Friday, May 11, 2012

Amtrak restores Chicago-Michigan speeds

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Amtrak said Friday schedules for its Wolverine Service and Blue Water passengers had been restored to normal, following extensive and expeditious trackwork along much of the route by landlord Norfolk Southern.

Citing poor track conditions east of Kalamazoo, Mich., stretching to near Dearborn, NS imposed speed restrictions in March, prompting protest from Amtrak and Michigan's Department of Transportation, which had just touted 110 mph speeds for Amtrak Chicago-Michigan services west of Kalamazoo. Amtrak owns the right-of-way between Kalamazoo and Porter, Ind., outside Chicago.

Amtrak said it will issue schedules effective May 21 for the Pontiac-Detroit-Chicago Wolverines (Trains 350-355) and the Port Huron-East Lansing-Chicago Blue Water (Trains 364 & 365) accounting for the speed increase this year to 110 mph on the Amtrak-owned Michigan District in Michigan and Indiana. Permanent schedules changes are pending approval of NS for the Chicago to Porter, Ind., segment of the route and from CN, which owns the Blue Water route from Battle Creek to Port Huron and the Wolverine route between Pontiac and Detroit.

AMTK Michigan upgrades mapLast week, the FRA announced a $3.2 million grant to further reduce passenger travel times between Chicago and Michigan over the congested Chicago to Porter route owned by NS and used by 12 daily Amtrak trains. The study will consider needed infrastructure improvements to allow faster and more frequent passenger train service along the entire Chicago to Detroit/Pontiac rail corridor.

Earlier this week, the Surface Transportation Board cleared the way for MDOT to acquire and improve the 135-mile NS line from Kalamazoo to near Dearborn, so Amtrak can run Wolverine Service at speeds of up to 110 mph in the future. MDOT received High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program grants from the FRA of more than $346 million for this purpose. Under the agreement, NS will retain exclusive freight rights along the route, and will retain some yards and other properties along the route.

"Amtrak looks forward to working with the FRA, Michigan, Illinois and Indiana to improve this corridor and better connect these vital cities in the Midwest with travel times far better than driving, more comfortable and productive than flying and with a smaller carbon footprint than either of those modes," said Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman.

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