MICHIGAN ASSOCIATION OF RAILROAD PASSENGERS
Monthly Membership Meeting
The Harbor Grand, New Buffalo
June 12, 2010
Those Signing In: Hugh Gurney, Don Monteith, Jim Wallington, Martha Benedict, Jim Hinkins, Steve T. Sobel, Rich Vavra-Musser, Kay Chase, Kathleen W. Newell, Dave Randall, Clark Charnetski, Gary Ramberg, Phillip Mange, Jack Kessler, J. P. DesCamp, Barney Whittier, Jim Brooks, John DeLora
Also Present: Viki Gudas, Executive Director, Harbor Country Convention and Visitors Bureau; Matt Glass
Call to Order: Chairman DeLora called the meeting to order at 10:40 a.m. All present were asked to introduce themselves and tell where they came from.
Speaker: Vavra-Musser introduced the speaker, Viki Gudas, Executive Director of the Harbor Country Convention and Visitors Bureau. New Buffalo is a role model for the importance of involving the community in getting better train service. With the opening of the new station, ridership to and from New Buffalo is up 80% over the past year. An additional train each way may be added soon.
Gudas explained that the Harbor Country Convention and Visitors Bureau receives the revenue from the room tax, then uses that money for promotion. It has been an independent entity for several years since breaking with the Chamber of Commerce in an amicable split. The move of the Amtrak platform to the Wolverine/Blue Water line has been a tremendous boon to the community with lots of first time visitors to New Buffalo. Many are young professionals from Chicago who don’t own a car and don’t want to own one. A shuttle bus provided by the casino meets every train and takes passengers to the casino and to local hotels. On Fridays, a winery tour consortium has a shuttle which meets the trains and takes passengers to wineries some distance from New Buffalo. Two outfitters now provide transportation from the train to their places of business, where visitors can rent canoes, kayaks and other gear.
Gudas hopes to see more information at the platform directing visitors to the visitor center and other attractions. A brochure rack would be helpful. She is also looking for a larger, enclosed shelter at the train stop, which could house a ticket machine. She wants to encourage people who work in Chicago to move to New Buffalo and take the train to and from their jobs.
Transportation remains a challenge, as the Harbor Country CVB serves eight distinct communities scattered as far as fifteen miles from New Buffalo. Currently, one cab company is all that serves this larger area. Vavra-Musser is working to bring in Enterprise or other auto rental companies as well as ZIP cars. Vavra-Musser has also been a big help in getting the New Buffalo Widget up and running. Approximately 22 businesses have signed on including the City of New Buffalo and the township. Currently, the widget is receiving about 400 hits a day. In addition to information about a particular business or accommodation, it provides data about Amtrak service including the schedule, how to buy tickets, where the platform is located and other details.
The Harbor Country CVB has been distributing flyers and newsletters in the Chicago area with good results. The Bluewater promotion group is planning billboards along the Bluewater corridor. Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo are already good markets. Pure Michigan is generating about 60% of their inquiries.
Charnetski urged Gudas to pursue having westbound Wolverine 351 stop in New Buffalo. That would stimulate more visitors from Detroit, Dearborn and Ann Arbor. Gurney noted an article in the Flint Journal and suggested more promotion in the Flint and Lansing areas. Wallington suggested maps to show where hotels, restaurants and other facilities were in relation to the train stop and the beach. Maps are part of the lure.
Valderas noted the huge traffic jam on I-94 on Memorial Day, when the casino was giving away camcorders. Gudas responded that law enforcement in Michigan and Indiana are working on better sharing of information and coordination. New Buffalo was booked solid for the Memorial Day weekend, with most people staying one or two days, not the entire weekend.
The new Amtrak platform was a private/public venture, largely funded by a developer. Unfortunately, the developer went broke before the project was completed and a planned ticket office was never built. The CVB is working on this deficiency.
Vavra-Musser introduced Matt Glass and praised him for his work on the New Buffalo Widget. With some experience under their belt, the widget has been revised once for better effectiveness.
Minutes of the meeting of April 17, 2010 meeting in Standish were reviewed and approved.
Treasurer’s Report was given by Randall. As of May 31, 2010, MARP had $6,321.67 in its checking account and the Pratt Fund was valued at $12,810.89. The mailing to NARP members resulted in about 50 new memberships in a variety of categories and $98.00 in contributions. We are now at 116% in dues revenue. The cost of delivery of newsletters to members by the printer was $89.00, versus several hundred dollars under the old system. Our operating ratio at this point in the year is 39.37%.
Monteith moved acceptance of the Treasurer’s Report. Vavra-Musser seconded the motion and it was passed by the members present.
