“Left, a skosh!” the guy behind the transit radioed his colleagues about a half mile away along the rails. He was sighting northward up the track from where it crosses Traver Road up to Barton Drive. The guys up the track were almost as invisible to the naked eye in real life as they are in The Chronicle’s photo accompanying this story.
The late morning temperatures were in the low 70s, but without a cloud in the sky, the heat absorbed by the rails from the sun was causing the hotter, less dense air swirling up off the rails to bend the light so that the image through his transit was affected by shimmer. He declared into the radio receiver at one point, “The heat waves are starting to mess me up!”
Asked what he was up to, he invited The Chronicle to just look down the track with a naked eye and asked, “See that?” Readily apparent was the very slight curve in what should have been a perfectly straight track. The originally straight track had been gradually shifted by the weight of trains headed downhill along the stretch. Their mission this morning was to lay out where the track needed to be moved. Later next week (Sept 17 – Sept 19) a tamper will be brought out to actually move the track back into alignment.
Readers who have followed the Washtenaw and Livingston Line project (WALLY) will recognize the significance of this particular stretch of track near Barton Drive southwards. WALLY, currently proposed as a commuter rail line from Howell to Ann Arbor along Great Lakes Central Railroad tracks, might need to terminate near Barton Drive, instead of continuing southwards into town, because, as explained in the last report available on the county’s website:
Two key issues must be resolved for the extension to be implemented: … (2) gaining access to approximately three miles of the AARR [Chronicle note: Ann Arbor Railroad - a different entity from Great Lakes Central Railroad] between its northern-most point at a connection with the Great Lakes Central Railroad at MP 47.5, [Chronicle note: at Plymouth Road just north of Barton Drive] and a location between Hoover Street (MP 44.64) and Stadium Street.
… the AARR is not interested in granting access to the commuter trains because of concern that the potential liability costs of a catastrophic accident, such as derailing a commuter train into the Huron River, would cause the owners to lose the railroad.
As the guy sighting down the track confirmed, these were Ann Arbor Railroad tracks that they were straightening. In addition to the track-straightening work between Barton Drive and Traver Road, AARR has recently installed 750 new railroad ties between State Street and Barton Drive.
More on the Ann Arbor Railroad from ArborWiki.