On a June weekend, masked folks filled Amtrak’s Pontiac-to-Chicago train both coming and going from Ann Arbor. Since the federally owned passenger rail line opened all seats in May, spokesperson Marc Magliari says, more than 200 passengers typically ride “the Wolverine” daily.
To meet the demand, “we’ll be bringing back another Wolverine starting July 19th, a second round trip,” Magliari continues, “a morning and an evening, instead of running just the one midday.” Because Amtrak service in Michigan is state sponsored, he says they’re already talking with MDOT about adding a third round trip–possibly as soon as August.
That would bring the service back to pre-pandemic levels. Ridership grew from 401,585 in 2016 to 495,034 in 2019, only to plunge 95 percent during Michigan’s first shutdown: Wolverine ridership fell from 42,158 in May 2019 to 2,391 last May. By this May it was back up to 12,270, and that was with just one train that had half the seats closed off.
Soon those seats will be replaced, along with the cars they’re in. “We’re going to have a new fleet across Michigan, including on the Wolverines later this summer,” says Magliari, with “brand-new cars made in the United States of America with bigger windows and newer seats and built-in Wi-Fi.”
President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better infrastructure plan includes $80 billion for rail, and Magliari thinks it may pass despite previous congressional reluctance to fund railroads. “We’ve come increasingly close to paying our operating costs from the fare box and from state contracts,” Magliari says, “so a lot of that congressional opposition has gone away.”