Vice Chairman Report: Whittier announced that Westrain would be providing $10,000 towards the St. Joseph “Take the Train to the Beach” promotion. The purpose is to encourage residents of Grand Rapids, Holland and Bangor to take the morning train to St. Joseph, spend the day at the beach or on the golf links, then either stay overnight or take the evening train home. St. Joseph has a brand new carousel, the Whirlpool Fountain, and a new Jack Nicklaus golf course, among other attractions. Buses will meet every train and St. Joe Today will provide all passengers detraining with a goody bag and orientation to the community. St. Joseph plans to target Chicago next year.
Government Affairs: Whittier reported that he and Langdon had recently gone to Traverse City for the inaugural Michigan By Rail Forum. The Michigan Environmental Council and MARP are organizing 13-14 such forums across the state. The outcome will be the Michigan State Rail Plan as required by federal law.
Gurney noted that, according to his information, many maps were shown in Traverse City, but not the MARP Vision Map. He urged that this be part of every forum. Whittier agreed to check on this deficiency.
Vavra-Musser stated that Great Lakes Central Railroad will run special trains to forums in Northern Michigan.
Charnetski urged that daytime bus service to and from Milwaukee north to the western Upper Peninsula be part of the plan.
Whittier noted that his own Congressman has expressed disgust with the state government’s performance on obtaining stimulus funding.
After attending the forum in Traverse City, Langdon and Whittier attended the Michigan Environmental Council Awards Ceremony in Detroit, where two Detroit individuals were cited for their work on behalf of the environment.
He and Langdon are beginning to review who will be the likely new state legislators in 2011. Whittier introduced new member Jim Brooks, originally from Columbus, Ohio.
Vavra-Musser reported that the Transportation Bill had passed the House of Representatives with full funding for Amtrak in Fiscal Year 2011. It includes a proviso that all departments to work together to assure that Amtrak carries bicycles on state funded trains.
DeLora reported that at one point, the state Senate had eliminated funding for all bus service north of Lansing. His own legislator sent him an e-mail thanking him for his alert. Funding was restored in the final bill.
Communications: Chase thanked Gurney for the completeness of the minutes of the meeting in Standish.
Outreach: Tischbein distributed the outreach schedule and a sheet where volunteers can sign up. Michigan Day in Chicago will be May 24. Langdon is managing the event for MARP.
Website: DeLora noted that the MARP website is receiving lots of hits. Webmaster Sobczak in now working on an updated website for All Aboard Ohio.
Newsletter: Valderas reported that the Spring Michigan Passenger has been out for about a month now and asked for comments. He plans to start work on the summer issue next week. He particularly needs information about the NARP Regional Meeting in Grand Rapids and the MARP Annual Meeting. Those looking for back issues should see him after the meeting.
DeLora reminded all that distribution is now being handled through the Regional Chairs.
Membership: Vavra-Musser noted that the recent mailing to NARP members in Michigan netted close to fifty new members including four at the $100 level. He urged that a renewal reminder be sent out immediately to capture non renewing 2009 members.
Meetings: The next meeting will be on July 10 at 10:00 a.m. at the Durand Union Station in Durand. We will meet in Battle Creek on August 21. Our September meeting will be at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, August 25, at the St. Ignace Transportation Center. So far as we know, this will be the first MARP meeting ever in the Upper Peninsula and will celebrate Indian Trail’s 100th anniversary and extension of Amtrak Thruway service to Sault Ste. Marie. Members are encouraged to take advantage of Indian Trail’s $35.00 per person round trip fare from any point in Michigan or from Milwaukee and a room rate of $55.00 per night at the adjacent motel to celebrate this historic meeting.
DeLora reported that the concept of having the MARP October meeting in Grand Rapids at the same time NARP is meeting there was not working out. He urged that MARP plan to meet the following Saturday, October 23. Valderas was asked to locate a meeting place. Charnetski noted that he was looking forward to an update on the Grand Rapids Transportation Center.
Regional Reports: Metro: Hinkins reported that Great Lakes Central Railroad was beginning the rehabilitation of ex-METRA galley cars for use on the Ann Arbor-Detroit and WALLY commuter lines. To date, he has seen no action on rebuilding the junction at West Detroit. John Haertel is now the general manager of SMART.
Ann Arbor’s 10th Annual Green Fair last night was well attended and well received, according to Charnetski. MARP had a table. Ann Arbor’s mayor told him of meeting in Ypsilanti on May 14 attended by a number of officials including himself, Senator Levin, U. S. Representatives Dingell and Schauer, Amtrak CEO Boardman and the President of Norfolk Southern. Amtrak may wind up buying the Ypsilanti-Kalamazoo portion of Norfolk Southern’s old Michigan Central line. The members of the congressional delegation predicted that high speed rail will happen.
