Meeting minutes – October 23, 2010 – Grand Rapids

Monthly Membership Meeting
Grand Rapids Amtrak Station, Grand Rapids
October 23, 2010 

Those Signing In:  Hugh Gurney, Dave Randall, Carl J. Suchi, Rich Vavra-Musser, Clark Charnetski, Don Monteith, Jim Wallington, Kay Chase, Kathleen Newell, Dan Myers, Mary Myers, Jeff Ruitel, Arman Balk, Diane Patterson, Robert Patterson, Jim Hinkins, J. R. Valderas, John Langdon, Ed Hekman

 Call to Order:  Chairman Tischbein called the meeting to order at 10:00 a.m.

Guest Speaker:  Langdon introduced Ed Hekman, one of the West Michigan individuals who took part in the successful campaign to bring passenger rail service, discontinued in 1971, back to Grand Rapids .   Hekman recalled meeting in a private rail car to discuss strategy.  Eventually the group gathered 12,000 signatures urging restoration of rail service, enough to impress then Governor Milliken and get the blessing of the state. The Pere Marquette station in Grand Rapids had been torn down in 1958, so it took some time to come up with a location for the Amtrak service.  Eventually the site at 431 Wealthy Street was agreed upon and the city provided what is essentially a pole barn facility.  Amtrak service to Chicago began in 1984. 

Charnetski noted that the formula for state support of Amtrak trains has changed since 1984.  At that time, it was 50% of avoidable costs.  Today it is 100%.

Langdon then pointed out the plaque to Ray Hamacher, another of the group instrumental in getting Amtrak service underway.  Hamacher served as station host for many years and was very active in Westrain, the promotion group for the Pere Marquette.  MARP, Amtrak and Westrain contributed to the cost of the plaque. 

Hamacher was one of those pushing for a central Transportation Center for Grand Rapids.  Recently, the Transportation Center was built and currently serves RAPID, the Grand Rapids transit system, Greyhound and Indian Trails.  In 2010, U. S. Representative Vern Ehlers was able to get an earmark providing funds to lay tracks into the Center.  The proposed Amtrak station would be just to the south of the remainder of the transportation complex.  Money is still needed to cover the costs of building the Amtrak station and adjacent parking. 

Langdon handed out maps of the proposed development which he had picked up during the recent NARP presentation at the Transportation Center.  Vern Ehlers did attend the NARP meeting as well as two state representatives, one a staunch conservative from Grandville.


Michigan By Rail:  Langdon noted that MDOT’s Tim Hoeffner attended both the recent Michigan By Rail Forum in Detroit as well as the NARP meeting in Grand Rapids.  Hoeffner likes the maps Michigan By Rail has developed.  It appears that MDOT and Michigan By Rail agree on a number a key points for the Michigan State Rail Plan including the importance of rail along the I-94 and I-96 corridors, north to Traverse City, and connections to points beyond Michigan.  MDOT also likes the concept of connecting colleges and universities throughout the state. 

Upcoming meetings are scheduled for Monroe and Detroit.  Chase has sent thank you notes to community leaders and elected officials who have attended past meetings.

Minutes of the September 25 meeting in St. Ignace were reviewed.  In response to a query by Valderas, Wallington explained that he and two others were granted life membership because of the invaluable service they had provided to MARP.  Randall noted a correction. Wallington moved acceptance with corrections, seconded by Langdon.  The motion was approved by those present.

Treasurer’s Report:  Randall distributed the Treasurer’s Report for review.  As of September 30, 2010, MARP had $3,813.91 in its checking account and the Pratt Fund was valued at $13,701.23.  The reminder postcard was effective and brought in an additional $650.00 in dues during the month.  Expenses are up because of the Michigan By Rail Forums.  We are now saving about $200-$300 on each issue of the newsletter, mainly due to changes in the mailing procedures.  Wallington moved acceptance, seconded by Langdon.  The motion was approved by those present.

Coordinator Reports:

            Public/Governmental Affairs:  Langdon noted that we have been trying to invite both elected officials and candidates to the Michigan By Rail Forums.  Conyers is hoping to host the upcoming forum in Detroit and Dingell will try to attend the one in Ann Arbor.

The State of Michigan 2011 F.Y. appropriation for Amtrak is $8.67 million.

