Detroit’s M-1 Rail Could Be Powered by Electric Batteries


As part of the bid request for Detroit’s M-1 Rail line along Woodward Avenue, planners are studying whether electric batteries could power the rail cars. While overhead electric lines will be the main energy source to propel the rail cars, certain sections of the 3.3-mile route may be challenging to install the lines.

“There’s certain stretches of Woodward that are cumbersome, so the ability to power the rail cars using electric batteries holds promise,” says Matthew Cullen, president and CEO of M-1 Rail. “The offline capability is intriguing for engineering reasons and aesthetic reasons.”

Certain sections of the Woodward route, such as around Campus Martius Park and the rail bridge south of Baltimore in New Center, will be difficult to install overhead lines, Cullen says. While no final decisions have been made on whether to equip the rail cars with batteries, Cullen says the technology is such that the power packs could be recharged rapidly.

“Campus Martius has a lot of moving parts with events, and having electric lines above the park could prove to be a problem,” Cullen says. “If a parade goes through there, or if you have other activities, those lines could be in the way.”

As it stands, construction of the rail line is expected to begin by the end of the year, and take about two years to complete. The $140-million project, which was approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation in April, includes relocating utility lines, adding 13 stations, and building the track.

Some 15 private businesses and organizations collectively donated $100 million to M-1, including Dan Gilbert, founder and chairman of Quicken Loans in Detroit and Roger Penske, chairman of Penske Corp. in Bloomfield Hills.