-operated drill. This pipe, which was usually buried, ran from the nearest spring to a point near the kitchen (second floor), where it was used not only for drinking and washing, but also to keep milk and butter cool.
The kitchens were in the center of the second floor, so the heat from the stove would reach as many rooms as possible, but there was normally a big stove in the dining/living room, too. And the heat from the animals on the lowest floor would also rise to provide warmth to the floors above.

Speaking of animals, the manure - of course - was used as fertilizer. Even the human waste was used: the "toilet" was in a small room that protruded a little from the second floor, and the waste dropped into a barrel outside, near the place where the animal waste was channeled out of the barn.

Wood shingle + straw roof
(Freilichtmuseum Vogtsbaurerhof, Hausach, Germany)
Though there were a lot of conveniences - or at least efficiencies - there was still a lot of work to be done. Animals need care, gardens need cultivation, fields of wheat, barley, other grains need plowing, harvesting and threshing. And though we might consider this "low-tech" living, there was actually a lot of specialized technology that needed "technicians" to produce as well as maintenance at the farmhouse. Working with animal hides to create shoes, leather aprons, harness for the draft animals - this was often done by specialists (tanners), but was also done "at home" on many farms. Iron tools, of course, were the province of the smith, but when they broke on the farm, they were usually repaired on the farm. Even straw (the stalk of a grain crop that doesn't provide nourishment for animals) was used: the bulk of it for roofing (and re-roofing), but slippers and other articles were also made from braided straw.
Golden slipper from straw
(Freilichtmuseum Vogtsbaurerhof, Hausach, Germany)

Clothing was made of wool sheared from the farm's sheep, carded, spun, knit and woven in the house. Flax was another source of fiber for clothing. Of course, there were rough work clothes, but there were also fancy clothes for special occasions. Sunday was always a day for church and rest; most Black Forest residents were observant Roman Catholics.
In her Sunday best
(Freilichtmuseum Vogtsbaurerhof, Hausach, Germany)
Always, there was something that needed to be done. Like any farm life, it was hard work. But these farmers lived well: they had warm clothes, sturdy warm houses, plenty of variety in their diet cooked into savory dishes, and a wide variety of strong drink with which to relax after a hard day.

Not a bad life...and it was sustained for many centuries. Perhaps we could learn a thing or two about sustainability from them.
To learn more:
  • Schwarzwälder Freilichtmuseum Vogtsbauernhof (Black Forest Open Air Manor Museum) - English - German
  • The Wagon-Maker, a site dedicated to the Krieg wagon-making shop in Rotenfels, illustrates one particular "medium-tech" craft.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Regionalism and Transportation-alism?

Four important things happened yesterday, or were announced:

  1. Michael Ford announced that Washtenaw County has been removed from the proposed southeast Michigan RTA;
  2. Ann Arbor appeared on the front page of USA Today as having the fourth-fasted growing transit ridership in the country;
  3. Ann Arbor city council approved a revised agreement for county-wide transit, sending the plan further along the runway;
  4. And AA council also approved moving forward with a study for a new rail station.
I'll take a break from my blog series on Germany to look at these important items. Details follow...

Washtenaw out of RTA?

At last night's u196 Board meeting, Michael Ford, AATA's CEO, announced that Washtenaw County had been removed from consideration as part of southeast Michigan's Regional Transportation Authority (RTA). I have not been able to verify this on the Michigan Senate's Web site, so I assume it was an understanding reached at the Mackinac Policy Conference last week.
Jesse Bernstein, AATA's Board Chair, expressed relief. Though just five days earlier, in an interview with Ann (linked below), he had stated a willingness to work with Detroit area transit, his relief was expressed by saying, "We'll be able to retain our birthright!" He explained that AATA has always been able to receive funds directly from the Federal government, but under proposed RTA legislation the RTA Board would be the sole entity in the region to apply for and receive such funds. The RTA Board would then apportion moneys to the various transit agencies, after retaining a percentage for its own operations.
In addition, there's the sweat Washtenaw County has put in to expanding transit county-wide. It's possible that the RTA Board would scrap those plans and set us back at square one; by remaining in control of its own destiny, Washtenaw County can avoid being sucked into the huge problems faced by the Detroit and its three surrounding counties.
Fine. But what about the region as a whole? "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem". Does that apply to our region? A fascinating series of discussions on regional cooperation took place at the Mackinac conference, reported in a number of news articles. More on that in another blog post. Still, the fact remains that if southeast Michigan can't meld it's public transportation into a unified whole, the region is crippled. That includes not only the immediate Detroit area, but also Washtenaw, Livingston, and Monroe counties. More - as I said - in another blog post!