Legislation has been introduced in the Michigan House of Representatives to designate $100 million of transportation bonding for rail improvements.  This could be used for the state match for potential federal grants.  If passed, it will demonstrate the state’s commitment to rail.  Fischer will try to push it through the lame duck session of the legislature in November. 

            Communications: Chase suggested that members check out the URL for the National Rail Plan.  It includes maps and a link to the Michigan State Rail Plan. 

She needs a short biography from all members of the Executive Committee to use in news releases she is preparing.  Monteith suggested that these bios be printed in The Michigan Passenger.


MARP has been invited to attend meetings of Operation Lifesaver.  Their quarterly meeting is November 5 at the Durand Union Station.  RSVP’s are appreciated. 

                                    Outreach:  Tischbein passed out copies of the latest outreach schedule.  Events in Ann Arbor and Detroit were added.  Valderas reminded all that National Train Day events must be set up on the morning of the event.

                                    Website:  Charnetski suggested that two University of Michigan railroad technology lectures be posted on the MARP website, one on December 2, 2010 and the second on May 10, 2011. 

 Valderas made a motion that contact information for all members of the Executive Committee be posted on the website.  The motion was seconded by Langdon and approved by the members present. 

                                     Michigan Passenger:  Valderas reported that The Michigan Passenger would go to press sometime after the Annual Meeting on November 13.  He has been asked to work more hours by Holland Public Schools and that will slow production.  He asked all members of the Executive Committee to provide him with e-mail addresses and phone numbers for inclusion in the paper.  He will take photos of all new members of the Executive Committee immediately after the meeting. 

 Charnetski asked that members with extra copies of The Michigan Passenger bring them to the November meeting in Durand so that they could be used at upcoming outreach events.  Langdon noted that with new officers, a new distribution system will go into effect.

            Membership:  Newell reported that Vavra-Musser had transferred virtually all membership information to her.  She is in the process of digesting it.  The September minutes reflect an increase in membership numbers over 2009.

             Meetings:  Wallington reminded all that the Annual Meeting will be held on Saturday, November 13, at the Durand Union Station.  It will focus on a salute to outgoing chair John DeLora.  Wallington asked for volunteers to help with set up that morning. There will be no meeting in December.

The 2011 schedule begins on Saturday, January 15, with a membership meeting at the depot in Williamston.  February will see us back in Durand, March in Bangor, and April in Millett. Because of National Train Day, there will be no meeting in May.  South Lyon will be the venue for June. 

Chase asked all to watch for post cards announcing the November 13 Annual Meeting and asking for an RSVP.  The meeting will cost $20.00 per person to cover lunch for all.  Many of DeLora’s friends and associates have been invited.  Chase will also send out an e-mail reminder.


Regional Chapter Reports:

            Detroit Metro:  SMART has purchased its first flexible or accordion buses which are scheduled to go into service on the Gratiot Avenue route during the second week of November, Hinkins reported.  The Federal Highway Administration has received a Notice of Intent to proceed with the Environmental Impact Statement for the Ann Arbor-Detroit commuter rail line.  The first public meetings are scheduled for late 2010 or early 2011.  Hinkins has had no further word on a special Ann Arbor-Detroit train on Thanksgiving.  A Detroit-Ann Arbor special in early December is still possible.

Hinkins was among those who visited the Great Lakes Central workshops in Owosso in September to view work on the ex-METRA cars being refurbished for the Ann Arbor-Detroit and WALLY commuter lines.  Work includes painting the interiors and exteriors and rebuilding the trucks.  The MDOT logo and the wording “MITRAIN” will be part of the exterior design of both cars and locomotives.  FRA is scheduled to begin inspecting the cars next month.

To make the cars ADA accessible, customized platform lifts will be installed on station platforms.  According to a serviceman  working October 23 on the lifts at the Grand Rapids station, the lifts on the WALLY and Ann Arbor-Detroit lines will have a longer tongue to reach further into the cars than the lifts that service Amtrak’s Horizon equipment.

Charnetski recently attended a meeting to review plans for the proposed Birmingham/Troy station.  Construction can proceed as soon as property ownership issues are cleared up.

            East/Central: Wallington reported that the Blue Water Coalition is updating the information on each community that the Blue Water serves for the mitrain website.

