Meeting minutes – February 13, 2010 – Jackson

Monthly Membership Meeting
Darryl’s Restaurant, Jackson
February 13, 2010


Those Signing In:  Hugh Gurney, Barney Whittier, Jack Kesler, Rich Vavra-Musser, Don Monteith, Dan Platz, Burton TenBrink, Keith Martin, Phil Chamberlain, Bob Tischbein, Dick Pekarek, Kay Chase, Jim Hinkins, Steve T. Sobel, John DeLora, John Guidinger, Dan Fingas, Dale Gartner, Julien R. Wolfe, Clark Charnetski, John Langdon, Robert Patterson, Diane Patterson, Andrew Kent, Archie Lhamon, Kathleen W. Newell

Also Present:  Lisa Wozniak, League of Conservation Voters

Call to Order:  Chairman DeLora called the meeting to order at 10:02 a.m.

Guest Speaker:  DeLora then introduced Lisa Wozniak, Executive Director of the League of Conservation Voters.   Her organization, Wozniak explained, was founded sixteen years ago to hold officials accountable for their actions.  After a rough start, Wozniak assumed the reins as Executive Director in 2005.  The organization now has six full time staff.  Its goal is public education about conservation issues and building the effectiveness of allied organizations.   The League works to break partisan gridlock on conservation and ecological issues.  With their help, a young man concerned about the environment was elected from the Michigan district with the longest stretch of lakeshore.

As a non-native, Wozniak was amazed at the extent of the Great Lakes when she moved to Michigan.  Preserving these resources is a deep responsibility. 

The reality as we face 2010 is that Michigan is locked in partisan gridlock.  We have a lame duck governor and the House and Senate are controlled by opposing parties with the leaders of each vying to be the next governor.  We can expect very little action in this election year.  The 2010 election will be chaotic with open races in all three statewide offices, and 28 of the 38 senate seats open.  All senate and house seats are up for election.

Whoever wins will control redistricting of both the house and senate. 

In this environment, we can make a difference if we get involved and work to get people elected who support our issues and concerns.  The Alliance for Justice has published a booklet, Rules of the Game, which discusses what non profits can and cannot do.  As long as we are not talking about a specific piece of legislation, it is not lobbying.  Individuals can get as involved in elections as they care to.


In this election cycle, we need to examine the campaign promises of each candidate.  MARP members need to speak with their own individual legislators and attend legislative breakfasts.  MARP needs to a) Focus on key legislators and b) Those who are looking to be re-elected and who will hold senior positions.

In response to a question from Fischer, Wozniak indicated that her organization does a questionnaire which will go to every legislator.  She would be happy to include rail issues in this questionnaire.  As a 501(c)(4), her organization can do this.  However, they still have to be sure that the questionnaire avoids editorializing. 

Fischer reminded Wozniak that rail transportation is a conservation and environmental issue as transportation uses about one third of the energy in this country.   Wozniak then discussed the Michigan Environmental Briefing Book put out by the Michigan League of Conservation Voters and the Michigan Environmental Council, which does support a greater emphasis on public transit. She asked for MARP’s input on a regular basis as she updates her legislative briefings throughout the legislative year.

Acknowledging Charnetski’s comment that members should attend coffees, Wozniak added that small donations to candidates are also important. 

Langdon urged that MARP assign members to define key issues and work with Wozniak on these issues. 

In concluding, Wozniak reminded the group that MARP as an organization can spend up to 20% of its time in “Issue briefing” and members as individuals can be very direct in their support of issues.

Treasurer’s Report:  Randall reported that, as of January 31, 2010, there was $2,655.07 in the checking account and the value of the Pratt Fund was $12,907.88.  Newell moved acceptance of the Treasurer’s Report.  This was seconded by Sobel and approved by the members present.

Minutes:  After review, Langdon moved acceptance of the minutes of the January 9, 2010 meeting in Lansing with corrections.  The motion was seconded by Charnetski and approved by the members present.

Introductions:  All members present introduced themselves told where they were from.

Coordinator Reports:

            Public/Governmental Affairs:  Langdon reported that a supplemental appropriation of $2.5-$3 million will be needed to fully fund Amtrak operations for fiscal year 2010.  For fiscal year 2011, $8.667 million is included in the governor’s proposed budget. 


