Despite bridge plan, rail tunnel project travels toward finish
While plans rapidly advance to build a $2 billion bridge over the Detroit River, backers of a $400 million project to build a modern rail tunnel under the waterway continue to seek funding and government approvals. The Continental Rail Gateway tunnel project has been in the planning and financing stages since it was formally launched in 2001 and is the result of another tunnel project that got its start 30 years ago this week. Two rail companies bought the tracks that connected Detroit and Windsor via a twin-tube tunnel that opened in 1910, and they were seeking bidders on a study for possible enlargement of the tubes to handle larger stacked rail cars used for the automotive industry. John Taylor, chair of the Department of Marketing and Supply Chain Management at Wayne State University’s School of Business, said the expansion allowed most train cars to pass through the tunnel. "That was a temporary fix, but it was a critical fix because it allowed us to eliminate railroad car ferries. It took care of most traffic," he said. "That saved the auto companies a good share of money. They were paying a fortune." Taylor is skeptical about the current tunnel project proposal. "It’s very difficult financially because there’s so little traffic that doesn’t fit now," he said. "It’s just hard to justify the financing. Until we get to the point most of the container traffic does not fit, it’s just hard to justify a new railroad tunnel. I think it’s up in the air. The business case is very difficult."