MICHIGAN ASSOCIATION OF RAILROAD PASSENGERS
Monthly Membership Meeting
Ex-Michigan Central Depot, Standish
April 17, 2010
Those Signing In: Hugh Gurney, Andrew Kent, Jim Wallington, Jim Hinkins, Barney Whittier, Clark Charnetski, Richard Pekarek, Rich Vavra-Musser, Dianne Patterson, Robert Patterson, John Langdon, Dave Randall, Bob Tischbein, Marvin Schwab, John DeLora
Also Present: William Harman, President, Bluewater Michigan Chapter, National Railroad Historical Society
Call to Order: Chairman DeLora called the meeting to order at 10:05 a.m.
Guest Speaker: DeLora then introduced William Harman, President of the Bluewater Michigan Chapter, National Historical Society. Harman began by giving a bit of his background in railroading including his ownership of several vintage passenger cars and his experience in organizing cross country rail tours for school groups. As Class I railroads rarely permit operation of vintage trains on their rails, Bluewater is forced to work with regional railroads, which are often in poor shape. Currently, the chapter is working on an October rail trip to Standish. Other offerings this summer include Rails by Water, Ohio Canal Excursion, and Chicago Rail Tour.
Harman then provided details of the Michigan Northern Arrow Tour, which will operate September 3-6, 2010 from Owosso to Petoskey and return. The entire trip will take ten hours one way at 25 m.p.h. Passengers will have a whole range of options to choose from, including ultra class at $795, first class and coach. Passengers not interested in taking the entire trip may elect shorter segments. For example, they could ride from Owosso to Alma or Shepherd, then return to Owosso by bus. Prospective passengers have the option of driving to Owosso and parking there or taking specially chartered buses from Grand Rapids and Southeast Michigan.
Bluewater is inviting MARP to help promote this excusion by handing out coded brochures at its events during the coming months, such as its National Train Day celebrations at most locations except Dearborn, Jackson and Toledo, where Bluewater will have its own representative. Michigan Day in Chicago could be another venue. Coupons in The Michigan Passenger are another possibility. For all round trip tickets sold due to MARP’s efforts, MARP will receive 10% of the proceeds.
Harman emphasized that Bluewater will assume all costs for printing the brochures and all liability for the excursion.
Langdon thanked Harman for his offer and told him we would discuss it later in the meeting.
Introductions: DeLora asked all present to introduce themselves.
Treasurer’s Report: Randall reported that, as of March 31, 2010, MARP had $5,423.07 in its checking account. The value of the Pratt Fund was $13,872.40. Comparing income for the year to date against expenses, our operating ratio is 38.60%. Langdon moved acceptance of the Treasurer’s Report. This was seconded by Wallington and approved by those present.
Minutes of the March 20 meeting were reviewed. Robert Patterson moved acceptance with corrections. This was seconded by Randall and approved by those present.
Public/Government Affairs: Langdon reported that the Passenger Rail Caucus in the state legislature was considering ten resolutions for improvement of service including a call for midday rail connection with Toledo and connections with VIA rail at Detroit or Windsor. He recently testified at a MDOT legislative hearing in Kalamazoo and provided information with maps and ridership figures to the state representatives. He hopes to attend a hearing of the congressional Railroads and Pipelines subcommittee in Chicago on Tuesday, April 20. He has sent thank you notes to all members of the Michigan House and Senate for the transfer of funds which fully funds Amtrak through September 30.
Fiscal 2011 is still murky as the House Appropriations Committee has shot down the whole transportation budget. The Senate takes up the issue on April 20. Langdon plans to distribute the MARP Vision to all legislators.
A recent hearing on the Interstate Traveler was inconclusive. The Interstate rights of way are owned by the federal government and Interstate Traveler will need permission from them to lease the rights of way. Langdon asked about connections to the conventional freight rail system.
The Midwest High Speed Rail Association has expressed displeasure with Amtrak for backing away from 220 m.p.h. trains. The proposal by French National Railways for high speed rail shows the line running Chicago-Fort Wayne-Toledo-Detroit.
Membership: Vavra-Musser demonstrated the New Buffalo Widget on his laptop. Information about access by train is on the website for each attraction. This could be added to www.mitrain.com . More communities are looking into the widget.. Langdon suggested asking Westrain to fund these through the promotional funding it receives from MDOT.
Vavra-Musser also demonstrated the new Train Status Link on the MARP website, which shows the location of every train in the Midwest at any given time. DeLora reported that this feature is getting 30-50 hits per day and will grow.
Invitations have gone out to 400+ NARP members living in Michigan who are not MARP members. Hopefully, some of these NARP members will also join MARP.
Newsletter:The Michigan Passenger is at the printer now. The printer will send copies to each regional chair, who will distribute from there. The printer will also mail copies to individual members. Langdon suggested that we set up an editorial committee to review content.
Outreach: Chairman DeLora thanked Bob Tischbein for agreeing to take over responsibility for Outreach in the wake of Frezell’s resignation. Langdon passed out the current schedule, noting a new event in Grayling, and Earth Day in Rochester. Charnetski asked that the Green Fair on June 11 in Ann Arbor be added. Depot Days in Standish was also mentioned.
