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Wednesday April 23, 2014
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The Little Railroad that Could

 

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Pairs of locomotives haul dozens of freight cars north, then south, through the middle of Ann Arbor, yet the railroad's presence is mostly unnoticed. During the day, nearly everyone who drives through town scoots across or beneath its tracks without a thought.

In my neighborhood near Pontiac Trail, within three square blocks the tracks cross five streets, and four of the crossings are unprotected by lights or bells. So I do check both directions, despite the fact that in twenty years in the neighborhood I've waited only four times for the train.

The "Annie," as rail fans affectionately call the Ann Arbor Railroad, has a storied 135-year history. Yet, except for the 180 avid members of the Ann Arbor Railroad Technical and Historical Association (AART&HA), most Ann Arbor residents know next to nothing about it.

Ever wondered why there's no Second Avenue downtown? "Big Jim" Ashley was an Ohio congressman and charismatic abolitionist who helped Lincoln guide the Thirteenth Amendment through Congress. In 1878 he built a railroad from Toledo to central Ann Arbor, then northwest to Lake Michigan, where freight was ferried to Wisconsin by boat. Second Avenue was renamed for him.

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