In the near term, Grand Rapids could hold a light-rail demonstration. The purpose would be to introduce the community to light-rail, rather than serve an extensive transit function. To get the ball rolling for commuter rail, the Madison, WI area held a demonstration project. In 1997, Cap Metro (Austin Texas) hosted a demo for light-rail vehicles down a 29-mile freight railroad near that city. Now, Cap Metro has contracted Veolia to provide commuter rail services between Austin's downtown and Leander, TX for start up in 2008.
The potential of a demonstration project could be enormous. It would reintroduce a transportation concept that has been missing in the Metro since the late 1920s. The infrastructure is here in the form of freight rail lines that criss-cross the entire area. Bringing a demonstration model to showcase could really immerse citizens into the idea.
A possible line
The Coopersville & Marne Railway has a rail line between Coopersville and Grand Rapids. This company is keeping the heritage of railroading alive by providing the community with transit fun! During major holidays the railway hosts themed train rides from its Coopersville station to Marne. What makes this route great is that sufficient infrastructure is in place. Their facilities and rail should be adequate enough to allow for light-rail vehicles. This route would include two stops. One at Coopersville's current station and a second stop at Ann St. NW. near the end of the line. There maybe equally qualified routes throughout the metro area, but this rail line is one example. Demonstration Map
Very little infrastructure is needed to make a light-rail demo reality. The existing station at Coopersville should already provide safe boarding and access to riders. It already provides for the Coopersville and Marne Railway's themed train. If needed, a ramp or temporary platform can be constructed to allow access for people with physical disabilities. Coopersville station map
Grand Rapids Station
A stop can be built just south of Ann St. NW on the current railroad right-of-way. The area has parking to the northwest across Ann St. The existing parking lot is held by EVANS TEMPCON INC . If Evans Tempcon can spare the extra spaces, a simple handshake may be the only thing to allocate those spaces for demonstration riders. Like Coopersville, a simple temporary platform could be built to provide safe boarding off of Ann St. NW. Grand Rapids station map
What kind of trains?
The technology would be diesel powered light rail vehicles. Diesel is a widely used form of propulsion to help lower start up costs because there is no need for electrification systems. Three companies in the light-rail industry are producing very popular models. While these companies offer a standard "off-the-shelf" model it is common in the industry to produce specialized models for different transit agencies. For simplicity we will use standard models.
Bombardier produces an assortment of diesel powered light-rail vehicles, with the Talent model a popular choice for many commuters. Advertised as a regional train, this model has been used successfully in short distances for commuter services. Currently, this train is being used as the "O-train" in Ottawa, Ontario.
Stadler Rail is another popular transit manufacture in Europe supplying Austin's Cap Metro the GTW 2/6 Model. The GTW model is a one of the best selling rail cars in Europe. The GTW can be found in use on New Jersey's RiverLINE. (see NJ's RiverLINE) The "GTW" is an abbreviated Swiss term, "Gelenktriebwagen" meaning articulated rail car. The above photo is a illustration of a GTW 2/6 on the West Side of Grand Rapids.
Siemens's Transportation offers the Desiro brand. The Desiro comes in many different shapes, but provides the transit industry with a diesel powered unit, much similar to the above examples.
The demonstration rides could run in a two week period at intervals of every couple of hours. A train could depart at Ann ST. NW and continue on to Coopersville Station and return back. During the demonstration, volunteers could pass out brochures provided by the train manufacture. There could also be an expert from the manufacture to conduct an informational walk-through during the ride and field any questions. Both ITP and Grand Valley Metro Council could pass out informational pamphlets on how citizen's can get involved.
Who and how to pay for it?
Since this would be a transit project the Interurban Transit Partnership and Grand Valley Metro Council will definitely have to be a moving force in building the team. It is likely they would direct private organizations to bring about funding and cooperation. The Interurban Transit Partnership should manage the event and cover risk and insurance if possible.
General funds from ITP, Ottawa and Kent Counties may provide help for the partial cost to operate a demonstration. Private donations, such as foundation grants and corporate sponsorships could fill the gap. An event would only consist of a two week period as a result operational costs should be low. However, renting the vehicle and transporting it to Grand Rapids will be a major cost. Considering the possible media publicity, land and track use could be rented in exchange for exposure. Trustees would need to court property owners around the temporary stations i.e. The Railway and Evans Tempcon INC. for adequate parking near GR's NW Side station.