Regional Chair Reports:
Northern: Kent noted that much of the Northern Michigan schedule had already been discussed elsewhere. He recently staffed at table in Mt. Pleasant and plans to distribute literature in Clare, which has a large Amish population. DeLora added that NARP had been very successful in promoting Amtrak to the Amish population in Minnesota.
Western: Langdon reported that New Buffalo saw a 46% increase in ridership in March and a 70% increase since the station opened. Amtrak Thruway Service has now been extended to Sault Ste. Marie.
The Pere Marquette has been running with up to six cars during Spring Break, indicating that Amtrak is finally getting the idea that more equipment means more passengers.
Whittier noted the Take the Train to the Beach promotion that St. Joseph is mounting, aimed primarily at Grand Rapids and Holland. The promotion includes promoting the high end golf clubs in the St. Joe area. The new St. Joseph-Benton Harbor bus service will help with the promotion. Approximately $38,000 is needed to implement.
Langdon is working with merchants and motels in Holland to promote travel to that community by train, even from Grand Rapids. Discounts for tickets are being distributed.
Randall inquired about cabs in the New Buffalo area and suggested they be added to the website.
Metro: Hinkins has put together a possible Ann Arbor-Detroit train schedule, based on the material provided by Carmine Palombo and the current Amtrak timetable. Together, the corridor would be well served. SEMCOG is promising several special trains this fall, perhaps to UM football games and the Thanksgiving Parade.
Charnetski noted a briefing on WALLY to take place on April 26. Jeff Irwin of the Washtenaw County Commission is very frustrated with SEMCOG over the lack of progress on Ann Arbor-Detroit. The Transportation Study has reprinted Tim Fischer’s comments on how Michigan dropped the ball on the stimulus funding.
DeLora has turned over the beds in front of the Detroit station and replanted them.
Hinkins has delivered an invitation to Detroit Mayor Bing to attend the National Train Day festivities. MDOT is scheduled to let the contract for work at West Detroit sometime this summer.
Proposals for an increase in the gas tax are included in H.B. 5768 and 5769. At least 10% of any increase would go to transit.
FRA Grants: DeLora has seen the drawings for the three station projects that did receive stimulus money from FRA. The Troy/Birmingham facility is south of Maple and north of Coolidge, mainly constructed of glass and aluminum. Platforms are 12-15 feet wide and 8 inches above the rail. SMART buses will be able to pull right up to the station.
The new Dearborn station is a square and faces on Michigan Avenue. A bridge from the platform leads directly to Greenfield Village. Overflow parking is provided in the former Ford engineering lot.
Battle Creek appears to be a face lifting rather than a major renovation. No new station track is shown.
At Langdon’s suggestion, DeLora will post these plans on the MARP website.
Between Portage and the Indiana-Illinois state line, eight separate projects will improve train movement. These involve better signaling and high speed crossovers. The planned Flyover at Englewood will facilitate movement of all trains going from or coming to Chicago from the East as well as the City of New Orleans and other Southbound trains. METRA plans to move more of its trains to the LaSalle Street Station, freeing up more track space at Union Station for Amtrak. Two run through tracks will be provided at Union Station. The Metropolitan Lounge will be expanded.
Further East, double tracking between Schenectady and Albany will speed movement of the Lake Shore Limited and New York-Buffalo trains.
National Train Day: DeLora reviewed the activities planned for National Train Day, May 8. Events are definite for Detroit, Dearborn, Ann Arbor, Jackson, Kalamazoo, Niles, Bangor, Holland, Flint, and East Lansing. We are still hoping for events in Port Huron and Lapeer. Durand will commemorate National Train Day the following weekend, during its Railroad Days celebration. Fischer is hoping to get a proclamation from the Governor. Regional chairs are coordinating the events.
Future Meetings: Future meetings are slated for New Buffalo on June 12, Durand on July 10, Battle Creek on August 21, St. Ignace on September 25, Grand Rapids on October 15 and Birmingham/Troy on November 13.
A NARP Division Meeting will take place in Chicago on May 22.
Amtrak and MDOT Liaison: MARP and MDOT are working harmoniously on a number of issues. Langdon and Fischer are collaborate with MDOT on a variety of legislative issues. MDOT’s Cody remains active with Westrain. MARP officers dialogue regularly with Amtrak’s James and Kuhn as issues arise. We are awaiting the study of the Detroit River International Crossing.
NRHS Proposal: Langdon moved that MARP accept the proposal of the Bluewater Chapter, National Railway Historical Society to assist in marketing the Michigan Northern Arrow Excursion. The motion was seconded by Vavra-Musser. Robert Patterson was delegated to work out details with William Harman of Bluewater. He will then pass the agreed upon details to the Regional Chairs, who will execute the arrangement. The motion was approved by the members present.
Other: Two new trains are proposed in Illinois, Chicago-Rock Island and Chicago-Dubuque by 2015.
Adjournment: Langdon moved adjournment, seconded by Randall. The motion passed.
Respectfully Submitted, Accepted:
Hugh D. Gurney, Secretary John DeLora, Chair