Dec. 13—Passenger rail service for mid- Michigan and beyond has been discussed for more than a decade.
But during the past couple of years the idea has been gaining traction and inching closer to becoming a reality.
Much of the planning has already taken place for the proposed project that would connect southwest and northern Michigan via a 300-mile rail line.
Under the proposal, passenger service would be offered from Detroit to Petoskey. Three stops in mid- Michigan — Alma, Mt. Pleasant and Clare — are included in the current plan.
Even though the project, which has changed its name from Ann Arbor to Traverse City to Michigan's North-South Passenger Rail, is likely still a few years away from coming to fruition, city of Alma officials are trying to be proactive by seeking the demotion of a vacant city-owned building in the State Street Plaza adjacent to the current freight line.
The city has applied for a blight elimination grant through the Gratiot County Land Bank, with funding coming from the Michigan State Land Bank Authority, to tear down the structure.
"The building needs major investments to make it a viability rental property, and it is built within the bank of the rail line," City Manager Aeric Ripley said.
"As we discuss the future of a passenger rail line, with one of the stops in Alma, this general location downtown makes a lot of sense for a train depot (or) passenger platform. If we were able to leverage dollars to remove the building now, the space will be one step closer for development and removes a building with no long-term viability."
The passenger rail line project is being spearheaded by the nonprofit Traverse City-based Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities and the Cadillac/Wexford Transit Authority.
Most of the rail line is owned by the state and operated by Great Lake Central Railroad. It's currently used exclusively for transporting freight and occasional seasonal tours.
The proposal has already received several million dollars in federal transportation funding to conduct studies.
The project is set to begin phase II of the planning process early next year, according to Ripley.
"The grant received last year by the Cadillac/Wexford Transit Authority will fund this portion of the project," he said.
"As part of this phase, the communities along the line, which Alma is one, will have direct input through the community outreach process. How this process will look has not been determined, but it is good news the proposal is moving forward."
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