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Michigan DOT, FRA sign track purchase agreement with NS

The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and Norfolk Southern Railway on Dec. 7 signed a sale agreement transferring 135 miles of NS track between Kalamazoo and Dearborn to MDOT for $140 million.

The purchase helps pave the way for MDOT to improve track to accommodate passenger trains traveling at speeds up to 110 mph. Expected to take two to four years to complete, the upgrades include new continuous-welded rail and ties; grade crossing improvements, including gates and flashers; and fiber-optic lines for train and signal control systems.

The upgrades will help knock off about 30 minutes of travel time between Chicago and Detroit, reducing the overall trip time between the two cities to about five hours. Amtrak Wolverine and Blue Water trains operate over the line. Once the line's ownership is fully transferred to MDOT, likely by spring 2013, Amtrak will oversee the track and crossing upgrades. NS will retain an exclusive freight easement to continue operating its trains on the route.

The track purchase is being funded through a High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail program grant from the FRA, as well as a $37.5 million state match. The FRA also awarded a separate $196.5 million grant to MDOT to fund the track and signal improvements.

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