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Could Trains Revive the Michigan Central Station?

Detroit is dealing with many of the same issues that Buffalo is, when it comes to reusing its vacant train station. The situation at hand sounds eerily familiar to the plight of the Central Terminal, including abandonment, and the hurdle of being located on the “outskirts” of the city’s central hub. At the same time, there’s a shining light, in the form of someone who is considering taking the project on, by returning the station to its original glory and intended use as… of all things… a train station. Detroit’s  Matthew Moroun is the business mogul who is talking the talk, and might possibly walk the walk. Essentially, the concept is similar to the one that Buffalo recently missed out on. Instead of positioning an Amtrak at the Central Terminal, political leaders opted to build a new station in Downtown Buffalo, much to the chagrin of East Side advocates. 

According to Crain’s, “Moroun envisions the depot having a straight-shot rail line to Detroit Metropolitan Airport and being a stop for Amtrak’s high-speed train routes to Chicago and a connection to Ontario’s VIA through the adjacent rail tunnel that dips below the Detroit River.”

Incredibly, there is also an idea being bandied about that sees a streetcar line connecting the terminal to downtown Detroit. A BRO reader proposed a similar vintage Budd Car Service that would connect the Central Terminal to other key areas within the region (see here).

Moroun is also looking at what it would take to rehab the rest of the building, which is something the developer Doug Swift and businessman Harry Stinson proposed, until the ULI study muddied the waters. Similar to Buffalo’s Central Terminal, Moroun has spent some good money ensuring that the train station is stable – according to Crain’s, he “spent spent more than $8 million installing 1,100 new windows, building a freight elevator in the building’s original smokestack and removing debris and toxic asbestos.” Over the last few years, the Central Terminal Restoration Corporation (CTRC) has done its best to stabilize the Central Terminal, utilizing the limited funds that have been made available. 

You can read the full story about Detroit’s opportunity at hand, to accomplish a similar undertaking that Buffalo was also considering. It will be interesting to see how all of this pans out for Detroit, if Moroun does indeed get the wheels rolling on this project. And if he does, Buffalo should pay close attention. 

Written by queenseyes


Newell Nussbaumer is 'queenseyes' - Eyes of the Queen City and Founder of Buffalo Rising. Co-founder Elmwood Avenue Festival of the Arts. Co-founder Powder Keg Festival that built the world's largest ice maze (Guinness Book of World Records). Instigator behind Emerald Beach at the Erie Basin Marina. Co-created Flurrious! winter festival. Co-creator of Rusty Chain Beer. Instigator behind Saturday Artisan Market (SAM) at Canalside. Founder of The Peddler retro and vintage market. Instigator behind Liberty Hound @ Canalside. Throws The Witches Ball at The Hotel @ The Lafayette, and the Madd Tiki Winter Luau. Other projects: Navigetter.

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  • eagercolin

    How do his pants fit? The fate of a city hangs in the balance.

  • Louis Tully

    I wouldn’t expect much from Moroun.
    Last time I was in Detroit I visited the station for the first time. Very impressive. On an island similar to ours, but not as far from the core. I forget what it was but there was something hacky that had been done, window replacements or poor repair job. That’s what I’d expect from Moroun.

    • BlackRockLifer

      Moroun was behind the ill fated effort by Ambassador Bridge Company to construct a trucks only bridge here in Black Rock. The large parcel he owns along Tonawanda St (the old Tee to Green golf ) has sat vacant for a decade. The property is not maintained and has become a dumping ground as well as a neighborhood eyesore.
      Moroun is known as a dirty dealer in Detroit, our previous councilman Dale Zuchlewski went to Detroit and wrote a story about Marouns corruption, bullying and disrespect for the law and for the residents living near his truck plaza. There was also an article in Forbes outlining the same issues, this guy is trouble.

      • Peter Dudley

        Politics (and historic preservation) make strange bedfellows.

  • grovercleveland

    The biggest thing holding back old train stations is that people don’t ride trains.

