N-S Commuter Rail (WALLY) Quick Facts

N-S Rail is being investigated as a way to provide a transit option for travel between Howell and Ann Arbor, to ease traffic congestion in the corridor along US-23, 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 consist of commuter rail trains running daily along the line, with initial service levels of four trains daily in each direction on weekdays.  Later phases could expand the number of trains and days of operation.

View the WALLY corridor map depicting the service as it is currently conceived.

If research and development efforts conclude that the service is feasible, the service would likely be constructed using a combination of federal, State and local funding.  A number of improvements to the existing railroad tracks have been made in recent years, and such work continues, aimed at improving the freight operations on the railroad.  This work would also benefit commuter rail, but additional improvements are needed before passenger service could operate on the line.  MDOT also has a leased fleet of operational railcars that could be put into service immediately upon completion of this additional work, and the identification of a qualified operator. Once the necessary capital improvements are put in place, the daily operations of the service could be undertaken by the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority (TheRide), or by another new or existing public body, likely through a third-party contract.

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 an 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.  That study concluded (or confirmed) that:

  • About 1,300 commuters could be expected to ride WALLY every weekday, resulting in 2,600 trips daily.
  • It would take about 36 minutes to travel between Howell and Ann Arbor.
  • Fares would be about $150 per month, depending on the station of origin.
  • Construction would cost $32 million, with as much as 80% of that funding available from federal grants
  • Operating costs would be $7.1 million per year, $2.1 of which would come from passenger fares, $2.1 million of which would come from State funding, and the remaining $2.9 million from “Other Government & Non-Government Organization Contributions” (presumably a local millage, but not identified as such).

The North-South Rail project has received varying degrees of attention over the years – see N-S Rail History .  MDOT and AAATA staff have periodically updated these cost and revenue estimates.  A Downtown Ann Arbor N-S Rail Study was completed in 2014.

Nevertheless, it is widely agreed that much additional work is needed.  Toward this end, a detailed Feasibility Analysis and Conceptual Plan  effort will be undertaken beginning summer 2014.  This work, funded by a $640,000 federal grant with $160,000 in additional funding from local communities (80/20 "match"), will examine feasibility of the service in a greater level of detail than ever before.  The work will be accompanied by a major public involvement effort spanning both Washtenaw and Livingston counties.