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Dowagiac one of nine communities celebrating Blue Water’s 35 years

Published 8:32am Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The City of Dowagiac and its historic train depot will be one of nine station communities that on Wednesday, Oct. 21, commemorate the 35th anniversary of the state-supported Amtrak Blue Water passenger train, linking The Grand Old City to communities from Port Huron to Chicago.

In celebration of this milestone, the public is invited to attend the local event, beginning at 10:30 a.m. outside the train depot, where presentations will be given by Dowagiac Mayor Don Lyons and Steve Arseneau, director of the Museum at Southwestern Michigan College.

Vickie Phillipson, program director of the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) and Greater Dowagiac Chamber of Commerce, announced plans for the Oct. 21 special event Tuesday morning.

Helping her plan the event is Dowagiac resident Ron Leatz, who serves daily as an on-site Amtrak host and who highlighted it Monday night for City Council.

Similar ceremonies are being organized by eight other communities and the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), which will be held immediately prior to the departure of the westbound train, which leaves from Port Huron at 6 a.m.

Phillipson said to commemorate these events, the passenger train that day will feature special Superliner train equipment, including a sightseer lounge car and coaches.

Passengers traveling that day will receive a gift bag containing products from Dowagiac and the other station communities, which will include a copy of the Dowagiac 2009 Events and Festivals Brochure, published by the Chamber of Commerce; the Dogwood Fine Arts Festival’s guide to this community’s public sculpture, inclusive of a new insert depicting the most recent addition to the public art scene – Cheetahs on the Run, which overlooks the train tracks along Depot Drive.

“We are also assembling two weekend packages for Dowagiac, which will be randomly inserted into two of the gift bags the 250 train passengers will receive that day,” Phillipson said.  “Baymont Inn and Suites has donated a complimentary night of lodging for two parties that can be used the weekend of Nov. 20.

“The weekend package, which was planned to coincide with Dowagiac’s Old-Fashioned Christmas Celebration, will also include dinner for two, as well as two Universal Dowagiac Gift Certificates that can be used at any Chamber-member location.”

Residents who attend the Oct. 21 event at the Dowagiac train depot will have the opportunity to enter an on-site drawing to win commemorative apparel, saluting Blue Water’s 35th anniversary, provided by Amtrak and MDOT; and an autographed copy of “Dowagiac … Images of America,” donated by the Chamber of Commerce.

They will also enjoy refreshments and the harp  music of Carl Payne, who has appeared for the past several years at this community’s Beckwith Park Summer Concert Series.

Guest speakers will include Arseneau, who will speak on the historic significance of the railroad to the development of early Dowagiac; and Mayor Lyons, who will address the significance of today’s train travel.

Phillipson said the mayor is also expected to provide a proclamation to Amtrak and MDOT officials, commemorating Blue Water’s milestone  anniversary.

Phillipson said the City of Dowagiac was platted in 1848 when the Michigan Central Railroad route was established from Detroit to Niles.

Incorporated as a village in 1858, Dowagiac grew to become a city in 1877.

“As the home of Round Oak Stove Co. during the latter part of the 19th and early 20th centuries, after Michigan Central Railroad contracted with the company to place heating stoves in each of the depots along its route, the company flourished, which greatly contributed to this community’s early development.”
“As the station communities prepare for each of our celebrations, Amtrak is providing us with five complimentary tickets for train travel that can be used that day,” Phillipson said.

Following the public announcement of the Oct. 21 event in today’s newspaper, Phillipson said, the first five adults to call the City of Dowagiac this Thursday will be awarded the tickets.

The public should direct their calls to City Clerk James Snow at City Hall at 782-2195, ext. 102.

Amtrak is also offering a fare sale of 35 percent off the regular (full) adult rail price on the Blue Water service from Monday, Oct. 19, through Thursday, Oct. 22.

Tickets must be purchased by Oct. 21 from Amtrak.com, a Quik-Trak Self-Serve Ticketing Kiosk, by calling 800-USA-RAIL, or visiting a staffed Amtrak ticket office or select travel agents. (use V155 for discount fare.) Children ages 2-15 may accompany each adult at half the regular (full) adult rail fare.

From fiscal year 2007 to 2008, ridership on the Blue Water service increased 7 percent to 138,604.

This is one of two state-supported routes in Michigan.

From 2002 to 2008, Amtrak ridership on all three train routes in Michigan – Pere Marquette, Wolverine and Blue Water – grew by a combined 60 percent.

The inauguration of the partnership between Amtrak and the State of Michigan for the Blue Water service began on Sept. 13, 1974, when a special inaugural train left Chicago at 6:35 a.m.

The train left with MDOT and Amtrak dignitaries aboard. Gov. William Milliken and his wife, Helen Milliken, boarded the train at Three Oaks and the train made stops at Niles, Kalamazoo (where the governor deboarded) and other stops to Port Huron.

Revenue service began on Sunday, Sept. 15, 1974.

The Blue Water service was renamed the Blue Water Limited in 1975 and enjoyed a peak ridership of about 113,000 in 1981.

In 1982, the service was replaced by the International, with service from Chicago to Toronto, as a joint train with VIA Rail Canada.

Ridership on the International peaked in 1997 with more than 125,000 passengers, then started a steady decline after it was rerouted via Stratford in Canada.

Ridership took an even sharper plunge after Sept. 11, 2001, resulting in discontinuation of the International in 2004.
However, resumption of Blue Water service began one day later. Ridership immediately jumped 20 percent and growth has continued.
The Blue Water and the International have now provided continuous daily service to Durand, East Lansing, Flint, Lapeer and Port Huron since 1974, carrying about 3.8 million passengers.

Michigan is among 15 states that pay Amtrak for service, including the Midwestern states of Illinois, Missouri and Wisconsin.

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