After decades of losing substantial amounts running passenger trains, most of the nation’s railroads entered into an agreement with the federal government in 1970. A government-affiliated corporation, Amtrak, would obtain all of their passenger equipment and operate a skeletal system of trains on routes where there was there was some potential for traffic. The only Michigan route that Amtrak retained was the Michigan Central line from Detroit to Chicago. Amtrak began running trains in May, 1971. Three years later, the State of Michigan provided funding for the one daily train that now runs from Grand Rapids to Chicago and return and another than runs from Port Huron to Chicago and return.
In 1971, Amtrak stopped their trains at the depots that the railroads had used. Many of these stations were old and costly to maintain. Gradually, Amtrak built a few stations of their own or joined forces with cities to build small stations that served as local transportation hubs. Amtrak built new stations in Ann Arbor, Dearborn, Detroit and Grand Rapids. The joined with Battle Creek, Flint and Pontiac to build depots that served as transit centers for local bus lines and, in New Buffalo, a real estate developer built a very modest depot for Amtrak in hopes of promoting his holdings. Amtrak continues to use classic Nineteenth Century Michigan Central depots in Albion, Bangor, Dowagiac, Jackson, Kalamazoo and Niles and a similarly-aged Grand Trunk Western depot in Lapeer. The era of depot building is not, however, yet completed. Federal stimulus funds made available after 2009 are scheduled to support the erection of new stations in Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Grand Rapids while providing funds to renovate the depot in Battle Creek.
The Depot you see pictured here was constructed in 1989 to serve the two Amtrak trains that stop on their way to and from Chicago. Local buses and intercity buses of Greyhound and Indian Trails also use this campus of the Flint Mass Transit Authority. Amtrak has been a financially constrained business throughout their existence so most of the depots that they erected were designed by architects but built at minimal cost. This is a quite rectangular structure of brick, glass and metal. While it is unique, it bears some resemblance to other Amtrak depots across the nation since they sought to minimize design and construction expenses. The best that you can say is that they are functional but certainly not warm or distinguished buildings. I don’t believe that any of them will ever merit recognition on a list of historic buildings.
The Flint and Pere Marquette, in 1859, was the first rail line to serve Flint—a link to Saginaw. Through additions and mergers this road eventually stretched south to Detroit and Toledo and northwest to Ludington and intermediate points. When the Pere Marquette offered passenger service, they used a large brick structure near downtown, one that no longer stands.
The Grand Trunk’s east-west line from Portland, Maine; Montréal and Toronto got to Flint in 1871. A decade later that railroad completed its tracks to Chicago. That line is the one that is followed by the Amtrak trains on their way from Port Huron to Battle Creek. From Battle Creek to Chicago, Amtrak now uses the tracks of the former Michigan Central Railroad.
Amtrak service in Flint operated for eight years before the structure you see opened. I believe they used the former Grand Trunk depot in that span, a depot that no longer stands.
Date of construction: 1989
Architect: Unknown, presumably an Amtrak staff architect or consulting architect
Use in 2011: Intermodal transit center for Flint
State of Michigan Register of Historic Sites: Not listed
National Register of Historic Places: Not listed
Photograph: Ren Farley; 2010
Description prepared: November, 2011
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