It will take at least two years to establish the passenger route from Traverse City to Howell and another two years to extend the route north to Petoskey, said Mike Bagwell, president and CEO of Federated Railways, which bought the Tuscola Saginaw Bay Railway Company at the end of March.
Initially the train will go from south to north. Eventually, we may have some shorter train trips, milk-run trains that make stops. But this express train will not stop.
The trip from Traverse City to Howell will likely take about six hours, so the rail line will provide some entertainment, dinner and drinks on the cars, Bagwell said.
Maybe a murder mystery or an activities car with video games for children, he said. Keep in mind these are huge cars and you can do anything you want with them. We can take all the seats that are in there presently and design them into something our riders will want.
Federated Railways is in the business of leasing passenger train cars. It will use some of these stainless steel passenger cars for the new train line, Bagwell said.
(Federated Properties, its sister company, has plans to build two multi-story buildings in downtown Traverse City with condos, offices, retail shops, and a parking deck if voters approve a bond issue in August. Its parent company, Federated Financial
Corporation of America, specializes in leasing.)
Federated Railways also negotiated an operating agreement with the State of Michigan, which owns the majority of the rail line from Howell to Petoskey.
The train wont go all the way to downtown Ann Arbor because the rail line doesnt reach that far. Federated will work with the city, however, to get bus service to the downtown area, Bagwell said.
Before the passenger service can become a reality, there is much work to be done. The biggest task is extending the warning signals at the crossings. Thats necessary because the passenger train will travel nearly 60 mph between towns, about twice as fast as the freight train. The railway has 367 crossings, but not all need to modified.
Federated, which owns 40 miles of the rail line, also has to complete about 16 miles of track upgrades, mostly in the area of Petoskey, Traverse City and Ashley (between Owosso and Mount Pleasant).
Federated believes the passenger train can work in cities like Traverse City because a large majority of visitors have family and friends in the area who can pick them up from the train station.
The track could be a boon to Turtle Creek Resort and the Boyne Mountain ski resort because the track runs very close to
Ticket prices are up in the air right now, and will largely be determined by how many people ride the train, Bagwell said.