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East Lansing Train Depot On Track For Upgrade

The Amtrak train station just off the Michigan State University campus in East Lansing is getting a major renovation.  The Capital Area Transportation Authority has received a $6.3 million federal grant to rebuild the station and add a separate bus terminal.

Civic leaders are excited about the potential economic growth a new multi-modal transportation hub will bring to the region. 

Monday, 8:28 a.m.  The Blue Water Amtrak pulls into East Lansing on its westbound journey to Chicago.

Amtrak trains glide in and out of East Lansing six times a day.  This stop has one of the highest ridership rates in Michigan.  Passenger volume here has risen 130 percent since 2001.

Tim Drake is a railroad romantic.  The Haslett resident has watched countless coaches come through the station over the years, and he’s noticed how the platform has fallen into disrepair.

“Especially in the winter time here, these roughs and cracks, I see people coming along with their bags and they’re dropping them and it’s just in bad shape; they really haven’t done anything with it,” Drake says.  “I think it’s been a priority here for people to try and get a new platform.”

Drake’s wish will soon become a reality.  The U.S. Department of Transportation has awarded a $6.3 million grant to the Capital Area Transportation Authority.  CATA will tear down the current station and construct a more modern, multi-modal facility.

The DOT’s Robert Rivkin visited East Lansing Monday to announce the funding, which is part of the Obama Administration’s $12 billion program to expand intercity rail across the country. 

“This is a great win for the Capital City region: bringing an essential facility into the modern age, making it accessible for people with disabilities, improving safety for pedestrians and above all, enhancing the civic pride of all who pass through here,” says Rivkin.

East Lansing’s Amtrak station could use a new look.  The 37-year-old depot was built as an add-on to an MSU storage building.  Despite its relatively small size – about 7,000 square feet – the station handles a lot of customers.  In 2010, more than 62,000 riders passed through its waiting room.

The renovation will raze the current station and expand its footprint across a 200-acre site bordering Harrison Road and Trowbridge just west of the MSU entrance.  CATA will build a new bus terminal to draw in more routes from Lansing.  The agency will work with the private carrier Mega Bus, which will provide service between Chicago and Detroit.  The Michigan Flyer bus line is also interested in the site.

CATA assistant executive director Deb Alexander says it’s important that vehicle, bicycle and pedestrian traffic continues around the station during construction.

“So, we’re going to have to bring in temporary facilities and move it from place to place as we move through the project,” Alexander says.  “Hopefully their patience will be given to us so that we can get the new project done.  It will be so nice when it’s finished.”

The economic advantages of a new rail station in East Lansing spread far beyond city and campus.  Michigan is experimenting with high speed rail.  The state is part of a growing network of lines stretching from Ohio to Minnesota.  In the Midwest, high speed rail is becoming high dollar business.

Locally, civic officials say the federal investment in rail service is welcome news.  East Lansing mayor pro tem Nathan Triplett believes the new Amtrak facility will help spur commercial redevelopment in that part of the city.

“I think if you were to come back to this spot we’re standing at right now in10 years and look out across the Trowbridge Plaza, what you’ll see will be dramatically different,” Triplett says.  “Ten years from now, this project will have had tremendous impact on not just the corridor but our entire region, which is one of the reasons why it’s so exciting for us.”

The project will undergo an environmental review.  After that, design and engineering work is expected to take three to six months.  CATA officials say once contractors are selected, construction is anticipated to take about a year. East Lansing’s new multi-modal transportation facility is expected to open in the fall of 2013.

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