MICHIGAN ASSOCIATION OF RAILROAD PASSENGERS
Durand Union Station, Durand
November 13, 2010
Those Signing In: Hugh Gurney, Clark Charnetski, John Langdon, Don Monteith, Tim Fischer, Dietrich Bergmann, George Schlaepfer, Harry Gow, Steve T. Sobel, John DeLora, Mary Myers, Daniel Myers, Julien Wolfe, Pat Post, Richard F. Pekarek, Ren Farley, Dan Platz, Larry Swartz, Jim Wallington, Larry Sobczak, Steve Vagnozzi, Doug Wilson, Jim Hinkins, Dave Randall, John Guidinger, Marilyn Guidinger, Kay Chase, Robert Tischbein, Rich Vavra-Musser, Robert Patterson, Diane Patterson, Andrew Kent, Tim Hoeffner, Norma Ward, Kathleen Newell, Kaz Fujita
Also Present: Douglas DeLora, Martha K. Wolfe, Scott Hercik, Jane Hinkins, Phyllis Bergmann, Joe Moran, Pat Norris
Call to Order: The meeting to order at 10:18 a.m. All present introduced themselves.
Treasurer’s Report: Treasurer Randall reported that as of October 31, 2010, MARP had $3,375.00 in its checking account and the Pratt Fund was valued at $14,205.95. Langdon moved approval. The motion was seconded by Monteith and approved by the members present.
Secretary’s Report: After review, Tischbein moved approval of the minutes of the October 23, 2010 meeting. The motion was seconded by Langdon and approved by the members present.
Bonding Bill: Langdon called attention to the fact that a bill is now before the Michigan Senate that would authorize use of state building authority bonding as the state match in rail projects. He urged all present to write a letter to their own state senator urging his or her support. Langdon has a sample letter he will share.
Chairman’s Annual Report: Tischbein reviewed the Chairman’s Annual Report, which had been handed to all present in printed form. In response, DeLora noted that MARP’s website had seen an increase in hits from 30,000 annually to 100,000 annually. NARP is looking at this as a model.
Gow expressed thanks for MARP’s response to the Detroit River International Crossing project and for its successful efforts to extend Amtrak Thruway Service to Sault Ste. Marie.
One member pointed out a problem he noted recently when his bus arrived late at the Kalamazoo depot. Not a human being was in sight. The member was being picked up, but wondered what a stranger on that bus would have done. Wallington noted that this issue would be on the agenda for meetings with Amtrak and Indian Trails.
Outreach: Tischbein thanked all who had helped with Outreach over the past year, including Gurney, Newell, Langdon, Sobel, Charnetski, Hinkins, Fischer, Chase, Valderas, Frezell, Wallington, DeLora, Pekarek and Swenson.
Guest Speaker: Tim Hoeffner, MDOT Intermodal Policy Administrator, reported progress on a number of fronts. MDOT has received a $3.2 million grant to study the High Speed Rail Project. This is a joint project with Indiana and Illinois and will include an Environmental Review. The process will take 18-21 months. FRA is anxious to see this study move quickly.
A total of $151 million was awarded for the Dearborn-Kalamazoo sector. MDOT had requested $241 million. Hoeffner plans to meet face to face with Norfolk Southern officials next week to discuss the project. Many in the passenger rail community are truly excited about the possibility of passenger trains running on their own rails.
Plans for the West Detroit connector are moving along and should see fruition in the near future.
Thanksgiving trains on the proposed Ann Arbor-Detroit commuter line were never scheduled. Money was a problem as well as issues with the seating in the refurbished coaches. Bids for leasing locomotives have been awarded and the successful bidder has painted one of their locomotives in the MITRAIN color scheme.
WALLY communities must now decide on the location of stations in their respective communities.
At this point in time, MDOT has no clear direction as to where the new governor stands on the various rail projects, though he appears to support both WALLY and the Ann Arbor-Detroit commuter service. MDOT will continue to take an incremental approach to these projects.
Michigan residents are voting by taking the train. Ridership in October was up 20% on the Wolverine line and 39% on the Blue Water line.
In response to Vavra-Musser’s query about reaction to Ohio and Wisconsin opting out of high speed rail, Hoeffner noted that MDOT had been talking to Talgo, who recently located a facility in Wisconsin. MDOT is particularly interested in bringing maintenance of all Midwest trains to a facility in Waterford.
Hoeffner conceded that Michigan may have to pick up the costs of the Wolverine under PRIIA. He is not comfortable with the capital costs that are being quoted.
Wallington noted that more cars on the Blue Water were bringing more riders. Hoeffner added that MDOT’s efforts to rebuild relations with CN after a wreck in Charlotte several years ago were also paying off.
In response to a question from Robert Patterson as to how the $150 million grant will be broken down, Hoeffner stated that FRA is quite flexible. Norfolk Southern has expressed a willingness to take less than the appraised value for the Dearborn-Kalamazoo line, and that can be applied as part of the 20% state match. Some of the money will have to go to maintenance and not acquisition.
