MICHIGAN ASSOCIATION OF RAILROAD PASSENGERS
Monthly Membership Meeting
St. Ignace Transportation Center, St. Ignace
September 25, 2010
Those Signing In: Hugh Gurney, Norma Ward, Harry Gow, Don Monteith, Jim Hinkins, John Horton, John Langdon, Barney Whittier, Chad Cushman, John Guidinger, Marilyn Guidinger, John DeLora, Lawrence Sobczak, Robert Tischbein, Kay Chase
Also Present: Eric Dobson, St. Ignace City Manager; Paul Grondin, St. Ignace Mayor; Jesse Auerbach, Environmental Defense; Frank Ingram, Wisconsin New Rails; Judy Gross, Speaker
Call to Order: Chairman DeLora called the meeting to order at 9:35 a.m. A quorum was ascertained. The agenda was reviewed and approved.
Introductions: All present introduced themselves and their home base. Paul Grondin, Mayor of St. Ignace, welcomed the group to the city.
Minutes were distributed and reviewed. Whittier moved acceptance. The motion was seconded by Monteith and approved by the members present.
Treasurer’s Report was distributed and reviewed. As of July 31, 2010, we had $3,901.80 in the checking account and the Pratt Fund was valued at $12,549.00. To date, MARP has received about 94% of budgeted income for the calendar year, and expended about 70% of projected expenses for the year. Langdon moved to accept the Treasurer’s Report. This was seconded by Whittier and approved by the members present.
Government Affairs: Langdon shared a letter of support for Michigan’s request for high speed rail projects directed to U. S. Secretary of Transportation LaHood and signed by approximately sixty Michigan state legislators. A bill introduced by State Representative Wayne Schmidt of Traverse City would authorize bonding of up to $100 million as the state match for federal funding. It has bipartisan support.
MARP will not oppose sale by the state of a railroad in Hillsdale County not used for over twenty years. The Michigan Association of Railroads is also not opposing this sale.
As of September 24, the state transportation bill is still in conference committee.
Communications: No report.
Outreach: Tischbein passed out an updated schedule of outreach opportunities. He asked those willing to help to get back to him. DeLora reminded all that Amtrak’s 40th anniversary was coming up in May of 2011. It should be coordinated with National Train Day.
Website: Sobczak noted that the MARP website had received more than 12,000 hits during the last year. DeLora speculated that many were checking the train status feature. Langdon felt that the quality of the site had much to do with its increasing use. It now has over 600 pages of content. DeLora plans to recommend that Sobczak upgrade the NARP website. Wallington reminded the group that Sobczak could use some back-up.
Membership: Reporting for Vavra-Musser, Langdon reported a 10% increase in membership over 2009. A second renewal letter went out recently to those 2009 members who have not yet renewed in 2010. We will also be sending out a second letter to NARP members in Michigan who have not yet joined MARP.
Meetings: Wallington thanked everyone responsible for making this meeting in St. Ignace such a success. We are indeed happy to be in the U.P.
NARP will be holding its Council of Representatives meeting at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel in Grand Rapids, October 13-16. Registration is $150 plus $40 for the Thursday tour. The business meeting on Friday will feature speakers from Indian Trails and the Federal Railway Administration.
MARP will meet on Saturday, October 23 at the Amtrak station in Grand Rapids. We will be viewing a plaque there which honors Ray Hammacher, a long time rail advocate who lined up 12,000 signatures to initiate Amtrak service between Grand Rapids and Chicago. RAPID, the Grand Rapids transit system, recently obtained a $4 million earmark for a consolidated transportation center which will serve city buses, Indian Trails, Greyhound and Amtrak.
Durand Union Station will be the site for the November 13 meeting, which will feature a festive thank you to John DeLora and others leaving the Executive Committee. Wallington would like a subcommittee to work with him on details. He would like to see Durand tagged as the permanent site of the MARP Annual Meeting.
Wallington is attempting to schedule all 2011 meetings in train stations. A tentative schedule includes Williamston in January, Durand in February, Bangor in March, Millett in April, South Lyon in June, St. Joseph in July, Lapeer in August, Durand in September and Charlevoix/Petoskey/Traverse City in October. Because of National Train Day, no monthly meeting is scheduled in May.