  • OldFirstWard

    “Instead of positioning an Amtrak at the Central Terminal, political leaders opted to build a new station in Downtown Buffalo, much to the chagrin of East Side advocates.”

    and the anger of preservationists, excluding the jubilant Tim Tielman of course.

  • goldfish5free

    Both of these gorgeous stations were doomed from the start by locations so impractical they failed in eras when train travel was more common. Michigan Central is right next to a freeway, so I’d give it much higher odds of reuse and survival.

    • Peter Dudley

      Actually, two freeways (I-75 and I-96). A late-1940s Detroit freeway plan proposed a limited-access expressway running through Roosevelt Park (the station’s “front yard”), and onward through the 1914 Vernor Highway / railroad underpass (eighteen tracks wide), adjacent to the station.
      The location of today’s Detroit Metro Airport must be at least fifteen times the failure of the 1913 Michigan Central Station (MCS) location — the airport is more than fifteen miles from downtown Detroit, while the station (along with the nearby 1910 Detroit River Tunnel, which dictated the station site) is only 1.5 miles from Campus Martius.

      • goldfish5free

        Modern international airports require multiple 10,000 foot runways so a significant commute to downtown is to be expected in any city. DTW is the state’s only major airport and a good number of DTW passengers arrive by car from points west. Western Michigan should have built one big airport somewhere around Hastings to serve Grand Rapids, Lansing, Battle Creek and Kalamazoo rather than four little ones, but that’s another story… The condition of Buffalo’s Central Terminal breaks your heart to see, but with a location 3 miles towards Rochester and a 10 min drive on slow streets from any highway, I don’t forsee a future as a transit hub.

  • Peter Dudley

    The grand opening of Detroit’s landmark Michigan Central Station (MCS), the tallest rail passenger station in the world up to that time, was scheduled for the first week of January, 1914. But fire broke out at Michigan Central Railroad’s 30-year-old terminal on Third Street at about 2:30 pm, December 26, 1913. By the time the station’s old-fashioned clock tower collapsed, trains were already arriving and departing at the ultra-modern monument on 15th Street, without ceremony – everyone was too busy for any formalities.
    For more than a century, this iconic structure has reflected the changing spirit of Detroit. Despite its location, 1½ miles from Campus Martius Park, the new passenger terminal was centered in a boom town – the world’s epicenter of cutting-edge automotive technology. Downtown was expected to continue expanding outward. Population growth would justify a magnificent gateway to Detroit’s glowing future.
    Railroad operations were cutting-edge, too. More than 28 miles of electrified track were laid on both sides of the river, including Michigan Central’s 1½-mile-long twin-tubed Detroit River Tunnel, completed in 1910. This Electric Zone included all of the station’s tracks – sixteen passenger and express freight sidings, a 25-track stub-ended coach yard, sixteen team tracks for receiving supplies, and M.C.R.R.’s double-track mainline.
    Between Chicago and Buffalo, “The Niagara Falls Route” (via Detroit and southern Ontario) was actually shorter, faster, and less-congested than New York Central Railroad’s “Water Level Route” (via Toledo, Cleveland, and Erie).
    Electric locomotives drew 600-volt direct current from an outside-third-rail – the same system used at New York City’s Grand Central Terminal, which opened eleven months earlier. The same architects and engineers planned and built both stations simultaneously.
    Many of our ancestors arrived here – their new lives began aboard Depot Loop streetcars, departing from the curving Trolley Platform near the station’s East Entrance.
    Amid tearful farewells, warriors departed through the Passenger Subway, toward distant battlefields – many returned, to heartfelt embraces in the Main Concourse.
    After 1929, the glowing future dimmed. Gradually, the station devolved into an abandoned, monumental reminder of a future that had passed.
    The technology that spawned it ultimately ruined it.
    But the Station, along with its City, still stands.
    Search the Online Collection at, for vintage photos of MCS. Visit Michigan Central Station Preservation Society”s Facebook page, or go to, for updates about the continuing effort to revive Detroit’s most-famous / infamous landmark.
    The attached, award-winning photograph was retrieved from Julian Bibb Photography’s Facebook page.