This year, the Senate will introduce all appropriation bills, which may be a hurdle.  However, the fact that the transportation budget is being cut may prod action.  Langdon has been talking with Pure Michigan and the Michigan Lodging and Tourism people about their interest in full funding for Amtrak in fiscal year 2010.

The Stimulus Funding of the Englewood Flyover in South Chicago is very important to Michigan as it will eliminate a major bottleneck for Michigan Amtrak trains. 

DeLora added that stimulus funding will also reduce congestion between Porter, Indiana, and Chicago. 

According to DeLora, the legislature will probably raid the Comprehensive Transportation Fund again this year to support the General Fund.  A bill to raise the tax on diesel fuel and move both the diesel and gasoline tax up in several increments is likely. 

            Membership:  Vavra-Musser reported that the membership renewals for 2010 were in the mail thanks to Kay Chase.  He noted that our membership in the Midwest High Speed Rail Association was up for renewal and moved that we renew our membership in MWHSR at the $200 level.  The motion was seconded by Sobel.  After discussion, the motion passed with one abstention.

            Communications:  Chase reported that she had attended at half day workshop put on by Transit Riders United.  Another session is scheduled for February 26.  TRU has created a Business Outreach Team and will host a breakfast with community leaders in Troy on February 28.

TRU is planning a rally this summer in support of the Ann Arbor-Detroit commuter rail project.  MARP needs to keep in touch with TRU on this issue as well as working with TRU on the National Train Day celebration.

MARP also needs to support upcoming legislation that would create a Detroit Regional Transportation Authority.

A report on Interstate Traveler was issued in January.  The news release was very glowing, but the actual recommendations questioned funding and how the system would be operated.

                        Newsletter: Valderas pointed out the ad in The Michigan Passenger promoting reduced fares on Amtrak during the winter.  This information is also included in the Amtrak link on the MARP website. 

Valderas has checked and the printer is not set up to mail newsletters to the membership.  A total of 4,000 copies of the winter issue of The Michigan Passenger were printed.


                        Outreach:  Langdon passed around the spreadsheet with upcoming events and asked for volunteers.  He indicated that he and Chase would be attending a renewable energy fair at the Pierce-Cedar Creek Institute near Hastings and that he and Gurney would be attending the National Train Day event in Toledo.  Newell indicated that she would also like to help staff the table in Toledo.

Regional Chair Reports:  East/Central:  Fischer noted that on his last trip to Chicago, the Blue Water was one hour late.  At the High Speed Rail seminar he attended there, he learned that Florida received major funding for its High Speed Rail project because it got its act together and state officials were really behind it.  This is a good example to point out to Michigan legislators who were very equivocal, resulting in minimal funding for Michigan projects.  He tried to keep his comments to the Detroit Free Press positive, but Michigan really needs to be more proactive.  DeLora commented that he got twelve seconds when  Channel 7 reported on the issue. 

Patterson suggested we use Illinois as our example of a successful state who has put more money into rail in recent years and got rewarded well in the High Speed Railroad grants.

Fischer agreed and noted that Wisconsin would be another nearby example.

Fischer introduced Dan Fingus who will be working out of theMichigan Environmental Council office as the state coordinator for  Transportation for America which is working to build support for legislation in Washington sympathetic to public transportation.

Pekarek reported on the upcoming grand reopening of Durand Union Station next weekend, highlighting all that has been done to restore the damage done to the archives and museum in the fire last winter.  DUSI is asking for MARP input into its upcoming exhibits on Michigan railroads.

Pekarek also reminded the group that Indian Trails will be celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2010.

            Northern: Kent noted that he had left newsletters for Mount Pleasant Railroad Days.  Monteith recently attended a meeting in Wisconsin on how they plan to get more passenger rail.  The head of WisDOT is 120% for rail.  Minnesota is planning a passenger rail line from the Twin Cities to Elk Lake and eventually to Fargo.  Monteith will try to resend information on this.

            Western:  Langdon handed out copies of the new route guides for the Pere Marquette and Blue Water.  These are the only route guides for non overnight trains. 

On February 24, Langdon met with Hoeffner of MDOT on the routing of the Pere Marquette.  We need to correct the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative maps showing the train running from Grand Rapids to Chicago via Kalamazoo.  Since opening of the new station, New Buffalo has seen a 59% increase in ridership.