Detroit Metropolitan: Hinkins reported on a recent field trip to Owosso to view progress on the equipment scheduled for use on the WALLY and Ann Arbor-Detroit commuter lines. The seating on 15 former METRA cars has been stripped out and the interiors have been painted an eggshell color. The new seats are black, matching the black rubber floorings. The seats are not reversible. The Great Lakes Central Railroad has a two year contract with MDOT to refurbish these cars, a contract that may be extended to three years. A total of 19 people are working on the project.
No date has been scheduled for institution of commuter service on either the WALLY or Ann Arbor-Detroit lines or of special runs for Thanksgiving to Detroit or excursions to Chicago. Hinkins asked what MARP’s responsibility was in pushing MDOT and SEMCOG on these commuter rail projects. DeLora responded that he thought the upcoming retirement of several individuals at SEMCOG would change the environment there.
East/Central: Blue Water trains often have 7-8 coaches and two café cars with business seating, Wallington reported. This is an outgrowth of Boardman’s attitude that people really want trains. Four MARP members including Wallington attended the Indian Trails 100th Anniversary Celebration in Owosso. MARP’s relationship with Indian Trails would have been unimaginable several years ago.
The East Lansing station has been painted recently and more comfortable seating installed.
Western: U. S. Representative Fred Upton attended the recent Rail Forum in St. Joseph, Langdon noted. Many present expressed interest in connecting CSX and Amtrak at New Buffalo. Langdon urged those present to talk with their elected officials as the way to get action.
The September 23 Forum in Holland was featured in the Grand Rapids Press. Most present supported passenger rail.
August ridership for the Blue Water was up 37% and the Pere Marquette 4%. New Buffalo ridership was up 200% for the month and 156% for the year. Langdon reminded the group that additional cars could impact the amount Amtrak will charge the state in future years.
At the St. Joseph meeting, John Krull handed out a report on the Michigan Owl. Amtrak was very pleased with the response to the Labor Day weekend train. The short notice of its inaugural was due to Norfolk Southern’s delay in approving it. Chase had an opportunity to ride the new train and talked to many riders. Most saw it on the Amtrak website and didn’t realize it was an experimental venture. Langdon urged Chase to send a letter to Amtrak thanking them for running the train and asking that it be made
permanent. DeLora added that the elected officials who requested the new service should also be thanked. The additional service would really benefit weekday travelers who want to get to Chicago early. It runs primarily on Amtrak owned rails.
The New Buffalo station is a good example of what happens when frequencies are added. Private entrepreneurs paid for construction of the new station because they foresaw what could happen. Station activity is up 200-300% over the old station, served by only one train each way daily.
Leadership of Westrain has moved to St. Joseph, which is good news for retaining the present route of the Pere Marquette. The Southwest Michigan Planning Commission recently issued a position paper supporting that route.
Westrain receives $100,000 annually from MDOT to promote the Pere Marquette. Langdon speculated that a similar organization in Northern Michigan could help promote the Indian Trails service.
Northern Michigan: Monteith reported that he has attended a number of meetings recently dealing with rail matters, including the Michigan By Rail Forum in Traverse City.
In a recent meeting dealing with the Grand Vision for the Traverse City Region, it was agreed to add Charlevoix and Petoskey for transportation planning.
Monteith is now a member of a Chamber of Commerce rail freight committee, hoping to interest cherry growers and wine producers to ship by rail.
The Michigan Rail Plan meeting hosted by MDOT in Traverse City was attended by 110 people, an excellent turnout.
A similar MDOT Rail Plan meeting in Negaunee was attended by 45 people, including one of the candidates for the first district seat in the U. S. House of Representatives. All present wanted to see a resumption of passenger rail service to the area.
Monteith asked if any NARP meetings were open to NARP members without charge?
Frank Ingram of Wisconsin New Rails expressed interest in what was going on with passenger rail in the U.P., noting that the meeting in Negaunee was not very well publicized. Current plans have passenger rail restored from Milwaukee to Green Bay by 2019 with many thinking it could be a reality by 2015. Thruway bus service from Green Bay or Diesel Multiple Units would be ideal, although the tracks in Michigan are not signalized. Ingram is concerned that the Republican candidate for governor in Wisconsin is very hostile to rail and has promised to scrap all new passenger rail ventures if elected. The fact that the proposed Twin Cities-Duluth passenger service actually runs through Wisconsin has eluded him to date.
Langdon noted that Diesel Multiple Units would work very well on the Great Lakes Central and other Michigan lines. The company that manufactures DMU’s has recently moved to Ohio. The U. S. requires much more strongly built cars than Europe does.
