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Re-Imaging Michigan Central Station as the Gateway to Detroit

Making Michigan Central Station a regional transit hub and direct line to downtown Detroit

Photo of Bryce Watson
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Michigan Central Station

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RE-IMAGING MICHIGAN CENTRAL STATION AS THE GATEWAY TO DETROIT

If we were to re-imagine the Michigan Central Station and Corktown as the gateway to Detroit, many opportunities would open up to the city of Detroit.

OVERVIEW

Michigan Central Station should connect Detroit to all the following destinations:

  • Chicago
  • Ann Arbor
  •  Detroit Metro Airport (DTW)
  • Toronto, Ontario


There should also be a fast Underground Transit system to downtown from the Central Station along Michigan Avenue that connects:

  • Michigan Central Station
  • Downtown, Campus Martius
  • Eastern Market
  • Midtown (Q-Line)

(This idea has already been previous discussed in this post: https://challenges.cityoftomorrow.com/challenge/detroit/explore/michigan-avenue-subway )

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DETROIT METRO AIRPORT (DTW) CONNECTION

Establishing a line from Michigan Central Station to the Detroit Metropolitan Airport would be a huge improvement to regional transit. Most European Cities have established public transit from their airports to their city centers including Berlin, London, Paris and Budapest.  

This would allow business personal a dependable line to get downtown, explore Corktown, stay, work, eat, shop and return to the airport all without renting a car. 

In term of local residences, as long as you can secure a ride to the train station (Uber, friend, family, ect.), you can now to get the airport without having to pay for parking or an expensive over priced Uber fee. 

ANN ARBOR CONNECTION

Currently there is a University of Michigan bus called the Detroit Connection. This bus transports people between Detroit and Ann Arbor. Having a rail service that continues on from the Detroit Wayne Airport to Ann Arbor, would provide another better connection between Detroit and Ann Arbor. 

There are many students and residence in Ann Arbor that do not own a car, have trouble getting to the airport, and would also like to visit downtown Detroit. A rail service to Detroit and Ann Arbor would solve this transportation issue.

CHICAGO/TORONTO CONNECTION 

There hasn't been a passenger rail service to Toronto since the 1960s. Establishing this would ideally run from the existing Chicago line, though the Michigan Central Station, and all the way to Toronto. This line would connect one of the United States biggest cities, to one of Canada's biggest cities with Detroit in the middle. 

Here's an article from the Detroit Free Press about Amtrak potentially establishing this connection: 

https://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/detroit/2019/04/02/amtrak-detroit-toronto-train-service/3341837002/

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EFFICIENTLY MOVING PEOPLE FROM MICHIGAN CENTRAL STATION TO THE REST OF DETROIT

Now that we have established a reasonable demand for services though the Michigan Central Station, we need to be able to get those people into the central business district, shopping, restaurants, entertainment etc. 

Having an underground station directly connected to Michigan Central Station, with stops along Michigan Ave, would increase the ease of arriving at your final destination in Detroit. This line would end at Downtown Campus Martius. 

This line would be essential to business, tourist, and local transportation, and anyone visiting Detroit without a car.

With the established Q-line you would also be connected trough Midtown once you've reached Campus Martius, and in time hopefully a connection to the Eastern Market. 

Imagine being able to go from Corktown to the Eastern Market along an underground line that also stops downtown. 

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WHAT THIS COULD MEAN TO CORKTOWN

These established lines would bring an influx of consumers to the Corktown neighborhood. Existing business would benefit from the new customers. Michigan Avenue would continue to developed in term of mixed-used buildings, growth in residences, shops, restaurants, spaces, ect. Even hotels could develop along Michigan Avenue that could accommodate the new travel established by Michigan Central Station being the transportation hub of Detroit.

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There needs to be a better way to connect people to the City of Detroit!

Establishing these regional connections and and developing an underground into Downtown Detroit would do wonders for the City of Detroit and Corktown.

Corktown and Michigan Central Station needs to be the gateway to Detroit.

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8 comments

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Photo of Matteo Ruffino

Applauded!

Photo of Bruce Hain

Yes Bryce, you should really put an entry in the Propose Phase. (I'm working on it but haven't posted yet.)

