The Rapid-owned Vernon J. Ehlers Amtrak Station in downtown Grand Rapids is next door to Rapid Central Station. Photo via fb.com
This morning, commuters departed Grand Rapids from the city’s new $6.1-million Amtrak station for the first time.
The Vernon J. Ehlers Amtrak Station opened today, at 440 Century Ave. SW.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held at the station, with several state and local politicians in attendance, including U.S. Senator Carl Levin, Congressman Fred Upton and Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell.
The station supports daily round-trip service between Grand Rapids and Chicago, known as the Pere Marquette line, with trains leaving the station at 7:40 a.m. and returning at 9:55 p.m.
Funding for the station came from a $4.6-million U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Railroad Administration grant and a $1.5-million match in Federal Transit Administration, MDOT and local funds.
The new station is owned by The Rapid and will be leased to Amtrak.
The Amtrak station was previously located at the corner of Wealthy and Market streets and regularly created traffic congestion during passenger loading and unloading.
The new station sits next door to Rapid Central Station, in the midst of the central business district. Its placement creates an integrated bus and rail system.
Travelers can now connect with Amtrak trains, the new bus rapid transit Silver Line, local bus transit routes, inter-city buses and taxis.
Station amenities include a larger waiting room, restrooms, an Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant boarding platform with a covered canopy and 118 spaces for parking.
A clock tower with colorful lights harken to the glory days of rail travel, making the station more visible to motorists on US-131 and helping provide an extra timekeeping reminder for travelers.
Trains can also now park on an approximately 1,700-foot-long spur track, which serves the platform and station. Previously, the trains were stored overnight in Walker and had to drive to the station each morning. Parking the trains at the station saves both crew time and fuel costs.
"We are excited to make this connection between buses and rail happen," said Peter Varga, CEO, The Rapid. "The Rapid is all about improving connections and access for the people in our community and those that choose to visit us. It’s been a great partnership between federal, state and local entities to make this a reality."
Vernon J. Ehlers
The station is named after former Congressman Vernon J. Ehlers, who helped secure federal funding for the station.
“I am so happy to be here this morning and speak on behalf of my family,” said Ehler’s daughter, Marla Ehlers. “This celebration is wonderful and a fitting culmination to the many years of planning, building and just plain hard work that has gone into bringing the Vernon J. Ehlers Amtrak Station to life.”
She noted her father’s position on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee allowed him to effectively advocate for the infrastructure needs of West Michigan.
“He takes great pride in knowing that he made sure we got our fair share of federal funds for roads, bridges, transit and rail systems,” she said.
“Although my parents aren’t able to be here this morning, they are thrilled about this station and thoroughly enjoyed a private tour of it a few weeks ago. On behalf of my father and the rest of my family, I want to thank Peter Varga and the Transit Committee for naming this station after my dad.”
"The Midwest is where it's at"
Sen. Levin’s commitment to Michigan’s transportation system was also acknowledged during the ceremony.
Larry Krieg, chair of the Michigan Association of Rail Passengers, presented Levin with a lifetime award, calling him a “champion for transportation.”
“Thank you for this wonderful award,” Levin said. “Today, we are celebrating one more step in creating the high-quality passenger rail system Michigan and the nation need.
"You hear people talk a lot about the Amtrak corridor between Boston and Washington D.C., and yes, ridership is obviously higher on the East Coast, because of the population there, but what people don’t realize is when it comes to growth in Amtrak ridership and looking at growth figures, the Midwest is where it's at.”
Levin pointed out that the Pere Marquette is one of the fastest-growing routes in the country, with ridership growing by more than two thirds from 1997 to 2012, according to a 2013 rail transit study.
“If ridership in Grand Rapids is grown so quickly using the old station, just imagine what is going to happen when riders can begin their trips here in this modern, spacious and beautiful facility,” he said.