Ride the Train

The train to Comerica Park is a hit. The tickets sold out in one weekend. Four trains from Oakland County to Downtown Detroit may not seem momentous but it shows how mass transit adds something very special to the life of a city.

What's so special about mass transit? It brings people together. Mass transit promotes community. It helps create cities that are efficient, exciting and dense. It promotes social interaction and the development of a culture that is comfortable with diversity. The car is an efficient tool. It conveniently gets us from here to there but the car is all about the individual. There is no doubt: The car promotes isolation, while the train promotes society.

Driving a car is like eating dinner alone at home in front of the TV. We all do it, but it's not exactly a rich and fulfilling experience. The train is like going to your local diner. Someone else fixes the meal and cleans up. You can laugh with the waitress, listen to your neighbors talk, people watch. It's an experience full of life.

The trains to Comerica Park are, no doubt, party trains, especially if the Tigers win. We can't expect our mass transit to always be like that, but even in its everyday form, the train is about community. It is about being with people.

Several weeks ago we took Amtrak's Wolverine Express from Royal Oak to Chicago. Yes, the train actually runs every day, twice a day, in both directions. Rolling luggage in tow, we walked the seven blocks from our house to the Royal Oak station, boarded the train with about 15 other riders and left promptly at 7 am. We saw some wonderful scenery on the way. The view from the train is fascinating.

Unlike the freeway, train tracks follow the back roads. You see the underside of cities. It's not always pretty but it is interesting. The Wolverine express originates in Pontiac and stops briefly in Royal Oak, Birmingham, Detroit's New Center Station, Dearborn, Ann Arbor, Jackson, Battle Creek, Kalamazoo, Albion and Michigan City, Indiana. (Check Amtrak for current schedule and stops.) Six hours after boarding in Royal Oak we stepped into Chicago's Union Station rested and ready to walk the city.

But that's not the whole story. It's not just about getting there. During those six hours of train travel wonderful things happened. We talked to other passengers. The dining car attendant joked. We laughed, had some coffee and lunch and read the paper. After a very hectic weekend of sightseeing we boarded the train for home and slept most of the way back. It was a rich experience and by far the best way to travel from Detroit to Chicago. If you haven't done it, give it a try.

In-town trains, subways and elevated trains like the People Mover offer similar benefits. You make eye contact, talk, and offer someone your seat. You experience your surroundings directly. You meet neighbors and strangers and your life is enriched. Your world is enlarged and your community strengthened.

Individualism is ingrained in our national character. It's part of what makes this country great, but we need to balance that stoic strain with a greater sense of sharing. We are best when we are together. We are weakest when we are alone. The train promotes togetherness.

The car caters to the individual. It is fast and convenient. It is an important part of our history and our future. But there should be transportation options to suit many lifestyles. We need a way around the bumper-to-bumper traffic, high gas prices, high parking prices and high insurance rates.

Most importantly, we need a way for our community to become closer and more vital. A train can help. Good mass transit can carry us into a brighter and more diverse future.

Architect Francis X. Arvan is a native metro Detroiter and a graduate of Lawrence Technological University and Columbia's Graduate School of Architecture. He's practiced architecture in New York City and Westchester County, and taught architecture at New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark. He established his firm, Royal Oak-based FX Architecture, in 2000.


Interior of the Wolverine Express

Comerica Park

The Wolverine Express at the New Center Station

The New Center Amtrak Station

All Photographs Copyright Dave Krieger

Signup for Email Alerts