Ridership back up, Amtrak resuming Wolverine line trips

Kalamazoo County

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Amtrak is restoring service in West Michigan after the pandemic caused a dramatic drop in the number of passengers.

On Monday, the rail service will bring back an evening route on the Wolverine line, which runs between Detroit and Chicago passing through Kalamazoo and Battle Creek. A mid-day departure will be restored Sept. 7.

Michael Frezell, a spokesperson with the Michigan Department of Transportation, which provides some funding for the service, says passenger volumes are recovering rapidly.

“We’re seeing the travel rebound, so it’s a whole different environment right now,” Frezell said.

The pandemic brought some lines to halt: The Pere Marquette between Grand Rapids and Chicago was cut completely when demand reached a low.

“We saw that shift in passengers so we had to react quickly so it wasn’t adding cost to the service,” Frezell said.

The round-trip route on the Pere Marquette returned late last month.

In June of this year, more than 17,000 passengers road the Wolverine line, officials say. Just 5,500 traveled on that same line in June 2020.

“As we’ve added these trains and people are saying, ‘Yeah, we want to ride the train again,'” Frezell said.

“We’ve been seeing a steady increase in demand on customers booking, buying and traveling on Amtrak really ever since about January,” Marc Magliari, a spokesperson for Amtrak, said. “Right now, we are nationally about 60% of normal if we’re using 2019 as normal.”

Ticket sale numbers for Amtrak on Michigan routes are also increasing.

“For a lot of these days in the last month or so, the one Wolverine round trip has been carrying 300 to 350 people on it, so being able to spread that out to two round trips and get people more choices, we fully expect to see a lot more passenger growth,” Magliari said.

MDOT owns a portions of the track for the Wolverine line and has made improvements that allow for speeds up to 110 mph between Kalamazoo and Albion. Amtrak will also be deploying brand new rail cars across the Midwest.

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