You will want to open up the November issue right away since it is chock-full of time-sensitive events and articles. Also this is the only announcement you will get regarding the important MARP Member Meeting on November 21 at which a vote will be taken on proposed revisions to the Bylaws.
MDOT Webinar on State Long-Range Transportation Plan, Thursday, Nov 12
National Passenger Day of Action, Friday, Nov 13
Trans4M Regional Transit Workshop in Lansing, Friday, Nov 13
Midwest High Speed Rail Luncheon, Speaker on Toronto’s Union Pearson Express Train, Friday, Nov 13
Lansing Model Train Show, Sunday, Nov 15
MARP Member Meeting, Saturday, Nov 21, Okemos Public Library
Report of Member Meeting in Mt. Pleasant
Wrap-up on Final Coast-to-Coast Public Engagement Meetings
Good News on Transit Ridership and Ballot Issue
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 email@example.com
Click on images below if you don’t have a PDF reader.
Model train lovers hope to preserve a piece of Lansing’s railroad history by relocating and restoring a narrow two-story tower that once stood next to the Lansing Union Station that is now Clara’s Restaurant.
I’ve craned my neck more than a few times as I wondered about the history of the quirky little building, which was relocated to Lansing’s Old Town nearly 30 years ago.
It looks like a house built by Dr. Seuss.
Michael Frezell, president of the 40-member Lansing Model Railroad Club, asked Lansing Parks and Recreation officials last year if the building, known as the Michigan Avenue Tower, could be donated to the 40-member club.
The city has given its approval.
In 1986, Conrail retired the tower. It was moved from the former train station on Michigan Avenue and plopped down next to a city parking lot on Grand River to be part of a now-defunct electric train museum.
Instead, it has sat empty and marooned, and Frezell worried that it would be demolished.
“There isn’t a lot of them around. This is the only one in the Lansing area that’s surviving,” he said.
Likely built in the 1800s, it’s weathered and rotting in places. People apparently seeking shelter took refuge in the downstairs before the city boarded up the door. Old blankets are on the floor. One of its nine windows is broken. A staircase is missing.
Frezell, whose day job is as a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Transportation, said the tower was once used by railroad workers to control the junction between the Michigan Central and Pere Marquette railroads and to operate the Michigan Avenue crossing gates to stop traffic, prior to automation.
Plans are to move the 234-square-foot building in the spring eight miles to the club’s property in Delta Township near Woldumar Nature Center. The club has a large model railroad layout located inside the old Millett Depot that was relocated there in the 1960s.
Appropriately, the tower will be used as “a living history artifact” for a dispatcher to control the model trains, the club said in a release. That job is now being done on the second floor of the depot.
First, though, the club has to raise an estimated $35,000 to transport the tower, clean up the old site, replace the missing stairway to the second story, and to repair and restore the little building. A GoFundMe site has been established.
Plans are for most of the work to be done by volunteers but a professional mover will have to be hired to lift the tower from its concrete pad and haul the 19-foot-high tower, possibly with it lying on its side.
Frezell said the group is up for the challenge of saving the tower. He has been a member of the model train club for 20 years.
“I think my parents gave me a train set when I was 5,” he said. “I’m 44. I never got over it.”
That the push for new high-speed train systems in Ontario and Alberta is gaining momentum just as the federal Liberals prepare to take office with plans to double infrastructure spending is surely more than a coincidence.
But the head of Canada’s dominant passenger rail service, Via Rail Canada, says high-speed rail is a tremendously expensive proposition, and it makes little sense to invest in it until the serious existing congestion problems on Canadian railways is solved.
“Back in 2012, there was a report published that pegged the cost of high-speed rail between Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal at $10 billion, and for $10 billion it would get you 10-million customers,” said Via CEO Yves Desjardins-Siciliano. Simply providing dedicated passenger lines at conventional speed, he said, “will cost $3 billion for seven million (passengers), so it’s a third of the cost for two-thirds of the benefit.”
If Via had a dedicated track to use in the busy corridor between Toronto and Montreal, Desjardins-Siciliano estimates the railway could increase its annual passenger load on the route from 2.1 million currently to 6.8 million within 15 years of construction using what he calls “high-frequency rail.”
Just last week, Ontario appointed a former federal cabinet minister, David Collenette, as a special adviser for high-speed rail, which the provincial Liberal government envisions running between Windsor, London, Kitchener-Waterloo and Toronto. The same week, Alberta’s NDP government said it was in the early stages of studying a high-speed rail link between Calgary and Edmonton, something previous governments have mused about but never bought into.
Advocates of high-speed rail point out that the largest untapped market in the world is North America, where, for a variety of reasons, people have not embraced the concept in the same way their European and Asian counterparts have.
