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MARP meets at the Ypsi Freighthouse April 25, 2015

MARP Member Meeting
Saturday, April 25, 2015
10 a.m. – 12 p.m.
Ypsilanti Depot Freighthouse
Depot Drive, Ypsilanti MI 48198

Photograph:  August 21, 2009   Ren Farley
Photograph: August 21, 2009 Ren Farley

Map & Directions

We hope you will plan to attend the April MARP meeting being held in Michigan Central’s 1878 Freighthouse, now the focal point of Ypsilanti’s historic Depot Town. If it has been awhile since your last visit, you will be impressed with the work of the Friends group that recently completed a successful crowdfunding effort to continue their vision of creating a vibrant community meeting place.

Our featured speaker, Liz Treutel, is eager to help guide us through the implications for Michigan’s transportation system – including passenger trains —  of Proposal 1 on the May 5 ballot. As a policy associate at the Michigan Environmental Council, Liz is providing invaluable and enthusiastic leadership to the Michigan By Rail project which has undertaken a study to gage the feasibility of returning passenger train service to the Coast-to-Coast route  connecting Detroit-Lansing-Grand Rapids-Holland.

A native of Wisconsin, Liz has adopted Michigan as her new home among the Great Lakes. Armed with degrees in architectural studies and urban planning, as well as work experience with SMART, she is passionate about increasing accessibility and opportunity through transportation policy and linking transportation to sustainable land use, economic development and placemaking.

If you would like to connect with a carpool to the meeting, please  email marprail@yahoo.com.

MICHIGAN ASSOCIATION OF RAILROAD PASSENGERS

Please note this correction to the March issue of ON TRACK:
The 10th Annual Michigan Earth Day Fest in Rochester takes place on April 24-26, not May 24-26.

YPSILANTI VISITOR INFORMATION

April 2015 edition of OnTrack

Click here to save this file or to view it as a PDF in full screen.

Included in this issue:

  • Proposal 1 and Passenger Trains
  • Grand Elk Railroad Interchanges with MARP
  • PayPal Now Available on MARP Website
  • How Taxes Collected at the Gas Pump Are Distributed
  • 15 Minutes or Better: A Field Guide to Everyday Transit (a crowdfunding initiative)
  • Amtrak Train Days Events in Michigan
  • MARP Outreach Events Scheduled

We hope you enjoy the issue and that you will let us hear your comments and suggestions. If you would like to write a story or suggest an item to be covered, email us at marprail@yahoo.com

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Sault Ste. Marie and Hearst train service continues uninterrupted

From the Sault Star:

The ACR passenger train rolls into Sault Ste. Marie from Hearst March 31, 2015 at the CN Rail yard in the city's west end. Jeffrey Ougler/Sault Star
The ACR passenger train rolls into Sault Ste. Marie from Hearst March 31, 2015 at the CN Rail yard in the city’s west end. Jeffrey Ougler/Sault Star

The new operator of the passenger train service between Sault Ste. Marie and Hearst hailed the announcement as a new beginning and a new future for Northern rail service.

B. Allen Brown, CEO of Railmark Canada, was even happier April 1, 2015 when the late night federal funding announcement was followed up by Transport Canada that Railmark has received its certificate of approval to operate on new legislation.

“There are some requirements and coordination that we expected but we’re certainly moving forward today,”

Brown told The Sault Star. “We can now start telling our prospective employees about the transition and work on the transition and coordination plan.”

Transport Canada Minister Lisa Raitt announced late Tuesday night that the government will provide $5.3 million of funding over three years for the continued operation of the passenger rail service.

“Our government was pleased to provide funding to maintain passenger rail service between Sault Ste. Marie and Hearst. I thank MP Bryan Hayes for all his hard work and dedication on this file,” Raitt said.

The money will be filtered through the City of Sault Ste. Marie and logistical agreements will be made between the city, Railmark and the government over the next few weeks.

There will be no interruption of service. CN will continue operations for the next few weeks as the transition occurs.

Brown cautions that the funding announcement doesn’t mean the long-term “business as usual” for the train.

“At the end of the day we are not going to be business as usual because that’s what we told the government,” Brown said. “I just inherited a business that loses $2.2 million a year and we want to transform that business so it can break even in the sixth year and turn a profit in the seventh year and that’s the plan we’ve created.”

Brown promises better marketing, especially to the forgotten mid-west, better communication with stakeholders and users and an improved customer service and product base that will attract more riders for different reasons.

A relaunch of the snow train, dinner trains and specialty trains will be added in due course, he said.

Meanwhile, Railmark is the first company to receive its certificate to operate a rail under the new legislation created after the Lac-Megantic rail disaster that occurred in July 2013 after rail cars carrying crude oil rolled downhill, derailed and exploded, killing more than 40 people and creating the fourth largest rail disaster in Canadian history.

