Archived Story

Depot buzzing Wednesday a.m.

Published 8:00am Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Like many Midwestern cities,  Dowagiac owes its existence, in part, to the arrival of the railroad as buildings and storefronts in the mid-1800s located along S. Front Street, within what is today known as Dowagiac’s central business district.

Wednesday the city will be among nine station communities along the state-supported Amtrak Blue Water line to pay tribute to the 35th anniversary of this passenger rail line, which links The Grand Old City to communities from Port Huron to Chicago.

The public is invited to attend the celebration that begins at 10:30 a.m. Oct. 21 on the east side of the historic Dowagiac Train Depot, according to Vickie Phillipson, program director of the Downtown Development Authority and Greater Dowagiac Chamber of Commerce.

Phillipson, along with Dowagiac resident Ron Leatz, are coordinating the local event.  Leatz, who  is a member of the Railroad Passenger Association, serves each day as a volunteer host for the Dowagiac train station.

The public will enjoy refreshments provided by Wicks Apple House and the harp music of Carl Payne.

Phillipson said Dowagiac residents can sign up that morning for several free drawings that will award 24 commemoratory crew-neck shirts and travel bags, which feature one of the two 35th anniversary logos.

The drawing will also feature an autographed copy of “Dowagiac…Images of America,” donated by the Chamber of Commerce.

Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) provided each of the station communities with complimentary tickets for train travel that day.

People winning the local tickets distributed through the City of Dowagiac were Tammy Brooks, Leslie Malin, JoAnn Gast and Ron Leatz.

“While only five tickets were originally going to be donated for Dowagiac’s use, MDOT was kind enough to give us 10 complimentary tickets,” Phillipson said.
The first five people who called City Clerk James Snow, when information on the celebration was made public through the media, were each awarded two tickets.
Phillipson said Tim Hoeffner, MDOT administrator with the Office of Speed Rail and Innovative Project Advancement, is scheduled to attend the Dowagiac celebration to receive a proclamation from Mayor Don Lyons.

Similar ceremonies are being organized by eight other communities, which will be held immediately prior to the departure of the westbound train that leaves Port Huron at 6 a.m.

The Dowagiac celebration gets underway at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday and will culminate with Blue Water’s arrival in the Grand Old City approximately 25 minutes later.

The event features presentations by Steve Arseneau, director of the Museum at Southwestern Michigan College, 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.

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

That day’s passengers 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 Depot Drive.

Baymont Inn and Suites of Dowagiac, Zeke’s Restaurant and the Chamber of Commerce have also assembled a special “Dowagiac weekend package,” which will be randomly inserted into two of the gift bags the 250 train passengers will receive.

Phillipson said Baymont donated a complimentary night of lodging for  the  two parties that can be used the weekend of Nov. 20, with Zeke’s donating a $30 gift certificate for each of the groups.

They will also receive a $25 Universal Dowagiac Gift Certificate to enjoy while visiting The Grand Old City.

She said the weekend package  was planned to coincide with Dowagiac’s Old-Fashioned Christmas Celebration, which features holiday events for the family on Saturday, Nov. 21, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. downtown, along with the holiday craft show, hosted by Theta Mu Sorority at the high school from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. that day.

Tthe City of Dowagiac was platted in 1848 when the Michigan Central Railroad route was established from Detroit to Niles. Incorporated as a village in 1848, Dowagiac grew to become a city in 1877.

During redevelopment projects of the 1990s, the City of Dowagiac and its Downtown Development Authority rehabilitated Dowagiac’s historic intermodal depot, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The downtown rail corridor was enhanced in 1995 during this community’s $1.8-million Depot Drive Redevelopment Project as a means to serve the future of high-speed train travel between Chicago and Detroit.

In conjunction with Blue Water’s 35th anniversary, Amtrak is offering a fare sale of 35 percent off the regular (full) adult rail price  through this Thursday.  Tickets, however, must be purchased by Wednesday 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 seven 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, 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 and 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 the discontinuation of the International in 2004. However, the 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.

As the nation’s intercity passenger rail operator, Amtrak connects America in safer, greener and healthier ways. Last fiscal year (FY 2009), the railroad carried 27.1 million passengers, making it the second-best ridership year in the company’s history. With 21,000 route miles in 46 states, the District of Columbia and three Canadian provinces, Amtrak operates more than 300 trains each day — at speeds up to 150 mph — to more than 500 destinations. Amtrak also is the operator of choice for state-supported corridor services in 15 states as well as for four commuter rail agencies. Visit Amtrak.com or call 800-USA-RAIL for schedules, fares and more information.

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