This means there is tremendous potential to develop ultra-fast railways here, a major infrastructure conference in Toronto heard Tuesday. But the first challenge is winning over travellers who are used to driving or flying to their destinations, said Tim Keith, CEO of Texas Central Partners, a private company that’s developing North America’s first-ever high-speed rail link between Houston and Dallas.
“It’s not easy to create a high-speed-rail system in an economy that doesn’t accept high-speed rail as a mode of transport,” Keith told the conference, put on by the Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships.
“The biggest challenge I have is introducing a product to market that isn’t used to the product.”
Desjardins-Siciliano has been drumming up interest among Canada’s major pension funds in building a new dedicated track between Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal that would allow the Crown corporation to improve its deteriorating on-time performance.
Currently, 90 per cent of the track that Via uses is owned by Canadian National Railway Co., and is susceptible to regular bottlenecks as freight trains and passenger trains vie for the same space. In the second quarter, Via’s trains were on time 70 per cent of the time, down from 79 per cent a year earlier.
“Freight trains today are longer and heavier and therefore slower than ever,” Desjardins-Siciliano said in a recent interview. “That’s why growing (our service) requires an alternative track that would be dedicated to passenger rail.”
He noted that regular-speed rail also has the benefit of being able to stop at points in between the major cities, which meets Via’s objective of replacing travel by car, not travel by air.
And Sebastien Sherman, senior managing director for the Americas at Borealis Infrastructure, pointed out on Tuesday’s panel that high-speed rail plans “need a degree of population density,” more common in Asia and Europe than in a more sparsely populated country such as Canada. Borealis is an arm of the OMERS pension fund that owns 50 per cent of HS1 Ltd., the U.K.’s high-speed line that runs through the Chunnel. He noted that any high-speed project comes with its construction risks, demand risks, regulatory risks and political risks.
“The last thing we’d want to do is spend many years trying to advance a project if it doesn’t have community support,” he said.
Three companies who have expressed interest in operating the passenger train between Sault Ste. Marie and Hearst have been provided with the numbers they need to complete full business case proposals.
The proposals are due Oct. 30, 2015.
Tom Dodds, chair of the stakeholder committee tasked with making a recommendation to city council, said the parties who submitted request for proposals are all different than those companies who provided bids the first time around.
The companies, a mix of Canadian and American companies, have a range of experience varying from commuter rail service to tour trains.
The original submissions all had different approaches and styles and none of the proponents had the detailed information by CN Railway required to develop a complete business case, Dodds said.
That information has now been provided to the proponents and criteria of evaluation has been clearly articulated so that the proposals can be compared evenly and fairly, he said.
“We have to compare apples to apples and we need certain measurables to do that and we think we’ll get this in the full business case proposals,” he said.
Dodds said the three proponents, whom he cannot name at this time, have also expressed some possible interest I running the tour train as well.
It’s not known if CN Railway has had discussions with other companies interested in the tour train but it has been made clear that anyone interested in the passenger train service must submit documents to Dodds and participate in the RFP process, he said.
All the submissions will be evaluated on a number of criteria that include the need to satisfy CN Railway on asset requirements, federal legislative and regulatory requirements, business plans acceptable to Transport Canada for funding requirements, requirements by the City of Sault Ste. Marie.
“These potential proponents may have a different framework going forward that what has been presented to use in the past,” Dodds said.
Stakeholders along the line have also provided ideas that may see a different type of service, more in tune with seasonal needs.
Minimum requirements during CN Railway’s operation of the train was to provide 104 trips per year; they operated 156 trips per year. Railmark’s proposal was initially for 156 trips per year.
“A new proponent may change those numbers or redistribute those numbers to accommodate the busier tourist season,” he said. Operators will be required to pay CN Railway a line user fee.
Earlier this year it was announced that a Michigan company, Railmark Ltd., was the successful proponent of the first RFP to run both the passenger rail service and the tour train.
However the deal was never signed because Railmark was unable to meet all the pre-conditions required in the contract. Railmark had not received any financial compensation for running the train. CN Railway resumed operation of the tour train and the passenger service was halted mid July.
The entire issue began more than a year ago after it was announced that the federal government was withdrawing its $2.2 million annual subsidy for the passenger train service and CN Railway said it would discontinue operations.
The local stakeholder group was formed, a business case completed and the passenger train service was reinstated in a remote access funding program, with a guarantee of $5.3 million of funding over three years. The funding was granted to provide the operator time to grow the service into a self sustaining operation.
A business case study showed the passenger train service injects more than $38 million annually into the region’s economy through property investment and tourism.