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Grand Rapids studies rail depot


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Bill Sweetnam, who frequently travels by Amtrak train between Grand Rapids and Chicago, is concerned about the condition and appearance of the temporary Grand Rapids station.

Grand Rapids studies rail depot

City sees 20 percent jump this year in ridership on Amtrak route to Chicago.

Associated Press

GRAND RAPIDS -- Two decades after building what was supposed to be a temporary Amtrak depot, the city now is studying the feasibility of putting up a permanent one.

The downtown depot was built in 1984 with the idea of later finding a better site on which to construct a permanent station.

The depot received a $125,000 state-funded renovation in 1997, but talk continues about doing something more permanent. The most recent discussions have focused on the area of the new Rapid Central Station -- the hub of the regional bus service, The Rapid -- a few blocks away.

"Although there's no rail there, there's a stub to the south side of the property of the new Central Station," said Mayor George Heartwell, who served on The Rapid board when the new station was being designed.

"The plan is to build a free-standing building right there so that we have a true intermodal station and Greyhound and The Rapid and Amtrak are all together."

Jim Fetzer, director of development for The Rapid, said his staff recently started looking at the issue.

"We've had one chat with Amtrak and asked them what it would take to get that accomplished," Fetzer told The Grand Rapids Press. "There are a lot of issues that we need to go through."

The biggest stumbling block is funding.

"That would be a pretty expensive endeavor," Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said.

Officials said it is hard to justify the enormous cost of laying rail and building a new station when the Pere Marquette -- the Amtrak train that runs between Grand Rapids and Chicago -- faces the prospect of being cut each year.

"You're going to have to have really good guarantees that the service is going to be around for a while," said Jim Snell, a member of Westrain, a coalition charged with marketing the Grand Rapids-Chicago line.

"Not more than two months ago, they were talking about cutting in half the (state) subsidy, which basically would have eliminated the service. We get that every year, whether it's the Legislature in Lansing or Amtrak national," Snell said.

The threats come despite record ridership in the past two years. There were 73,392 passengers who boarded in fiscal 2003, up 22 percent from the previous year.

Ridership jumped another 20 percent in 2004.

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