Amtrak station readies for arrivals
Improvements make way for two trains, if needed.
Grand Rapids’ new Amtrak station should be up and running come fall, according to The Rapid CEO Peter Varga.
The Vernon J. Ehlers Amtrak Station, named after the former Michigan congressman, is located at 250 Grandville Ave. SW next to The Rapid’s Central Station.
Work on a sewer line project at the site is finishing up, and Varga said he expects to see the station open in September. An exact date has not been set.
The project experienced a two-year delay following the official groundbreaking in 2011, before finally moving forward again last summer.
The new station replaces Amtrak’s previous station at the corner of Wealthy and Market streets.
“That station is partially on city of Grand Rapids railroad property,” Varga said. “It doesn’t function that easily for Amtrak or for the city because it ends up blocking both Wealthy and Market at the same time when the train is loading.”
The new station is owned by The Rapid and will be leased to Amtrak.
“It’s good for us because it’s an asset,” Varga said. “It connects the train station to Central Station — to our transit services, and it makes it truly an intermodal center.”
He said Greyhound Lines and Indian Trails intercity bus companies also both operate out of Central Station.
“It just means all the transportation network is tied together,” he said. “That was our original vision, which is why we bought the property to be able to go ahead and do that.”
Varga said one advantage of the new arrangement is Amtrak will be able to store its trains near Central Station. He said the company currently stores its trains in Walker.
“They have a secure safe place to actually store the train,” he said. “It doesn’t have to come to the station like it currently does.”
Funding for the approximately $5.1 million station involved a five-organization partnership between the Federal Railroad Administration, Federal Transit Administration, city of Grand Rapids, Downtown Development Authority and Michigan Department of Transportation.
The station was built with the future in mind, Varga said.
“This is a permanent station, so you really have to anticipate 50 years from now,” he said. “You might have a different kind of system and you may need two trains to leave the station at the same time or similar times. The platform is designed for two trains.”
He said if the need for two trains comes to fruition at some future date, a second set of tracks will be built into the platform.
Varga said he thinks a more likely upgrade to take place in the nearer future would be increased service.
“My feeling is that if Amtrak develops anything, it will be frequency improvements,” he said.