Stakeholders focus on the future of passenger rail


Stakeholders from several communities along the Pere Marquette Amtrak line, which runs from Grand Rapids to Chicago and back each day, met in Holland recently to discuss economic opportunities offered by the passenger rail line.

The Westrain Collaborative hosted the meeting, which was the first stakeholder meeting of its kind organized by the collaborative since it was formed in the mid-1990s to preserve and promote passenger rail in the West Michigan region.

A handful of presenters spoke during the afternoon meeting, including Steve Bulthuis, executive director of the Macatawa Area Coordinating Council, who provided an overview of the Westrain Collaborative and the rail line’s history, and Dave Lorenz, industry relations and international marketing manager for Pure Michigan Travel, who talked about potential opportunities with the Pure Michigan campaign.

The stakeholders also received the results of a community survey and spent time in brainstorming groups identifying potential issues and additional opportunities the rail stops present in their communities.

Bulthuis, who participated in the Holland brainstorming group, said the meeting was very successful.

“I think the greatest benefit of it is that it brought together a larger group of people interested in passenger rail beyond the actual members of the Westrain Collaborative,” he said.

He said representatives from the Holland Downtown Development Authority, Holland Convention and Visitors Bureau and the city’s public transit system all participated in the meeting.

“We had a whole different set of people — the people you needed to have around the table to have the conversation that we had,” he said.

The Holland group identified the need for expanded parking as a key issue for its station’s future success.

“We have a lot of people who leave their vehicles here when they travel on the train,” Bulthuis said. “We have to be proactive and continue to plan for where the next surface parking lot is going to be.”

He said the group identified some options for parking, focusing on proximity to the station as a key criterion, and added the ball is already rolling regarding the area identified by the group as its best option.

“Within less than a month of that meeting and conversation, I had a chance to connect with another group of people who could help us realize securing that future parking,” he said.

The Pere Marquette line is an important amenity for the Holland community, impacting its economy through tourism, business opportunities and providing residents access to other parts of the country via rail.

“We take pride here in Holland in being one of the 500-plus Amtrak communities nationwide,” Bulthuis said. “We see that as adding substantially to our quality of life.”

Besides ensuring future parking capacity for passenger rail travelers, there also is substantial interest in bringing more tourism into the area, particularly from metro Chicago, through promotion of the rail line.

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