State of U.S. Passenger Rail – Michigan

Amtrak ridership in Michigan is up 70% from 2003 to 2014, making the state the 12th fastest growing state in the country in terms of rail ridership. Let’s take a look at some of those underlying trends, but first, here’s a recap of the state’s routes and stations.

Amtrak has 22 stations in Michigan served by three routes. The state’s busiest route is the Wolverine, which offers three round trips per day between Pontiac and Chicago via Detroit. In Battle Creek, the Wolverine meets up with the Blue Water, which offers daily service between Port Huron, on the beautiful blue water coast of Lake Huron, and Chicago, via East Lansing and Flint. And in the western part of the Lower Peninsula, the Pere Marquette travels along the coast of Lake Michigan with daily service between Grand Rapids and Chicago. This graph shows the volumes of ridership on each of these services.

Average monthly ridership on the Wolverine has grown 42% over the time period shown, meanwhile, the Blue Water has surged 120%, and the Pere Marquette has also grown a healthy 35% even though one of its five stations, New Buffalo, shifting to service on the Wolverine & Blue Water.

Now lets take a closer look at the state’s 22 stations. In this pie chart, we have them grouped by route. There are five stations served by the Blue Water alone, four stations served by the Pere Marquette alone (down from five prior to 2010), nine stations served by the Wolverine alone, and five stations served by both the Wolverine and the Blue Water (up from four prior to 2010). Here we see the aggregated ridership at these groupings of stations, year-by-year.

This line chart highlights the busiest stations in the state, color-coded by route served.

Ann Arbor, Kalamazoo, and Dearborn, while all increasing ridership, have held stead as the three busiest stations in the state, while Detroit, historically the fourth-busiest station in the state, recently dipped below East Lansing. When my wife and I visited Detroit a few years ago, we took the Lake Shore Limited to Toledo and caught a one-hour Amtrak bus ride to Detroit. The bus uses the same station as the Wolverine, but doesn’t add to the ridership statistics.

Finally, let’s conclude the post with an interesting case study touched on earlier. On October 26, 2009, Amtrak began service to a new station in New Buffalo, Mich., with service on the Wolverine and Blue Water routes. At the same time, it closed a station seven blocks that had had service on the Pere Marquette. Was it a good move? Let’s look at the ridership figures.

This clearly was a great move. Ridership on the new station jumped 152% in the first year, and has since surged 118%. (It also had been growing at the prior station as well, rising 150% over the seven years from 2003 to 2009.)

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