            Western: Langdon passed out the Amtrak ridership reports for September.   Also included is a revised Pere Marquette report, adjusted to reflect the loss of New Buffalo on that line.  For the past few weeks, the Pere Marquette has had a consist of four cars rather than three. For the new New Buffalo station on the Blue Water/Wolverine line, ridership for the last eleven months is up 169% and for September, a 302% increase. 

Vavra-Musser reported that the Southwest Michigan Planning Commission has drafted a letter asking MDOT to include the current Pere Marquette route in the Michigan State Rail Plan, adding a junction just north of New Buffalo so that Pere Marquette trains can access the Amtrak line at that point.  The Southwest Michigan Planning Commission is asking MARP to co-sign the letter.  After considerable discussion, it was agreed that the MARP chair should review the letter and ask for possible rewording to fit MARP’s vision.  The Regional Chair and Communications Coordinator will take part in this review as well as other members of the Executive Committee.  If agreement with SWMPC can’t be achieved, MARP may write its own letter.


            Northern:  Monteith noted that over four hundred took part in the Steam Railroad Institute excursion to Northern Michigan last week.  During the excursion, he was made aware of the attractive depot in Cadillac, currently owned by the city.  Plans are afoot to adoptively reuse the structure as a restaurant. 

Monteith plans to attend the meeting of the New Rails chapter of the Wisconsin Association of Railroad Passengers in La Crosse next week.  He asked for a letter of introduction.  Chase suggested that he confer with Gurney who heads the Route Enhancement Committee and who might suggest topics to bring up at that meeting.

Old Business:

            NARP Fall Meeting: Langdon handed out a written report on the four day conference held last weekend in Grand Rapids, which included a meeting of representatives from eleven state passenger associations, a day long tour of Southwest Michigan Passenger Rail Facilities, the core meeting featuring presentations by Gordon MacKay of Indian Trails, Mike Franke from Amtrak, Ross Capon and other NARP officials.  The fourth day focused on promotional opportunities.  Langdon added details on the state passenger associations meeting, including a discussion of swapping membership lists, a sheet New Jersey has developed to track the votes of its Congressional delegation on rail issues, and discussion of the importance of communicating with officials at the local, state and federal level. 

Many of the states are already paying for most Amtrak service or have decided they will pay for the service, so Section 209 of the 2008 Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act is not a concern to them.  If implemented, Michigan could well pay an additional $15 million annually for the Wolverine service which is currently Amtrak funded.  Unofficially, Amtrak would like to see Section 209 repealed.

NARP would like each state ARP to have a mission statement that parallels the NARP Mission Statement.  Randall pointed out that, since MARP is not legally connected to NARP in any way, we are not obliged to comply.

            Friends of Jackson Michigan Central Station:  Tischbein noted he had yet to receive any official communication from this group as to affiliating in some way with MARP.  After discussion, it was agreed that it would be better to encourage the Friends group to incorporate separately.  Once they have received their charter from the state, they can come to MARP and request support for the cost of applying to the IRS for their 501(c)(3) status.  Tischbein plans to attend their next meeting and will convey MARP’s sentiments. 

New Business: 

            TRU Fundraiser:  Chase noted the Annual Transit Riders United Fundraiser scheduled for November 10 in Detroit.  As a way of supporting TRU’s work, she moved that MARP pay for a sponsorship at the $250.00 level.  For this contribution, MARP would receive recognition in the program and two tickets to the event.  The motion was


seconded by Wallington and passed by the members present.  Langdon suggested that TRU ask Derrick James at Amtrak if he could provide Amtrak tickets for the auction.

            Other:  Hinkins expressed concern as to who would oversee the operation of the WALLY and Ann Arbor-Detroit commuter trains,  since no regional authority currently exists.  Langdon noted that the SEMCOG website indicates that they are negotiating with Amtrak to run their trains.  It was agreed that a state run system would be best at this time.  This should be a topic for our next meeting with MDOT’s Tim Hoeffner.

Adjournment:  Langdon moved adjournment.  This was seconded by Randall.  The meeting adjourned at 12:55 p.m.

Respectfully submitted:                                  Accepted:

Hugh D. Gurney                                             Robert Tischbein

Secretary                                                         Chair