Before the automobile came to Detroit, it operated as an important international rail hub. A submerged tunnel under the Detroit River connecting the city to Canada was one of the first of its kind, and connected to the behemoth Michigan Central Station, which for a time was the tallest rail station in the world. Perhaps not coincidentally, the total milage of rail line in Michigan peaked not long after the opening of the station in the teens of the 20th century. Within Detroit, the location of the station in Corktown was meant to be a hub to spur development in that area, but a variety of factors caused it to enter a period of slow decline until Amtrak ceased operation out of the station in 1988.
The Wolverine line is now the main Amtrak line in and out of Detroit and Michigan as a whole. This particular route has been tinkered with a lot as Amtrak has taken away and added stops in Pontiac and worked to find the right combination of car equipment and track to bring a premium experience at high speeds. Towards this end, the State of Michigan has done a lot to ensure the line is well-funded and managed. In 2012, the state government purchased 135 miles of rail from Norfolk Southern within the state and helped finance improvements which led to Amtrak trains being able to travel up to 110 mph, which officially categorizes the line as high-speed rail in the eyes of the US government.
When it comes to regional rail, one of the proposed systems with the most support is SEMCOG”s Commuter Rail project in between Ann Arbor and Detroit. The line would have several stops along its route, most importantly at the Detroit Airport, and would run 8 times a day. Although the Regional Transit Authority has the plans to try and provide this service, their plans have been rejected by voters in the counties within its domain in Southeast Michigan repeatedly.
Detroit also has its QLINE, a streetcar within the city serving twelve stops, and a Monorail. The QLINE, funded by private funds largely from Quicken Loans’ founder Dan Gilbert, initially was offered as a free service as a pilot, but saw ridership drop significantly after it began charging $1.50 for a three-hour pass.
REGIONAL TRANSIT AUTHORITY
The Regional Transit Authority was created by the State of Michigan in 2012 in order to allow the southeast Michigan area to come up with a comprehensive plan to connect. Unique for Michigan, the organization was granted the power to fund itself through property taxes or vehicle registration fees. Thus far, it has been unable to get much done in the region, largely because its millage tax proposal failed to gain voter approval by an extremely narrow margin in November 2016. The RTA has been the subject of ridicule since, but recently a group of business leaders has come together to advocate for the project once again, hoping that a comprehensive regional transportation network, a dream for the region for decades, could bring much-needed growth to southeast Michigan.