GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN—On October 27, 2014, Mayor George Heartwell and city officials were joined by U.S. Senator Carl Levin, State Transportation Commissioner Lynn Afendoulis and representatives from Amtrak, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) and The Rapid, as well as residents, to celebrate the opening of the Vernon J. Ehlers Station in downtown Grand Rapids. The new passenger rail facility is located south of the existing Central Station served by local Rapid and intercity buses, thereby creating an intermodal hub in the heart of the city.
Due to steadily increasing ridership on Amtrak’s Michigan Services—including the Pere Marquette (Chicago-Grand Rapids)—city and state transportation organizations began to consider construction of a new and larger rail station in the 2000s. Groundbreaking took place on October 14, 2011. In order to locate the rail station adjacent to the bus hub, a spur track was built parallel to Ellsworth Ave. to connect with the CSX mainline to the south. The new station replaces a smaller Colonial Revival style depot with cupola built in 1996 and located about a half mile to the west.
The rail station is named for former Congressman Vern Ehlers, who represented the area and helped obtain federal funding for the facility. The Federal Railroad Administration ultimately contributed $4.6 million, and $1.5 million in matching funds was made available by the Federal Transit Administration, MDOT and local sources.
The one story, ADA-compliant building features a richly textured exterior composed of brick, concrete masonry units, horizontal metal siding and generously-sized glass walls that allow natural light to flood the interior. The waiting room has seating for approximately 50 passengers, and the building also includes restrooms and a crew sign-up room.
Over the main doors, the roof extends to form a sheltered entrance that welcomes passengers. The station’s most prominent feature is a slim, soaring clock tower with a crown of perforated stainless steel; at night, LED lights from within create a glowing beacon for travelers. Along the concrete platform, a canopy offers shelter from inclement weather, including heavy winter snows. Due to the layout of the new site, passenger trains no longer block roads and traffic in town. Amtrak is also able to store trains at the station overnight.
Commissioner Afendoulis noted in a MDOT press release, “This beautiful Amtrak station…creates a new ‘union station’ for Grand Rapids. It now unites multiple modes of transportation into one complex. This is the future of enhanced mobility, connectivity, higher ridership, and transit-oriented development.” Mark Murphy, Amtrak General Manager for Long Distance Service, added: “We look forward to working with local and state officials to realize the economic potential of this rail corridor. This [station] is a huge improvement for our passengers…”
In cooperation with MDOT, Amtrak initiated the 176 mile service in 1984 to link Grand Rapids with Chicago. The line was named after a train of the old Pere Marquette Railway which in turn was named for Père Jacques Marquette, a seventeenth century French Jesuit missionary who preached in the Great Lakes region.
In Fiscal Year 2013, approximately 52,000 travelers began or ended their journey at the Grand Rapids station. The Pere Marquette service is financed primarily through funds made available by the Michigan State Department of Transportation.
Station images courtesy of The Rapid.