As things continue to return to a bit more normal across the region, some Amtrak riders will be traveling considerably faster, and the system is adding a new trip on the Wolverine Service connecting Pontiac & Detroit with Chicago through Southwest Michigan.
Amtrak and the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) have received federal approval to increase maximum speeds of Amtrak Midwest trains to 110 mph on certain sections of track between Amtrak stations in Kalamazoo and Albion. Effective May 25th, the accelerated speeds come following key infrastructure improvements and successful testing of the positive train control safety system on 45 miles of MDOT-owned track. Also, an additional Pontiac/Detroit-Chicago Wolverine Service round trip returns on July 19th and will see its on-time performance improve thanks to higher speeds allowing trains to recover from potential delays elsewhere on the route.
State Transportation Director Paul C. Ajegba says, “Michigan will have the first state-owned rail corridor with passenger trains traveling up to 110 mph,” and adds, “I am proud of the partnership and hard work among MDOT, Amtrak, and its contractors to modernize this vital rail corridor. Passengers will truly benefit from the safety and reliability this important work has provided.”
This marks another phase of MDOT and Amtrak-led safety improvements leading to accelerated speed increases on the Detroit/Pontiac-Chicago corridor. The first phases led to speeds increasing to a maximum of 110 mph on Amtrak-owned track between Porter, Indiana and Kalamazoo. Further incremental speed increases will occur between Albion and Dearborn over the next several years, after more infrastructure improvements and testing that will ultimately result in shorter schedules for the full 304-mile route.
Faster speeds will improve the reliability of the Amtrak Wolverine Service with daily round trips between Pontiac and Chicago via Detroit and Ann Arbor, and the Amtrak Blue Water trains with one daily round trip between Port Huron and Chicago via East Lansing. The Wolverine has been operating with one daily round trip after two other frequencies were temporarily suspended in March of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
When the second Wolverine returns on July 19th, eastbound trains 350 and 354 will depart Chicago at 7:20 am and 5:50 pm, respectively. Westbound trains 351 and 355 will depart Pontiac at 5:43 am and 5:35 pm, respectively. All times are local.
Business Class and café service are available on all MDOT-sponsored Amtrak services, including the Blue Water (trains 364 and 365) and the Pere Marquette (trains 370 and 371) daily between Grand Rapids and Chicago with service to St. Joseph. Those service levels are unchanged.
As travel demands increase and COVID-19 vaccination rates rise in Michigan, Amtrak and MDOT will examine restoring the third Wolverine round trip (trains 352 and 353). The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has launched the “Michigan Vacc to Normal Tracker.” That tracker includes vaccinations of Michigan residents received both in-state and out-of-state, allowing the state to provide more comprehensive data on vaccination milestones as they are reached.
Reservations are required for Amtrak trains on Michigan routes. Holders of 10-ride discounted multi-ride tickets can quickly satisfy that requirement by confirming their travel on their choice of trains using Amtrak RideReserve. Ticketing is now available on http://Amtrak.com, Amtrak’s mobile apps or by calling 800-USA-RAIL.
Joe Shacter, Amtrak Senior Manager for these state-sponsored corridors, says, “This expansion of 110 mph service is a major milestone in developing one of the high-performance ‘spokes’ of our Amtrak Midwest hub, centered in Chicago,” and adds, “Our 50th anniversary year at Amtrak also is the 47th year of our Michigan partnership, and the prospects for further service improvements in the Great Lakes State have never been greater.”
Drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists should always use caution when in proximity to this important rail corridor. Trains can appear to be quieter and not as fast as they actually are as they approach. Only use designated public crossings with signs, flashing red lights, or a gate. Never disregard flashing crossing signals, go around lowered gates or trespass on railroad property. If there is a problem or emergency on or near railroad tracks, the railroad can be contacted immediately by calling the telephone number on the blue emergency notification sign (ENS) located at every crossing.
To ensure safety along portions of the corridor, special equipment monitors the functionality of crossing lights and gates, alerting the train crews of any potential problems. Fencing also has been installed in select areas to prevent trespassing.
Accelerated speeds are just one part of the ongoing passenger rail improvements in Michigan that have included new stations, new locomotives, track enhancements, new grade crossings, and other safety upgrades. Starting later this year, new passenger railcars will be deployed on all Amtrak Michigan trains and other Amtrak Midwest corridors.