The Coe Rail Line
The Coe Rail Line is a 5.5 mile stretch of the former Grand Truck Rail Road that runs from Wixom to Commerce Township through Walled Lake. Since the close of the Michigan Star Clipper dinner train in 2008, ridership has been negligible. The land, including the Walled Lake Depot in the heart of downtown Walled Lake, is now in abandonment. The municipalities of Commerce, Walled Lake, and Wixom have established a trail way management council (CWLW) in an effort to acquire the land. Alongside the Michigan Trails and Greenways Association (MTGA), they have been actively pursuing funding from MDOT and the DNR. The goal has been to establish a trail way along the Coe that would serve as a pedestrian recreational corridor between the three communities and link the Huron Valley Trail to the West Bloomfield Trail. The linking of these trails is part of a broader effort by the MTGA to establish the Michigan Airline Trail, a 240 mile network of trails connecting the Michigan’s east and west coast.
The premise of rails-to-trails is to uproot obsolete rail infrastructure in favor of recreational trails. However, maintaining the rail line also carries its own opportunities. The rail itself is still in useful condition and conforms to a standard track gauge that can host light rail vehicles and streetcars. Working with a team of community activists including Nancy Krupiarz (Executive Director of the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance), Mike Dornan (of the CWLW Trailway Management Council), and Ron Campbell, AIA (Principal Planner, Preservation Architect for Oakland County Planning), student Brian Eady proposed a different approach to this project based on the question “Can we give the rail line an alternative community value and have it coexist with the pedestrian greenway?”
Rather than solely converting the rail line to a trail way and wasting the existing infrastructure, Brian proposed a new pedestrian path to be built adjacent to the rail line within the right-of-way, establishing a new multimode greenway that will connect the communities and create a spine for activity and development. This pathway would create a pedestrian corridor to serve foot, cycle, and segway traffic: not only providing an opportunity for recreation, but allowing for alternative access to critical nodes such as schools, municipal complexes, and parks. Along the rail line, a community tram would shuttle between Wixom and Commerce, giving the rail new purpose as an alternative means of transportation for local residents, visitors, and employees.
The Walled Lake Depot site would be revitalized to serve several new functions. As a historically preserved building, the floor plan for the original Walled Lake Depot (west end) would remain largely the same, hosting a new railroad historical museum for local collectors to display Grand Truck Railroad memorabilia. Minor modifications would be made to the floor plan of 1996 addition at the east end of the building to open up the space and improve circulation. The building would also serve as office space for the Walled Lake Downtown Development Authority. Having the DDA move to this building would give them a permanent home that would double as a welcome center for the city. The Depot would also remain as the central station for the community tram.
The existing pole barn would be repurposed as the Walled Lake Trail Center to fit and expand the amenities for the greenway and surrounding community. The primary functions of the Trail Center are to serve as a trail head, maintenance building, and garage for the CWLW Tram. The first floor would include restrooms, day use lockers, vending machines, trail directories, and office space to serve the baseline functions of the trail head. Additional programming includes a bicycle rental and maintenance area with garage door access, countertop space, and community multiuse areas on the first and second floor. The countertop area is intended to serve as a retail counter for rentals (bike and segway) and trail merchandise. However, other options could include food services such as ice cream and hot dogs, catered food staging and bar area for public and private events, or even a community kitchen. The multiuse areas are intended to be flex spaces that can serve a variety of community functions.
Brian assesses the project as follows: “The Coe Rail Line runs adjacent to my neighborhood, which is in the emerging Wixom Village Center. I think a pedestrian trail adds a lot of value to cities involved. Kensington Park, Lyon Oaks, and Proud Lake Recreation are all close, but the park entry fee is not justifiable if I simply want to walk out my front door and go for a walk with my wife. Having the trail offers something convenient that is still segregated from traffic. The nodes along the trail are also significant. I can imagine children riding their bikes to one of the several schools along the trail or from soccer practice at Mettala park the Dairy Queen in the Village Center. Expanding the vision to include the rail infrastructure only adds to the prospect of interconnection between communities.”
(Text excerpted and edited from Brian’s final presentation.)