Rail link upgrade expected to help northern Michigan businesses


A Great Lakes Central Railroad train crosses the Manistee River Train Bridge. Credit: Michigan Department of Transportation.

By Kenzie Terpstra

Michigan is set to receive $20.4 million from a federal grant to improve passenger and freight railroads around the state, including a bridge project in Wexford County.

The Federal Railroad Administration awarded $1.4 billion to 35 states as part of the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety program. They include Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the program will fund projects that improve the safety, efficiency and reliability of passenger and freight rails.

“This grant builds on Michigan’s incredible momentum implementing the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law,” Zachary Kolodin, the chief infrastructure officer in the Michigan Infrastructure Office, said in a press release.

That law authorized up to $108 billion for public transportation programs, the largest federal investment in public transportation in the nation’s history, according to the U.S. Federal Transit Administration.

“We’ve been very lucky and happy to have gotten the support from the Federal Rail Administration to do rail projects here,” said Peter Anastor, the director of the Office of Rail in the Michigan Department of Transportation, or MDOT.

The recent award of $20.4 million is to help replace the Manistee River Train Bridge, a 100-year-old bridge in Wexford County that links freight rail service between southern Michigan and Traverse City. The Great Lakes Central Railroad, based in Owosso, operates the line.

The project is expected to cost a total of $34 million, with MDOT contributing $13 million and the Great Lakes Central Railroad providing $750,000, according to a press release.MDOT.

“It’s really the connection to make sure that businesses in northern Michigan have access to rail and can move products by rail instead of trucks,” Anastor said.

He said trains were previously restricted as to speed and the weight they could carry over the bridge.

“Replacing that bridge is really going to bring it up to modern standards, allow us to operate heavier trains and, especially, in a more timely manner,” Anastor said.

The Office of Rail has worked on other grant-funded projects in recent years, such as trespass prevention measures along the Michigan line, which runs between Dearborn and Kalamazoo and operates an Amtrak passenger service.

The trespass prevention measures received $15.6 million from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law,, Anastro said.

Additional projects funded by the law include general rail improvements on the Great Lakes Central Railroad line, which received $21.3 million, according to MDOT.

“Our big goal is to improve rail service and opportunities for businesses and passengers in Michigan,” Anastro said.

The Manistee River Train Bridge replacement project is expected to begin in 2025 and be completed in 2027, according to MDOT.

Kenzie Terpstra reports for Capital News Service

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