Sault MP Bryan Hayes said he’s “very pleased this has happened and I look forward to Railmark getting things off the ground.”

He said that the approval was provided in a “very short time frame” and came late Tuesday night during a treasury board meeting.

“I have faith in Railmark and the stakeholder’s group and the plan to increase the passenger side of the business,” he said.

Hayes said he expects the announcement to also be pleasing to tourist operators, property owners and communities along the train line.

“The stakeholder committee has done a marvelous job and will continue to stay in tune with the operations and the plans,” he said.

Mayor Christian Provenzano said he believes it’s the City of Sault Ste. Marie who will be responsible for the funding and there are some legal obligations that the city needs to meet that council will need to approve.

In addition, he believes there needs to be some agreements sent out between the parties.

“I’m pleased there’s an arrangement and council has some work to do here to ensure we’re satisfied and protected through contracts,” he said.

Sault Ste. Marie EDC CEO Tom Dodds said flowing the money through the City, a responsible financial entity, is appropriate and a prudent course of action by Transport Canada.

He doesn’t expect any issues with process.

Brown said the federal government is aware that he’s still looking for two additional years of funding assistance.

“We understand that position too,” said Hayes. “We recognize that there should be a review after three years and assess the need for the last $1.7 million from the federal government. Maybe at that point that money won’t be required, or there will be less of a requirement. The government will do its due diligence once again at that point.”

Dodds said it’s also important to know that as a result of the local stakeholder committee’s work, the rail lines removal from that program has now been reinstated.

“We were removed from the program and now we have been reinstated in that program and I credit the stakeholders with that,” Dodds said. “Now our job is to advocate to successfully keep it and what’s more important, is that (Brown) is prepared to agree to the three-year term.”

Linda Savory-Gordon, co-chair of the Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains (CAPT) said she’s also pleased the funding has been approved by Transport Canada but realizes there is still much work to be done.

“We’re excited for this new service to begin but we agree that there needs to be some change that will result in more communication with the stakeholders and a strong attempt to draw more passengers and products to the line,” she said. “We believe this can be made into a real, incredible tourism corridor and we’re excited to work with someone who has that same goal,” Savory-Gordon said.

The feeling was echoed by co-chair and Wilderness Island owner Al Errington.

“This is a solid three years,” he said. “We will be there to do the due diligence to determine how the money is spent and those who need to use the train will help guide it and be accountable.”

He attributes the successful funding to the work that Hayes and Algoma-Manitoulin MP Carol Hughes did.

“These politicians collaborated and acted on behalf of their constituents,” he said. “People don’t realize how much work (Hayes) did to get this done.”

Errington said it’s the passengers who understand the need for the train best.

“We’re the ones who understand the train. The train is actually a small community and we want to make it a bigger community,” he said.

Errington expects Ontario tourism to be very strong this year and he wants that momentum to start on the train.

“I’m very excited to get to work on that,” he said.

A year ago, Transport Canada announced that it was cutting its remote access transportation funding – $2.2 million annually – to CN because stops along the route between the two Northern Ontario communities no longer fit the criteria.

The government granted a temporary, one-year hiatus that allowed local stakeholders a chance to regroup, complete a business study showing the economic benefit of the train on the region’s economy and devise a plan that would see sustainability of the operation.

It’s expected the transition period will take about one month to complete. Passenger train service will continue through that transition.

Source: http://www.saultstar.com/2015/04/01/train-service-will-continue-uninterrupted

Railmark finalizes agreement to run Algoma Central Railway passenger rail service

From a Northern Ontario Tourism press release:

1297524343209_ORIGINALRailmark Canada Ltd. is set to assume the operations of the Algoma Central Railway passenger service. The company, a Canadian subsidiary of Railmark Holdings Inc., recently finalized a set of agreements with CN to acquire assets and take over the Sault-to-Hearst rail line. Railmark has a plan in place to ensure the long-term viability of the transportation link.

For more than 15 years, Railmark has operated in 19 countries around the world, including a significant presence in Ontario and Michigan. The company operates short-line railways and tourist rail expeditions such as dinner and entertainment tours. Railmark also provides rail logistics and mechanical services.

“We see great potential in the ACR passenger service,” said Allen Brown, President and CEO of Railmark. “We look forward to continuing to engage with the regional stakeholders, CN and the Government of Canada to keep the line operating and make it a viable and sustainable operation.”

In September 2014, the ACR Passenger Service Stakeholders Working Group, with consensus from CN, which owns the ACR, undertook a request for proposal (RFP) process to identify a qualified third party to take over the remote passenger line. A number of bids were submitted. After a due diligence process, CN selected Railmark’s proposal to continue operating the remote passenger rail service. In a separate procurement process, Railmark was also chosen by CN to operate the Agawa Canyon Train Tour.