Photo of Peter Dudley

This old post is somewhat-outdated (compared with my current thinking), but the proposed route between MCS and DTW still makes sense. Read "commuter rail" for "light-rail rapid transit system".
Detroit's landmark Michigan Central Station (MCS) was lit up like a birthday cake during the evening of December 17, 2015. This photograph, shot from Newark Street (south of the landmark), shows the elevated, eighteen-track-wide MCS Viaduct.
Completed in 1914 (shortly after MCS opened), Detroit's largest railroad bridge could become part of an elevated, limited-access, grade-separated trail-with-rails (similar to Dequindre Cut Greenway), extending from West Riverfront Park to West Detroit Junction, and all points north, west, and south. Enclosed parking could be provided in the station's long-vacant Express Warehouse, located under four long-vacant trackways and the proposed rail-trail.
I concede that this proposal is mine alone, so far, but others have expressed some interest.
Replacement of more than 1,000 windows at MCS was completed in February 2016 -- new owner Ford Motor Company will replace the replacements. December 26, 2018 marked the 105th anniversary of the less-than-grand opening of Detroit's favorite ruin.
Another possibility:
Separate the pedestrian / cyclist trail-with-rails from the existing Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) double-track mainline with a high-speed, limited-access, grade-separated light-rail rapid transit system, extending from the soon-to-be-renamed Joe Louis Arena Detroit People Mover Station to West Detroit Junction, where it could connect with Amtrak's inter-city WOLVERINE service, and / or MI Rail / SEMCOG Rail / Ann Arbor Commuter Rail commuter trains.
Between West Jefferson and West Detroit, all of the necessary, mostly-century-old rail overpasses are already in place. One of them (the so-called "Cloud Bridge" over West Grand Boulevard) was completed in 1896. The longest-surviving railroad overpass in Detroit should be listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP).
From West Detroit, this light-rail rapid transit line could be extended due west, through the mostly-abandoned meadow of Conrail Livernois Yard, up and over the 1913 currently-trackless former - westbound hump bridge over Lonyo Avenue, under the 1930 Pere Marquette / C&O / Chessie System / CSX Southern Street Railroad Overpass (NRHP-listed in 1980), cross I-94, curve south alongside Conrail's Junction Yard Branch (a multi-mode transfer terminal could fit nicely into the long-vacant wooded triangle, located west of the Ford Rotunda site), cross I-94 again, curve into the former - Detroit, Toledo & Ironton Dearborn Branch (let's re-wire some of those ninety-year-old concrete catenary arches), and follow the west edge of the industrial line to Norfolk Southern Railway's Oakwood Junction in Allen Park (located near Uniroyal's "Big Tire" on I-94). From there, the rapid transit line could parallel the NS mainline to Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW).
The result: ONE high-speed, nearly-non-stop train connecting DTW with downtown, instead of three-or-four transfers enroute (see the November 2016 RTA Proposal). I would love to see high-speed trains zooming through those old arches, passing the traffic on parallel I-94 as if it were standing-still.
Note: The northernmost-surviving electric catenary arch stands just north of Oakwood Boulevard. Only fifteen arches are still extant, north of Oakwood Junction. More than 85 arches are still-standing between Allen Park and Flat Rock.
Click on the attached link, to access the photo.
https://www.facebook.com/MichiganCentral/photos/a.10151858870933705/10153523429758705/?type=3&theater&ifg=1

Photo of Peter Dudley

The center of the proposed high-speed commuter rail T LINE (T for Toledo) could be Romulus MI, and would include a connection with nearby Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW).
Most of the tracks already exist. What's needed is the will (and dollars) to upgrade them (to 79 or 110 mph).
I think a modern version of the self-propelled Budd Rail Diesel Car (RDC), produced by The Budd Company from 1949 until 1962, could be sufficiently-flexible and multi-directional to provide frequent high-speed service along this route.
Switching self-propelled, multiply-targeted (and separate) commuter rail vehicles (read "a modern equivalent of the Budd RDC") to other existing rail lines (via Town Line Junction, West Detroit Junction, Milwaukee Junction, and Forest Lawn Junction, to name a few locations) could eventually enable commuter rail service running throughout most of the Detroit metropolitan area.
At the top of the "T", MDOT's state-owned, Amtrak-dispatched east / west Michigan Line is currently being upgraded to 110 mph, between Kalamazoo and Town Line Junction in Dearborn.
Initial T LINE service will almost-certainly connect with existing Amtrak stops at Ann Arbor, Dearborn (John D. Dingell Transit Center), Detroit Amtrak Station (featuring M-1 RAIL's adjacent QLINE stop), Royal Oak, Troy Transit Center, and Pontiac Transit Center.
T LINE service (linking DTW with Ann Arbor, Toledo, and Detroit) should be extended east to Ford Motor Company's soon-to-be-revived Michigan Central Station (MCS), and downtown Detroit's soon-to-be-reopened (and renamed) Joe Louis Arena (JLA) Parking Garage, located next-door to the current - JLA Detroit People Mover (DPM) Station.
Click on the attached link, to see "the rest of the story".
https://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/2019/04/17/train-detroit-toledo-ann-arbor/3495054002/?fbclid=IwAR20QoGDRaeeC7mbUZbuz-8QtcFFezEa7RfhF26ta9sR4gG5t3LnmxxQV08

