Amtrak At Central Station

November 11, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — An integrated public transit hub could be on the horizon if The Rapid transit system succeeds in securing the federal and state funding needed to move the Amtrak train station next to Rapid Central Station.

Transit officials have met with state officials to gauge their interest in the proposal, have made some preliminary cost estimates, and have met with Amtrak officials to determine the feasibility of such a project, said Peter Varga, The Rapid’s executive director.

He intends to ask members of the Interurban Transit Partnership to give him the clearance to request that legislators earmark appropriations for the project in the fiscal 2007 budget.

Under the plan, Amtrak would move from its current location at 431 Wealthy St. SW, near Market and Wealthy streets, to The Rapid’s surface transportation center at 250 Grandville Ave. SW, creating “a true intermodal transportation center.”

“Part of the issue is with purchase of the land and the actual cost of doing the project,” Varga said. “Our plan would be to try to get about a $2 million earmark from Congress and ask the state to match that with $500,000. We don’t want to put our transit authority funds out there on it if there isn’t a commitment from both the federal and the state side on doing this project.”

The Rapid currently has an option to purchase the land immediately south of Central Station, land now being used as a DASH shuttle lot. The option was set to expire Dec. 31, but last week the Downtown Development Authority agreed to extend the option for five years.

“The land we can’t purchase is the land where the Wealthy Street Bridge is, because the state has an easement over there. But our plan with MDOT (Michigan Department of Transportation) has always been that we wanted to go under that bridge.”

Bringing Amtrak, Greyhound and The Rapid together on one site has long been a part of the grand plan and was one of the reasons The Rapid chose its new surface transportation site west of the S-Curve along U.S. 131.

“There has always been an issue about the long-term contract between Amtrak and the state, and that has always had us concerned,” Varga said. “But we decided the best way to proceed on this is to get federal and state support behind the plan and go accordingly. Hopefully by then, there will be some clarity about what the future of Amtrak is.”

The Amtrak line is successful, has seen ridership increases and is earning more revenue, he pointed out.

“It looks solid to me, and I think in light of that, I’m going to go to my board and let them know we would like to keep pursuing the plan, extend the option on the land, and we’re going to go look for the federal and state funds to do it.”    

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