Michigan By Rail: The Michigan By Rail Forums are an outcome of a meeting between Tim Fischer of the Michigan Environmental Council and the contractor charged by MDOT with doing the Michigan State Rail plan. A state rail plan is now required before the state is eligible for any federal funding for rail improvements. When Fischer learned that MDOT planned just four public meetings, he organized a number of additional meetings to gather input into what Michiganians really want in the way of passenger and freight rail service. The Michigan By Rail forums are co-sponsored by the Michigan Environmental Council and MARP. Meetings have already been held in a number of communities with additional meetings scheduled for Flint on September 30 and Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids, Detroit, Ann Arbor and Muskegon during the next three months, for a total of 16 Michigan By Rail forums. Findings will be presented to MDOT and the new administration when it takes office in January. Chase urged members to attend and bring others. It is particularly good when elected officials are there to hear directly from the people.
Election Results: Whittier presented the slate of officers for 2010-2012. Since no seats are contested, a formal election is not necessary. The new officers are:
Chair Robert Tischbein
Vice Chair Barney Whittier
Secretary Hugh Gurney
Executive Committee (Communications) Kay Chase
Executive Committee (Public/Governmental Affairs) John Langdon
Executive Committee (Membership) Kathleen Newell
Executive Committee (Meetings) Jim Wallington
Regional Chair – Metro Detroit Jim Hinkins
Regional Chair – East/Central No Candidate
Regional Chair – West Michigan Barney Whittier
(temporary pending decision by the chair)
Regional Chair – Northern Michigan Don Monteith
Other positions such as Treasurer, Outreach Chair, Editor and Webmaster are appointed.
Langdon moved acceptance of the Nominating Committee Report. The motion was seconded by Monteith and approved by the members present.
New Thruway Routes: Wallington urged that all Indian Trails routes to and in Northern Michigan be designated Amtrak Thruway Routes, as they all connect with each
other. Cushman responded that Indian Trails was quite agreeable, but Amtrak had logistical problems with routes where transfers were required from one bus to another.
He felt that Wallington’s proposal made sense, since rail will never reach the entire population.
Asked by Langdon where MARP should place its emphasis, Cushman responded that all routes north of Lansing, Bay City and Grand Rapids need more usage. These routes could disappear if the state withdrew its support. Langdon noted that Amtrak was extending its Thruway bus from Toledo to Grand Rapids during the NARP meeting in October. Perhaps that could be made permanent. Service to communities in the Thumb is another possibility. Wallington suggested a bus up the Lake Michigan shoreline in addition to the current service along U.S. 131.
All agreed that more marketing is needed. Unfortunately, the governor vetoed Indian Trails’ marketing budget last year. Langdon suggested getting Tim Fischer at the Michigan Environmental Council involved.
Life Memberships: Langdon noted the extraordinary contributions to MARP by Larry Sobczak, J. R. Valderas and Tim Fischer and moved that these three individuals be made life members. The cost of mailing each a quarterly newsletter would be the major expense. The motion was seconded by Monteith and passed by the members present.
Change in Leadership: DeLora spoke of his years promoting rail service in Michigan, starting with membership in NARP and then his role in founding MARP back in 1953. He has observed that passenger rail makes its greatest strides when a real believer in rail is governor. His reading in the current electoral campaign is that both candidates for governor are favorable to passenger rail.
DeLora stated that he feels that all Michigan routes should have at least two round trips daily and that Chicago-Detroit-Buffalo-New York service should be restored, in order to bring people into Michigan from both East and West. He leaves office feeling that the leadership of MARP is strong. He is especially grateful for the contributions of John Guidinger, J.R. Valderas, John Langdon and Larry Sobczak. He can now focus more on national passenger rail issues. At this point, DeLora officially turned the gavel over to incoming chair Robert Tischbein.
Noting that she had been a member since 1974, Ward expressed her appreciation for what Delora and others had contributed over the years.
Adjournment: The business meeting was officially concluded at this point.
Awards and Guest Speakers:
Indian Trails: DeLora then called Chad Cushman of Indian Trails forward and presented a plaque honoring Indian Trails on its 100th year in business and its
commitment to intermodal transportation. Indian Trails not only connects all of Northern
Michigan to Amtrak at Kalamazoo, Battle Creek or Milwaukee, it also operates scheduled service from Lansing, Jackson and Ann Arbor to Detroit Metro Airport.
