Guests attend the grand opening for the new Vernon J. Ehlers Amtrak Station on Monday, Oct. 27, 2014. Adjacent to the Rapid Central Station, the $6.1 million station will integrate bus and rail transportation system. (Emily Rose Bennett | MLive.com)
GRAND RAPIDS, MI — Bearing floor-to-ceiling windows to brighten its interior, officials quipped the city no longer is home to an “Amshack” station.
The new Vernon J. Ehlers Amtrak Station ceremoniously replaced its Wealthy Street predecessor early Monday, connecting Grand Rapids to Chicago. Ehlers, the former West Michigan congressman whose name appears on the hub’s façade, could not attend though his statesman-like approach to Congress was highly regarded among those at the station’s grand opening.
Retiring U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., remarked Ehlers had a grasp on the community and fought for its people while serving in the House from 1993-2011. It was Ehlers who worked in Washington, D.C., to secure federal funding for the $6.1 million station.
Ehlers brought no “I” nor selfishness to the job, Levin said, only “we.”
“‘Earmark’ is not a dirty word. … We know our communities more than anyone,” said Levin, referring to Ehlers securing $3.8 million for the station. “The loss of earmarking is a loss of representation for the people.”
Ehlers later would vote against the spending bill that contained appropriation dollars for the station in spring 2009. He said it was irresponsible during a time of crisis — the height of the recession.
Ehlers’ daughter, Marla, spoke on behalf of the family. She said Vern Ehlers used to joke that he served on education and science committees because of his profession.
“… And he served on the (House) Transportation committee because he wished to be re-elected,” Marla Ehlers said.
The new Amtrak station, at 440 Century Ave. SW, only is steps away from The Rapid’s Central Station. That transportation hub serves greater Grand Rapids with at least 20 bus routes and its new bus rapid transit system, Silver Line.
It features at least 115 parking spaces, a covered platform, a larger waiting room and a clock tower paying homage to stations of old, seen from U.S. 131 to the east.
The station’s inaugural riders left on the first train at 7:40 a.m. Monday, which is expected to return at 9:55 p.m. If successful, a second daily trip could run on the line, something Heartwell predicts is on schedule.