Ann Arbor: the fourth-fastest growing transit ridership

In 2010, AATA saw a slight decrease in ridership compared with 2009. But apparently we were just saving up for a big push in 2011. According to the USA Today article (linked below), Ann Arbor's 1.7 million riders, a 9% increase, represents the fourth largest increase in the country. We were edged out by Charlotte, North Carolina, at 10%; hit hard by Fort Myers, Florida, at 17%; and clobbered by Indianapolis, which jumped 20%. But we trumped Boston's growth of 8% (though they had 99.2 million riders compared to our 1.7 million - aren't percentages wonderful?) and left Dayton, Ithaca, Tampa, Olympia, and San Diego in the dust.
Congratulations, AATA! And that includes everyone: Board, staff, and the bold front-line - our motor coach operators!

Ann Arbor moves forward

Two of Ann Arbor City Council's decisions last night moved the region's environmental sustainability forward: approval and amendment of the "Four Party Agreement", and approval of fund-matching for further work on the new Ann Arbor rail station.
The "Four Parties" involved in the agreement are AATA, the City of Ann Arbor, the City of Ypsilanti, and the County of Washtenaw. (These four are involved in the transition because AATA is supported by dedicated funding from Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, and will be incorporated as a Washtenaw County entity; so approval of the governing bodies of all four is necessary to make the transition.)
Ann Arbor's Council needed to approve revisions made by the Ypsilanti City Council, which removed a 1% service fee from the moneys both Ypsi and AA raise for the new agency. According to the Ann Arbor Chronicle (linked below), that added up to a far higher amount for Ann Arbor, so they amended the language to retain their 1%. Ypsi will consider that amendment this evening, and very likely approve it.
Though the amendment was approved by all Council members, there were three dissenters (Anglin, Kunselman, and Lumm) on the vote for the Four Party Agreement as a whole. It's good to know that 73% of Ann Arbor's Council understand the importance of both transit and regional cooperation - at least at the county-wide level.
Ann Arbor Station as originally planned, with large University parking structure at right, which will no longer be included in that form. (From the Ann Arbor Chronicle)
The rail station study was approved by an even larger margin: 82%. This despite the high level of opposition from parks supporters, including the Sierra Club's Huron Valley Chapter (of which I'm a member...). Not all environmental choices offer clear black-and-white (or is it black-and-green?) options. The issue here is whether a designated park area can or should be converted into a facility for green transportation. I'd like to briefly recap the issues here, from my perspective, of course...
  1. Is it OK to take this particular land out of "park" designation? Yes, because:
    1. It was traded for another area that remains in its natural state to this day. When the Veterans Hospital was expanding a number of years ago, they intended to use land adjacent to their facility (about a mile east) as a parking lot. This land was wooded, and reportedly included several trees more than a hundred years old. In order to preserve that woodland, Ann Arbor City Council swapped parkland designation with the land now in question, and made a deal with the VA that allowed it to build a parking structure instead, saving the trees. (I have a copy of the Memorandum of Understanding.)
      Result: the land in question has been used legitimately as a parking lot since then, as its parkland designation was transferred.
    2. There is a great deal of beautiful parkland in active use in the immediate vicinity. In addition to the city's Fuller Park, directly across the road, there is Island Park, across the Huron from Fuller Park; and the University of Michigan's huge (123 acre) Nichols Arboretum, immediately to the east. There is no danger that the environs of the station will become any kind or "urban jungle".
  2. Are there no better alternative locations for the station? No:
    1. The current Amtrak station is the busiest in Michigan, in terms of passenger boardings. It's a small, dingy building in the shadow of the Broadway Bridge, unable to expand due to land constrains. It's also an awkward distance from any significant centers of employment or interest. I've walked from it to campus many times, and it's not a walk I'd recommend to anyone not it good physical shape. I'm by no in "great" shape - just "good enough" to make it up the steep hill with my backpack and rolling suitcase, as long as I can puff and pant all I need to.
    2. Several studies have been made to see if the station could expand in its current location. Each of them came up with a firm "no". (Clark Charnetzky is the expert on this, having taken an active part in more than one such study on behalf of the Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers and the disabled community.)
    3. In the Wake Up Washtenaw White Paper, I proposed locating the station at the place where Amtrak crosses under the Ann Arbor Railroad. Though I still feel that site has a number of advantages, I admit that the proposed location - at least for now - is better for the following reason...
    4. The University of Michigan Medical Center is the largest and fastest-growing employer in Washtenaw County. It really makes sense to have a station within easy walking distance of its central facility - and the proposed location certainly is. Any other location would require the use of multiple buses to move employees to and from the station. Buses are good, but walking is better!
    5. The proposed location is also on the most likely route for the "North-South Connector" - the heavy-duty transportation line being studied to connect Ann Arbor's north side with the University of Michigan's central campus and downtown Ann Arbor. It's a no-brainer to locate the regional and (possibly) commuter station on a heavy-duty transit corridor.
It's interesting to note that the proposed station has had its location removed from the name. It's no longer being called the "Fuller Road Station" - simply the "New Ann Arbor Station". Is this in response to opposition to that specific location?

OK. Enough for now!
To learn more: