Study: Traverse City passenger train would generate $100 million in annual revenue

According to a newly released study, a passenger train from Ann Arbor to Traverse City would attract 1.5 million riders a year and generate $100 million in annual revenue by 2040.

NORTHERN MICHIGAN (WPBN/WGTU) -- The Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities has released a study about passenger trains between Ann Arbor and Traverse City.

According to the study, released Monday, the trains would attract 1.5 million riders a year and generate $100 million in annual revenue by 2040.

The Michigan Land Use Institute launched its campaign for the train in February 2015.

The route would take advantage of rails that already exist but currently are used for freight services, and if the community is on board with the project it could become a reality by 2025.

The initial study explores track repair, operating costs and potential revenue of a passenger rail line along an existing, mostly state-owned railroad corridor between Ann Arbor and the Traverse City and Petoskey regions.

“As travel to the Traverse City region increases, the train could take thousands of cars off the roads and provide people with a direct, downtown-to-downtown connection between Michigan’s cities,” says Groundwork Deputy Director, Jim Bruckbauer.

A study team said even at 60 miles per hour, train would capture roughly 380,000 existing trips taken by car along the corridor every year.

In order to test the market, the study team recommends launching low cost "special event" trains and then building the service as interest and demand grows.

The Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities said the line would also serve approximately 90,000 university students who live along the route.

“The passenger rail project will be valuable in attracting the next generation workforce that wants to live and thrive in Michigan without always depending on a car to get around,” Bruckbauer added. “Trips Up North or downstate often feel too far to drive, yet too close to fly.”

The study said achieving daily 60-mile-per-hour service, which would create a five-hour travel time between Ann Arbor and Traverse City, would require about $40 million in capital costs. 110 mile-per-hour trains would require nearly a billion dollars in track upgrades, but would cut the travel time to three and half hours and attract nearly five times the numbers of riders and revenue as a 60-mile-per-hour train.

The recent study was funded by a Federal Transit Administration grant program, the Michigan Department of Transportation, the Petoskey Downtown Management Board, the Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau, the City of Traverse City, Traverse City Tourism, the City of Alma, and Washtenaw County. Other funding partners include Rotary Charities of Traverse City, the Les and Anne Biederman Foundation, the National Association of REALTORS and the Traverse Area Association of REALTORS.

The Traverse Area Association of Realtors hopes the trains will bring a large boost to the area's real estate market.

“It opens up opportunities for our market for people to come here, particularly from southeast Michigan, to look for a vacation or second home, to take advantage of some of the rental markets we have here, to become seasonal visitors," said Kim Pontius, the association's president.

In 2019, the Michigan Department of Transportation is expected to repair several miles of tracks near Traverse City, which might allow special events train service to run directly to Traverse City as soon as 2020.

The Groundwork Center says if everything goes as planned, there could be regularly scheduled passenger trains in five to seven years.