- Associated Press - Thursday, December 3, 2015

NILES, Mich. (AP) - Two rail transportation advocacy groups say double-tracking the entire roughly 300 miles of an Amtrak line from Chicago to Detroit is the best way to get more frequent and faster trips between the two cities.

The idea is being advocated by the Midwest Association of Railroad Passengers and Midwest High Speed Rail Association. The groups are seeking public support throughout Michigan for the proposal, beginning with a community meeting Wednesday in the southwestern Michigan city of Niles, the South Bend Tribune (http://bit.ly/1PzLY48 ) reports.

The groups want the Michigan Department of Transportation to include double-tracking in plans for upgrades to the train route aimed at increasing reliability, reducing travel times and adding trips. The department isn’t looking at double-tracking the entire route at this point.

Rick Harnish, executive director of Midwest High Speed Rail Association, said about 160 miles of track on the route wouldn’t be double-tracked.

“We think the state should be planning for a lot of growth on the corridor,” Harnish told the roughly 20 people gathered Wednesday.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliara said there were 465,627 riders on the line in fiscal year 2015, down from 477,157 in the previous year.

Michigan Department of Transportation spokesman Michael Frezell said department officials had considered double-tracking the entire route, but decided against it. A capacity analysis, he said, concluded that doing so wasn’t necessary “to accommodate full build-out service.”

The need for continuous double-tracking, Frezell said, is reduced by efficiencies in using train signaling, GPS and other technology that can help coordinate trains.

“MDOT is being fiscally responsible by not double-tracking the entire railroad now,” Frezell said. “If conditions change in the future there is always the opportunity to expand capacity in the existing right of way because the railroad was once double-tracked and the rail bed remains.”

Harnish said he thinks models used in the analysis are conservative.

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Information from: South Bend Tribune, http://www.southbendtribune.com

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