Project Description

The North-South Commuter Rail Line (also known as WALLY, after the counties - Washtenaw and Livingston – it would pass through) is a proposed 27-mile long commuter rail service that would connect Ann Arbor and Howell, with several intermediate stops. A feasibility study of the N-S Commuter Rail concept has been completed by TheRide, in cooperation with the Michigan Department of Transportation, and with the support of many government and business leaders, area residents and other community groups.

N-S Rail has often been promoted as a way to provide a transit option between Howell and Ann Arbor, to ease traffic congestion in the US-23 corridor, and to promote sound economic development and job creation in the region.

N-S Rail would operate on existing state-owned railroad tracks between Howell and Ann Arbor, and privately-owned railroad tracks within Ann Arbor.Potential stations would be located in Whitmore Lake, Hamburg Township, Genoa Township, and Howell, with up to three stations in Ann Arbor also under consideration.

The service would initially consist of commuter rail trains running daily along the line, starting with four trains daily in each direction on weekdays.The study looked at many ways to design the service before settling on two options, called “Shuttle Service” and “Full Service”, respectively.The shuttle option would end at 8-Mile Road and could be an early segment of a project built in phases.


Background

N-S Commuter Rail service was first proposed in 2006 as part of the City of Ann Arbor’s Model for Mobility.A 2008 study by R. L. Banks, a leading passenger rail consulting firm, provided a high-level feasibility study of the service, based in part on the work of the early advocacy group known as the WALLY Coalition.That study examined service only on the state-owned tracks, with a single station on the north side of Ann Arbor, and several stations further north to Howell.The study produced cost estimates for the project (in its early limited scope) that suggested the service could be implemented quickly and cheaply.

The North-South Rail project received varying degrees of attention over the years.MDOT and AAATA staff have periodically updated these cost and revenue estimates.A Downtown Ann Arbor N-S Rail Station Study was completed in 2014, with a locally-preferred downtown commuter rail station site located between Washington and Liberty Street.

To answer the remaining questions about the viability of rail service, a detailed Feasibility Analysis and Conceptual Plan effort was initiated in 2015 and is now complete.This work, funded by a $640,000 federal grant with $160,000 in additional funding from local communities, examined feasibility of the service in a greater level of detail than ever before, and was accompanied by a major public involvement effort spanning both Washtenaw and Livingston counties.

The purpose of the study was to validate the overall feasibility of the N-S Rail Commuter Rail project concept and to prepare documentation to ready the project for future federal funding, if the community decides it wants to move ahead with the project.The study has included detailed investigations of the improvements (and related costs) to build and operate the system, the number of riders likely to use the system, and the organizational and funding requirements to make the service work.


Study Findings

Among the major findings of the feasibility study are:

  • Capital costs to build the service would range from $65M to $122M, for the Shuttle and Full Service options, respectively.
  • Annual operating costs would range from $6.6 M for the Shuttle to $13.2M for Full Service
  • Initial ridership is forecasted to be between 1,670 (Shuttle) and 1,840 (Full Service) trips daily
  • Viable station sites were confirmed in each community, with an assessment of the site’s accessibility and buildability.
  • Locations and costs for needed maintenance facilities were estimated (and included in the capital costs mentioned above).
  • A thorough examination of existing rights-of-way – including tracks, signals, bridges, switches, etc – was conducted in the field and needed improvements were identified.
  • Conversations with the Federal Railroad Administration confirmed the likely need for a Positive Train Control (PTC) System, based on requirements issued in 2008 intended to improve the safety of train operations.
  • The study’s financial analysis produced a finding that the project’s construction would qualify for federal funding (estimated at about 50%), minimizing (but not eliminating) the need for funding from state and / or local sources.
  • To supplement construction funding and to provide funding for daily operations, local funding could be produced by a new property tax that would be levied at a rate of 0.34 mils to 0.84 mils.Any such levies would require a public referendum.The complete set of technical reports from the feasibility study can be found on this site.Please click on the links below.

 


For Further Information

Friends of WALLY is a community-based project advocacy group of those interested in developing North-South Commuter Rail service. See the  Friends of WALLY web site for more information.