“CN is pleased to have concluded an agreement with Railmark Canada Ltd. to assume operation of the Sault Ste. Marie-to-Hearst, Ontario, passenger train, along with the Agawa Canyon Train Tour,” said Luc Jobin, CN’s Executive Vice-President and Chief Financial Officer. “CN believes Railmark’s passenger train expertise will benefit the operation of both services.”

As part of its bid to operate the ACR passenger rail line, Railmark outlined its plans to increase ridership by expanding the number of offerings while ramping up services and marketing efforts. Specifically, the company intends on adding dining tours and other entertainment-based voyages. By presenting a greater variety of excursions and providing a higher-value purchase for passengers, its business plan sees the remote rail service becoming self-sustaining within five years.

In January 2014, Transport Canada announced its intention to cut its annual investment into the ACR passenger service. The Working Group was then formed to come up with solutions to keep the regional transportation line in operation. The Federal Government later issued a one-year funding extension, which is set to expire March 31, 2015.

Based on an economic impact assessment from BDO Canada, the ACR passenger service currently generates between $38 and $48 million in annual economic activity, supports more than 200 jobs, and generates over $5 million in tax revenue each year. With Railmark’s expansion plans for the ACR, these numbers are expected to increase considerably. The discontinuation of the rail service will result in a significant loss of these current and future benefits, along with and an additional one-time impact on the values of properties located on, or in close proximity to, the rail line in an amount between $60 million and $67 million.

In recent years, the Government of Canada has been investing $2.2 million annually into the remote ACR passenger line. Under Railmark’s proposal, the amount needed from Transport Canada is $7 million over five years, considerably less than previous investments from the ministry. And after the five-year period, Railmark’s business plan calls for an end to public funding as the service becomes self-sustainable.

“The Federal Government has the ability to keep this critical remote service in operation for a relatively limited investment,” said Joe Fratesi, Chair of the Working Group and CAO for the City of Sault Ste. Marie. “With time running out before the March 31 funding deadline, we look forward to hearing back from Transport Canada in the near future on the ministry’s decision to help keep this transportation link in operation. Our MP, Bryan Hayes, has been very helpful at ensuring this critical issue remains top of mind for the government, and his efforts to date are appreciated.”

The Working Group represents a larger committee of concerned regional stakeholders, including the City of Sault Ste. Marie, Sault Ste. Marie Economic Development Corporation, Municipality of Wawa, Town of Hearst, First Nations, Township of Dubreuilville, Tourism Sault Ste. Marie, Algoma Kinniwabi Travel Association, Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains, and home, cottage and land owners serviced by the ACR line.

For more information on this initiative, please visit www.algomapassengerrail.com.

Grand vision for Northern Ontario train service

From the Sault Star:

1297524343209_ORIGINALA passenger train service in Northern Ontario won’t just survive by increasing its passenger base.

The increased passenger base will come over a short time if operators think outside the box, create products, destinations and top-notch services that make them yearning to come back again.

That’s the vision that B. Allen Brown, CEO of Railmark Holdings Inc., has for a rebranded train service in Northern Ontario to be called Agawa Star Passenger Train.

“I believe this can become the best destination for tour trains in North America,” Brown said in an interview with The Sault Star. “Everyone loves trains, but most have never experienced a real train and we’re going to bring that experience to them in a number of different ways. You have to think outside of the box.”

Brown is proceeding with his plans as if Transport Canada has already agreed to the agreements penned between his company, CN Rail and the local stakeholder’s group, to operate both the passenger rail service between Sault Ste. Marie and Hearst, and the Algoma Canyon Tour Train.

He’s already spoken to CN employees, is looking to establish a “central” train station that can be easily spotted from the International Bridge and is searching for new employees to make his vision a reality.

The Transport Canada agreement is the only missing piece of the puzzle.

Transport Canada currently has all the information it needs to complete its due diligence before determining whether it will provide the requested $7 million in subsidies over a five year period to operate the train system.

Sault MP Bryan Hayes said “to my knowledge officials have now”Ž received all required documentation and are very close to making a recommendation in terms of options for the Minister to consider.”

Hayes said he’s pushing for an expedited decision once the minister has reviewed the file and recommendation.

“I’m not sure if those have been presented to her yet as I have been traveling, but hope to know more soon. Of course, I am hoping for continued funding and will know more early next week I expect,” he said.

But for Brown and his company, plans to soon be running the trains are chugging along.

Railmark Holdings Inc. is described as a 15-year-old American rail industry holding company with subsidiaries that provide railroad services in railroad operations, track construction and maintenance, rail freight logistics, rail development and railroad mechanical services.