Valderas noted that the Pere Marquette was one hour late leaving Grand Rapids earlier in the week because nobody was around to shovel it out after a significant snowfall.

Vavra-Musser reported that plans are now in place for red, blue and green buses to meet each train at St. Joseph and take passengers to hotels and resorts.

            Metro: Hinkins reported that the next MARP meeting will be on Saturday, March 20 at the Grand Trunk Pub in Detroit.  Carmine Palombo of  SEMCOG will review plans for the Ann Arbor-Detroit commuter rail project.  Hinkins noted a change in the location of the proposed storage tracks in Detroit.  About a mile of relocated track is planned at West Detroit.  As presently envisioned, the Ann Arbor-Detroit service will consist of two round trips between end points in the morning and two round trips in the evening, utilizing two train sets of three cars each.  Current Amtrak service will supplement the new service which is expected to start in October, 2010.  We need to hold SEMCOG to this schedule.

DeLora is working to have Amtrak accept commuter passes on its Ann Arbor-Detroit service, which is very lightly used.  Charnetski noted that the present Ann Arbor station will be the western terminus of the new service.  The City of Ann Arbor is negotiating with the gas company for additional parking.

Jackson Rail Plans:

Guidinger noted that Amtrak has received $963,000 in ARRA funds for restoration of the Jackson Depot, the oldest operating railroad station in the United States.  Quinn Evans of Ann Arbor is doing the architectural plans.

 Another $60,000 has been awarded to the City of Jackson by MDOT to further planning on turning the depot complex into a transportation center similar to that in Kalamazoo where rail, local transit and intercity buses would all converge.  Guidinger is on the planning committee.  Unfortunately, the recent departure of the City Manager has slowed this process.

Jackson’s mayor is very interested in having the proposed Ann Arbor-Detroit commuter rail project extended to Jackson, which has the rail service facilities.  The Jackson Organization for Economic Growth sees High Speed Rail as an important component of its vision. 

Guidinger noted that he is no longer on the Amtrak Advisory Committee.  Jim Wallington has assumed that role.  However, Guidinger does have excellent data on baggage service that he will share.

Guidinger urged MARP to appoint a representative to the Toledo Area Council of Governments’ rail committee, which is very active.


New Business:  

Amtrak Running in Winter:  Sobel stated that the ticket agents at the Ann Arbor station report on time performance except on rare occasions.  Amtrak has reduced weekend fares to regain the patronage of University of Michigan students.  The weekend fare between Ann Arbor and Chicago is now $40 as opposed to $70.

            National Train Day:  To be discussed following the meeting today.  Robert Patterson and Kay Chase serve on the subcommittee chaired by Valderas.

            Nominations:  Whittier noted that he was receiving a good orientation from DeLora, Vavra-Musser and Langdon.  He asked members to contact their state representatives and senators urging approval of a supplemental appropriation to keep the Pere Marquette and Blue Water  running throughout fiscal year 2010.  He will be asking for volunteers to serve with him on the nominations committee.

            Widgets: Vavra-Musser discussed what he called a “station widget”, a program which would add current passenger rail information to the web sites of Convention and Visitor Bureaus across Michigan and their links to restaurants, motels and resorts.  The “widget” would provide information about train schedules, current specials, buying tickets online and maps to the stations.  Vavra-Musser asked that MARP invest $500 in the “widget” project being undertaken by the Harbor Country Convention and Tourist Bureau.  The motion was seconded by Sobel and approved by the members present.


Other Business:

            Wozniak urged members to go to  and submit questions for the Gubernatorial Forum, May 12, at Central Michigan University sponsored by a partnership of the Detroit Free Press, Michigan Radio, ConservAmerica  And the Michigan League of Conservation Voters (CV) Education Fund.

            Charnetski asked members to check the WisDOT website for information about Wisconsin rail plans.

            Vavra-Musser noted that Fred Upton’s congressional district has the most Michigan Amtrak riders.

            Sobel reminded the group of the March 6 Town Hall meeting in Chicago hosted by Trains magazine and Amtrak.





Adjournment:  Guidinger moved adjournment.  The motion was seconded by Sobel and approved by the members present.

Respectfully submitted:                                              Accepted:

Hugh D. Gurney, Secretary                                        John DeLora, Chair