Work is underway on the planned Fuller Street Station in Ann Arbor. Sewer and other utilities are being relocated this spring and summer. The intermodal facility will include both Amtrak and commuter rail as well as a light rail or guided bus way linking University of Michigan’s North Campus with its Central Campus. A 5-6 story parking structure will be part of the complex.
Charnetski is pushing for use of an unused gas company parking area for more long term parking at the present Amtrak station.
Gurney reported on an April 26 meeting he and Hinkins attended in Whitmore Lake. Failing to receive a TIGER grant, WALLY has reverted to Plan B, funded by MDOT and local sources. During the summer of 2010, MDOT will be spending $2.5-$3 million on roadbed and track improvements, especially at the 29 public crossings along the route. Great Lakes Central Railroad will begin rehabilitating fifteen ex-METRA double decker coaches with the first set of two coaches and one cab car ready by November, 2010. Locomotives will be leased.
Signal work will be minimal as all freight will run at night, with four southbound trains each morning and four northbound trains in the afternoon. Local communities will be responsible for station work. Estimated ridership is 1,200 each day based only on use by University of Michigan employees. The estimated operating cost will be $7.1 million per year, of which $1.5 million is currently unfunded. The Michigan Comprehensive Transportation Fund, the fare box, and MDOT’s contribution of the railcars and locomotives will cover the rest. Several present volunteered for a funding committee.
DRIC: Although the Canadian government has offered to lend Michigan $550 million for its share of bridge construction, toll collection estimates are very low, meaning the state will have trouble marketing bonds for the project. DeLora predicts the bridge will not be built.
National Train Day: Generally, the event went well across the state. Niles had 300 visitors, and over 600 attended festivities in Jackson. Mayor Bing was planning to attend the ceremony in Detroit, but was called away by a funeral. Kalamazoo had a fair number of visitors mixed among the passengers. In Ann Arbor, Dearborn and elsewhere,
mostly passengers were present for the reading of proclamations. More promotion is
needed for 2011 including attempts to bring in more train displays, possibly commuter equipment in Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Detroit. Valderas invited members present at the July 10 meeting in Durand to meet with him after the regular meeting to discuss how we can get ahead of the curve.
PRIIA Section 209: This section of the Passenger Rail Reauthorization Act declares that states must share the cost of operating all routes under 750 miles, which includes all Michigan routes. The Detroit-Chicago corridor could cost the state anywhere between $8 million and $40 million. Chase asked if a methodology for allotting costs had been determined. DeLora didn’t think so. Amtrak is obliged to come up with a new accounting system, but there is no question that the states will have to pick up more of the cost.
Vavra-Musser opined that Congress will have to come up with a strategy so all progress on passenger rail doesn’t come to a dead stop. He suggested that NARP take the lead in pushing for a resolution. Charnetski asked why we have a federal government if the states have to bear the burden. Randall wondered aloud if allotment of costs would include part of the cost of operating Union Station is Chicago.
Chase speculated that the new 80%-20% grants for rail would give the states more control over operations, which could be a good thing. In response to a question from Vavra-Musser over how Michigan could pay for the Wolverine line, DeLora noted there was a move afoot to operate more CP freight over the route.
NARP Relations: DeLora indicated that NARP is seeking input into what its relationship with the various state organizations should be. Many operate under different sections of the IRS Code and state law. Massachusetts is asking for a formal connection.
After some discussion, the consensus was that keeping the state organizations separate would be better.
Elections: Whittier reported that the Nominations Committee was up and running. All posts are up for election in 2010.
Other: Valderas asked if MARP should do more than hold monthly meetings dealing with politics. Couldn’t we do more projects? Vavra-Musser suggested we develop a list of things people could do. Advocacy with political leaders would be one. Station upgrades could be another. Charnetski thought National Train Day could be added to the list. Gurney suggested Outreach Events. Wallington saw the St. Ignace meeting as a special event. DeLora mentioned Operation Lifesaver. Wallington thought a special trip on WALLY might be on such a list. Vavra-Musser suggested the Chair appoint a Coordinator for Social Activities.
Adjournment: Noting that the eastbound train to Ann Arbor and Detroit was due soon, Vavra-Musser recommended adjournment. The motion was seconded by Monteith. The meeting adjourned at 2:15 p.m.
Respectfully submitted: Accepted:
Hugh D. Gurney John DeLora