Hoeffner feels that only minor upgrades are needed to permit 110 mph speeds, though Norfolk Southern wants to hold at 90 mph. Norfolk Southern will continue operating freights on the line after acquisition.
In response to a question from Langdon, Hoeffner indicated he didn’t know whether the new Amtrak station in Grand Rapids would be staffed. It could be that Indian Trails or Greyhound would handle ticket sales.
Robert Patterson expressed concern that increased speeds and more frequencies would adversely affect communities along the Chicago-Detroit line. If the Pere Marquette switches to the Amtrak line north of New Buffalo, that would mean even more rail traffic through that city. Has New Buffalo expressed concerns about more trains passing through their community? Hoeffner responded that signal technology can forestall the need for grade separations. MDOT can also work with local communities to improve local traffic flow. Amtrak trains will pass a grade crossing in 30-40 seconds, a wait that most motorists can tolerate.
In response to a concern that the East Lansing station closes before the Amtrak train is scheduled in the evening, Hoeffner noted that he needed to talk to Michigan State about that.
According to Hoeffner, the hope for a station track at Battle Creek is still on the books. Funding was shifted to West Detroit, a higher priority. The ultimate solution at Battle Creek is a flyover.
Responding to a question from Kent, Hoeffner stated that federal grants and the Comprehensive Transportation Fund will cover capital expenses. Revenue from ridership should cover routine maintenance. We must work to grow the business to cover fixed costs.
As to the Michigan Owl, the decision to run the train over the Labor Day weekend was made too late to really promote it. MDOT is not in a position to fund that train at this time.
MDOT pays for service under Amtrak’s second option, where Michigan pays an agreed upon fixed cost for service during the year. If ridership is up, Amtrak keeps any additional amount that it takes in. MDOT feels that this is the better option because it gives Amtrak an incentive to do a better job. Because ridership is up, Hoeffner anticipates that the basic contract will be slightly lower in 2011. Amtrak may receive additional amounts for special trains in the Ann Arbor-Detroit line.
MDOT is working with Amtrak on increased Business Class seating. At this point, a whole car is not needed. MDOT does not see Quiet Cars on Michigan lines at the present time. Hoeffner has asked his operations staff to look into the feasibility of connecting additional cars en route on some trains.
Responding to a question from Tischbein, Hoeffner stated that MDOT has taken no position on the proposed abandonment of a rail line serving Ontonagon. The community is looking for a buyer for the plant that is closing there.
In conclusion, Hoeffner stated that he can’t predict what the new governor will do as far a rail passenger service. He seems to have an urban agenda, supporting high speed and commuter rail.
Lunch: At this point, a break was taken for a delicious catered luncheon.
Thanks to Retiring Executive Committee Members: Gurney paid tribute to those going off the Executive Committee at this time, including Tim Fischer, Steve Sobel and Andrew Kent. He also recognized the contributions of those who had left the committee earlier, including Mike Whims and Michael Frezell. A Certificate of Appreciation was given to Clark Charnetski for his thirty-five years of service to the Michigan rail passenger.
Tribute to John DeLora: Bergmann then offered tribute MARP’s founder, John DeLora, who has served the cause of the Michigan rail passenger for thirty-seven years.
DeLora called a small number together for the first meeting in November, 1973. Two months later, in January, 1974, the first newsletter came out. It has been published continuously ever since, under several names, The Michigan Mainliner; The Wolverine Passenger: and now The Michigan Passenger. The organization was incorporated in January, 1975, with John DeLora, John Guidinger and Craig Harris as Incorporators.
From 1977-1982, there was a subsidiary organization, The Michigan Passenger Foundation, whose aim was to assist passengers in those early Amtrak days. Bergmann illustrated highlights in DeLora’s leadership right up to October, 2010, when he was present in Jackson for the announcement of the $150 million high speed rail grant.
An engraved plaque was presented in recognition of DeLora’s “40 years at the throttle”.
Scott Hercik then added to the list of DeLora’s accomplishments, followed by Harry Gow, who thanked DeLora for his work on the legislation and his support for VIA. Unfortunately, VIA is currently building a new Windsor station in Walkerville, which will make connections to Detroit very difficult. Gow presented DeLora with a VIA thermos to take on his trips.
Larry Swartz of America By Rail praised DeLora for his achievements. Michigan’s rail network feeds passengers to America By Rail and helps make the business a success. As a token of thanks, Swartz presented DeLora with a $1,000 gift certificate.
Others speaking in praise of DeLora included Phyllis Bergmann, Clark Charnetski, Norma Ward, and George Schlaepfer, one of the signers of the original charter.
DeLora acknowledged all who had spoken and made presentations and pledged to continue his work in support of passenger rail service on the national level.
Adjournment: The meeting adjourned to enjoy a festive cake in honor of the occasion.
Respectfully submitted, Accepted:
Hugh D. Gurney Robert Tischbein