Photo of Peter Dudley

This attached futuristic photograph was shot in 1933, from alongside a segment of sill-existing double-track rail line located between Michigan Central Station (MCS) and the future Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW).
The electrified Detroit, Toledo & Ironton Railroad (DTI) Dearborn Branch ("the one with the arches") was completed by owner Henry Ford during the late-1920s. I've seen a map showing this segment (running parallel with today's I-94) as part of a proposed commuter rail line, connecting MCS with DTW.
I think self-propelled heavy-rail vehicles like these could provide faster, cheaper, and more-frequent commuter rail service than traditional locomotive-headed trains. The more-familiar Budd Rail Diesel Car (RDC), produced by The Budd Company from 1949 until 1962, was actually 5 mph slower.
The phrase "heavy-rail" is important, when rail passenger service is provided along existing railroads. "Light-rail" cars are all-too-lightly-constructed to be allowed to run alongside existing freight rail lines.
Click on the attached link, to see "the rest of the story".
https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=2259476050977355&set=gm.1021938811338004&type=3&theater&ifg=1

Photo of Peter Dudley

True RAPID TRANSIT is a concept that is almost-unknown in our auto-centric town.
My rapid transit definition: Public systems running at 80 mph (minimum) between widely-separated stops, where connections to local transit options (M-1 RAIL, Detroit People Mover, DOT / SMART / FAST buses, etc.) are available.
My entry in the City:One Michigan Central Station (MCS) Challenge includes preserving a barely-existing double-track commuter rail right-of-way, running between MCS and the soon-to-be-reopened (and renamed) Joe Louis Arena (JLA) Parking Garage. The garage is located adjacent to the current JLA Detroit People Mover (DPM) Station, which will also be renamed.
Once this right-of-way is officially-preserved, a functioning non-stop commuter rail link could be inaugurated between MCS and the 40-year-old garage, which features a never-used rail passenger terminal. This pilot program could eventually include additional commuter rail service, expanding outward from MCS in all directions, running alongside existing railroads.
If the proposed closing of John C. Lodge Expresway (aka Aretha Franklin Freeway) south of the Fisher Freeway interchange occurs, commuter trains could eventually terminate in the freed-up space under Cobo Center (recently-renamed TCF Center).
Here's the link to my entry:
https://challenges.cityoftomorrow.com/challenge/detroit/explore/the-last-best-chance-to-connect-metro-detroit-with-downtown-detroit-via-commuter-rail-runs-through-ford-s-michigan-central-station-mcs

Photo of Perry MacNeille

Example of airports connected by rail are much closer than Europe. The Cleveland RTA does much of what you describe (http://www.riderta.com/). It links to AmTrak for regional service. The Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority manages the regional transit system there.

The Long Island Railway connects much of New York metropolitan area to JFK Airport. It is managed by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) which serves downstate New York and parts of Connecticut.

Existing rails link Michigan Central Depot, Dearborn, Detroit-Wayne County airport, Ann Arbor, and west to Chicago. I would guess AmTrak could extend service to-from Dearborn to Michigan Central Depot without much construction. A connection to the airport would require an additional stop and probably shuttles to get passengers to and from the terminals. This route follows I-94 and would have to compete for traffic. The train tunnel from Michigan Central Depot (under the Detroit River) only one track, but still operational and connects to the Canadian National Railway system.

Photo of Mackenzie Fankell

Bryce Watson Thank you for posting these very detailed ideas! I am a Michigan Central Station Challenge facilitator. It sounds like you see the biggest needs in Detroit being better and more convenient public transportation to important areas in Detroit, the airport, and major cities. Facilitating transportation in Detroit without a car is definitely a challenge currently! Have you observed any other locations that Detroit residents have a hard time accessing without a vehicle? Thanks again for posting!