Council will consider studying rail line between Toledo, Detroit

10/30/2018
BY DAVID PATCH/THE BLADE

Inspired in part by an analysis recently conducted of potential passenger-train service in central and northern lower Michigan, the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments is planning a feasibility study for reinstating trains between Toledo and Detroit.

David Gedeon, the metropolitan council’s vice president for transportation, said the study would address what such a route’s likely capital and operating costs would be and estimate its potential ridership.

It would be “almost identical in scope” to a recent study by Transportation Economics and Management Systems Inc. of the possibility for passenger trains between Ann Arbor and Traverse City, Mich., he said.

Based on the Traverse City study’s cost, the Toledo-Detroit study is expected to cost about $50,000 to conduct, Mr. Gedeon said.

The metropolitan council has requested $30,000 of that from Toledo, whose city council is scheduled to take up that proposal on Nov. 7. The remaining $20,000 will come from TMACOG planning funds already budgeted for the purpose, Mr. Gedeon said.

Toledo once had passenger trains on several different railroads to and from Detroit, but its most recent service — a daily round trip that Amtrak offered as an extension of one of its three daily pairs of trains between Detroit and Chicago — was canceled in 1995 during a round of budget cuts.

Five years later, Amtrak announced that a marketing study supported reinstating trains between Toledo and Detroit and other expansions in the Midwest, including what would then have been a fourth pair of trains between Chicago and the East Coast via Toledo.

But except for routes between Chicago and both Louisville and southern Wisconsin, none of those trains ever ran, and even those were canceled when Amtrak pulled out of hauling mail and high-priority freight several years later. A short layover track the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority paid for at the Toledo train station where Detroit trains could park between trips has never been used for that purpose.

Among the issues that TMACOG’s study would examine is which of several routes a new Toledo-Detroit train might use, and whether it would use the port-owned Toledo station.

Unlike the tracks between Ann Arbor and Traverse City that are owned by the state of Michigan and have only a small amount of freight traffic, all rails between Toledo and Detroit are owned by private railroad companies and have comparatively frequent freight-train traffic.

Amtrak’s Toledo-Detroit trains used tracks that were owned at the time by Consolidated Rail Corp. and now belong mostly to Norfolk Southern.

A separate, mostly parallel line between Toledo and Detroit is owned by Canadian National Railway, while CSX Transportation runs its Toledo-Detroit freight via Plymouth, Mich., on a line that runs closer than the others to Detroit Metropolitan-Wayne County Airport.

“Which route would work? Would one [of those railroads] be more likely to cooperate?” will be examined, Mr. Gedeon said.

The TMACOG official said that once funding is in place, the agency is “hoping to get a study framework within a few months” and does not have a timetable for its completion. The study would be conducted by an outside consultant, he said.