While the company is mostly U.S.-based and headquartered in Michigan, it has conducted railroad business in 16 other countries.

Brown has been in the rail business since the industry was deregulated in the United States in 1981 and he wrote papers on the deregulation for his university thesis.

Brown has reviewed the books, examined the numbers and easily concludes that the passenger service, as it exists today, will never make ends meet without government assistance.

But his plan calls for strategic marketing in the U.S. and southern Ontario markets and the creation of new experiences that will enhance the train.

He expects that by August, new weekend dinner trains, complete with a special train chef – just short three-hour hauls – will be in place, offering various forms of entertainment, romance and family dinner experiences.

Other weekend experiences to be added will be theme train experiences like “princess train trips” or “magic train trips” that will attract the younger rider and let children live their dream of riding the rails.

The Agawa Canyon Tour Train will offer more interactive activities, better food and the Snow Train will make a return during the winter months, he said.

“We need to make sure we can hit all the cylinders from the time a person picks up the phone to book a trip right through to the time they step off the train,” Brown said. “Marketing and customer service are the key to the success of any business.”

And to ensure that customers – either locals or tourists – return, Brown is establishing a cross promotion package at the soon-to-be-released website railperks.com where special packages and offers can be found for return visits.

Railmark Holdings is injecting millions of dollars into the Brown’s vision, which follows his company’s slogan A Train of Thought.

In addition, he expects to add a locomotive and six more passenger rail carts to the fleet.

Various agreements will ensure the tracks and rail bed are maintained to government standards.

“That slogan was developed in 1998 when our company was doing a lot of construction and maintenance work and customers did not always have a good experience with others in the rail experience. We wanted to make that experience better,” he said. “Our mission is to deliver industrial or retail customers service that exceeds their expectations.”

Brown knows that in its prime, the Agawa Canyon Tour would see more than 80,000 visitors a season, 35% of which came from Michigan alone and another large chunk from other American markets.

“Our research shows that moms and dads loved their train experience, but now we have a disconnected generation and we need to reconnect them and show them what the train and Northern Ontario has to offer,” he said.

After all, Northern Ontario has four distinct seasons that present an array of activities for the outdoor sportsmen, naturalist and eco-tourist. Package it all together and Brown sees success in one-day – or shorter, several-hour – trips.

“He’s working on the premise that he’s providing this service in a couple weeks and he’s going to keep moving forward until he hears otherwise,” said Tom Dodds, co-chair of the Sault Ste. Marie Stakeholders working group tasked with finding a solution to save the Sault Ste. Marie to Hearst passenger rail service.

Railmark Holdings has said it needs to hire more than 30 employees ranging from rail operators to ticket and marketing agents and food services operators to security.

Brown said he spoke with CN employees and understands that some may choose to take their severance packages and retire but he’s hopeful some will make the move his way.

“I want people to work for us who are passionate about customer service and the industry,” he said.

Railmark Holdings does not currently operate any passenger service but it has operated dinner trains and has experience with short-line railway.

The now defunct dinner trains in the U.S. shut down for different reasons, Brown said.

The Michigan Star Clipper Dinner Train halted its operations after the State of Michigan purchased land from Railmark during the recession in 2009.

And the Columbia Star Dinner Train ended its run after the City of Columbia cancelled its contract with Railmark, after a business merger failed between Railmark and Train Travel, Inc., he said.

Dodds said Brown’s philosophy is on track.

“To grow and sustain the system, as an operator you need to increase the passenger base, increase the value of the experience for the passengers and increase a variety of options to attract more people or keep them coming back,” he said.

He’s confident Railmark Holdings can do the job.

Brown is “an entrepreneur and he wants to drive this forward and he has the full support of the community efforts behind him to make this work.”

In the near future, Brown also wants to establish a train station, with some line extensions so the tour train, passenger train and extra rail cars can all be stored together, with a station building in the middle.

While the Destination North site has been considered, Brown said there are limitations to the site with the road system and overhead wires.

He prefers the Gateway site where a small station can be built and rail lines created to accommodate the train system.

Brown anticipates that his vision will create an additional 22 jobs, and if his passenger service system grows to other locations in Ontario as he hopes, the future could mean that passenger customer service headquarters will be created in Sault Ste. Marie.

Just over a year ago it was announced that the federal government was cancelling its $2.2-million annual subsidy for the local passenger service. A one-year extension was granted by Transport Minister Lisa Raitt in order to give local stakeholders time to develop a local solution that would save the passenger rail service used by the rural communities, property owners and tourist operators along the route. That extension ends March 31.

Source: http://www.saultstar.com/2015/03/13/grand-vision-for-train-service