Noting that intercity motor coach service is quite different from local transit, Cushman stated that intercity motor coach had no statewide organization to work with. A meeting with MARP about two years ago initiated a very productive relationship between the two organizations, both committed to mass transportation. In today’s environment, line or scheduled motor coach service is very challenging. All modes of mass transportation need to sit at the same table and work together.
The St. Ignace Transportation Center has been about ten years in the making. When the concept resurfaced about three years ago, all the initial players had retired and new people began looking at the project. The facility was funded by MDOT and the City of St. Ignace. St. Ignace owns the building. Indian Trails has a twenty year lease on the facility. The people at the Voyagers Inn next door maintain the facility and serve as Indian Trails’ agent in St. Ignace. The Transportation Center represents what every community should have. Many motor coach terminals are outdated, making it difficult to attract new riders.
Cushman thanked MARP for its efforts to preserve the rural motor coach routes in Northern Michigan when it was threatened earlier this year by a cut in state funding.
Harry Gow: DeLora next presented MARP’s International Friendship Award to Harry Gow of Chelsea, Quebec, the leading figure in saving passenger rail service in Canada. For many years, Gow has been at the forefront of improving public transportation in Canada and advocating for better cross border connections. Wallington added that it was communication between Gow and Gordon MacKay of Indian Trails that brought the extension of scheduled motor coach service to Sault Ste. Marie less than a year ago. From Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, passengers can take public transit to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.
Gow thanked the group, stating that the award was a great achievement for him. He reminded all that Quebec and Michigan were once part of one country and the cultural connections continue in shared values and mannerisms of speech.
Gow’s organization, now called Transport Action, did work with Indian Trails on the extension of service to Sault Ste. Marie. He sees that he must now work to promote the service on the Ontario side. Transport Canada must also focus on preserving Greyhound service in Ontario, which has been deteriorating very quickly. Years ago, the province dropped the gas tax for motor coaches, but more must be done. Manitoba has picked up the ball, but Ontario hasn’t. Saskatchewan has a crown corporation that functions much like Indian Trails. Unfortunately, the rail group in Northern Ontario is so focused on preserving the Algoma Central and Huron Central service that they don’t see how motor coach fits in.
The Windsor-Toronto VIA service has the most impact on Michigan. Transport Action has been pushing VIA to switch to the CP tracks west of Chatham and head into downtown Windsor and the Detroit-Windsor tunnel. Unfortunately, VIA persists in wanting to stay on the CN and dead end in Walkerville, with no possibility of a link with the United States. VIA now owns most of the Chatham-Walkerville line.
The other VIA line directly impacting Michigan, the Toronto-London-Sarnia route uses the North Main Line through Stratford. Here a portion of the route is owned by a short line railroad that is resisting efforts by VIA to upgrade the tracks. VIA currently has a contract with a firm in Moncton, New Brunswick, to completely refurbish many of the old Budd RDC cars, equipping them with new Cummins engines, for the Toronto-Sarnia service.
The Canadian government seems much more interested in a new auto and truck bridge at Detroit than in improving rail connections. Overall, though, the conservative government has been quite supportive of rail.
On the U.S. side, the Transportation Security people have been pushing to have all rail passengers get off the train with their luggage at the border for inspection. They currently do this with bus passengers. NARP is working to fend this off. At the moment, we have only three trains that cross the international border. Transport Action is fighting for more passenger friendly service.
Speaker: After a short break to enjoy an Indian Trails Centennial Cake, DeLora introduced Judy Gross, a volunteer at the St. Ignace Chamber of Commerce. Though not a native, Gross has spent a lot of time researching rail service in St. Ignace and environs. Using a handout map and historic photographs, Gross showed the route of the railroad into St. Ignace and the location of the various railroad docks along the waterfront. Some vestiges remain, including the dock where freight cars were loaded and unloaded from the ferries that connected St. Ignace with the railroads on the Lower Peninsula. Rail service to St. Ignace started in 1879 and ended in 1984. During its heyday, the Mackinac Transportation Company, a consortium of three railroads, operated year round ferry service across the Straits of Mackinac. The larger ferries could carry fourteen railroad cars at a time. The end began when the State of Michigan initiated auto ferry service in 1923. The construction of the Mackinac Bridge in 1957 brought about the demise.
The meeting adjourned at 12:48 p.m.
Respectfully submitted: Accepted: