MICHIGAN ASSOCIATION OF RAILROAD PASSENGERS
MONTHLY MEMBERSHIP MEETING
WILLIAMSTON DEPOT MUSEUM, WILLIAMSTON
JANUARY 15, 2011
Those Signing In: Hugh Gurney, Norma Ward, Don Monteith, Clark Charnetski, Dave Randall, Jim Wallington, Steve T. Sobel, Phillip Chamberlain, Vale Gartner, John Wentzel, Tim Hoeffner, Kaz Fujita, Dick Pekarek, Bennie Solowery, Bob Jones Cadiller, Dan Platz, Kathleen Newell, Kay Chase, Roger Webster, Tom Carroll, Barney Whittier, Jim Hinkins, Diane Patterson, Robert Patterson, John Langdon, Tim Fischer, Bob Tischbein
Also Present: Cloyce Odell, Andy Anderson, Williamston Depot Museum
Call to Order: Secretary Gurney called the meeting to order at 10:10 a.m. and introduced Cloyce Odell of the Williamston Depot Museum, who gave a brief history of railroading in Williamston and the Depot Museum. With the prospect of the Howell and Lansing Railroad passing through the community, the electors of Williamston Township on May 6, 1869, voted to issue $15,000 in bonds in support of the railroad, payable over a period of five years. Before the bonds could be delivered to the railroad company, the State Supreme Count declared the action unconstitutional and they were destroyed. By 1871, though, the Lansing, Detroit and New Haven Railroad had built a line through the area. In 1873, a windmill was installed to fill the water tank at the station, replacing a pony which had done the task before. Succession passed to first to the Erie Railroad Company, then the Pere Marquette, then the Chesapeake and Ohio and finally, to CSX. High stack locomotives were used until the last six years of Pere Marquette ownership, when more modern steam locomotives were introduced. During the C & O period, diesel locomotives took over.
As in other communities, the railroad brought new business, such as the Williamston Stave Company in 1873. Grain elevators, a stockyard and a cold storage building followed. A carriage would bring passengers from the station at the south end of town to the hotel. Odell’s mother gleaned coal from parked coal trains for heat and fuel.
The current building was built around 1890. Odell is in possession of the original blueprints. It was moved to its present location in the 1970’s, after passenger service was terminated. The building now houses the Williamston Depot Museum and the Williamston Chamber of Commerce and is open to the public on a regular basis.
Treasurer’s Report: Treasurer Randall reported that, as of December 31, 2010, MARP had $8,086.89 in its checking account and the Pratt Fund was valued at $14,894.81. The checking account was swelled by an unexpected donation of $5,000 from Cindy Barbour of West Lebanon, NH. The Annual Meeting also produced more revenue than expense.
Wallington moved to accept the Treasurer’s Report. The motion was seconded by Langdon and agreed to by those present.
Randall then presented the proposed 2011 budget, showing $10,800 in revenue and $9,261 in expenses. Tischbein moved to accept the proposed 2011 budget. The motion was seconded by Langdon. Randall agreed to make revisions once an anticipated grant from the Michigan Environmental Council is in hand. The proposed 2011 budget was approved by the members present.
As to the $5,000 donation from Cindy Barbour, DeLora moved to transfer $500 to the Pratt Fund and leave the remainder in the checking account. The motion was seconded by Wallington and approved by the members present.
Introductions: Chairman Tischbein took the gavel at this point and asked all present to introduce themselves.
Guest Speaker: Tischbein then introduced Tim Hoeffner, MDOT’s Intermodal Policy Administrator. Hoeffner expressed confidence that passenger rail was off to a good start in the new governor’s administration. The reappointment of Kirk Steudle as MDOT Director is a good omen and promises continuity. Steudle has been a supporter of passenger rail.
Amtrak has agreed to carry bicycles on Michigan trains, beginning in the spring of 2011. It is Hoeffner’s understanding that this policy includes the Superliners used on the Pere Marquette line, though he will check to make sure.
As to the route of the high speed line through Indiana, Hoeffner responded that it is too early to speculate. The contract with FRA has yet to be signed. FRA wanted to get all the TIGER grants in place first so they couldn’t be rescinded. Nevertheless, those involved have been identified and an RFP is being drafted. It should be out for bids in the first quarter of 2011, as soon as the contract with FRA is signed. It will call for repackaging all the work done through the Midwest Rail Initiative. An Environmental Review will follow during which a preferred routing through Illinois and Indiana will be selected. Following that, grants can be made to fund increased frequencies on the line. Increased frequencies may require additional sidings.
Responding to Vavra-Musser, Hoeffner explained that work on the current Amtrak route in Indiana awaits approval of the railroads involved. It is needed to improve freight flow, even if it is not selected as the preferred route for passenger trains.
The Englewood Flyover and Grand Crossing improvements will speed movement of Michigan passenger trains in and out of Chicago.
There is also no contract yet affecting the Kalamazoo-Dearborn segment of the Norfolk Southern line. Michigan requested $284,000 and received $150,000, so adjustments must be made. A match is also required before the money can be released. MDOT is trying to determine how much should be allocated to acquisition and how much to maintenance.
Hoeffner feels the feds will add additional funds if and when available.
Responding to Monteith, Hoeffner confirmed that a site in Waterford has been identified as a possibility for maintenance of all Midwest passenger rail equipment. Talgo will probably stay in Wisconsin. It is building two train sets for the Chicago-Milwaukee line. Oregon is purchasing two additional train sets with its TIGER grant.
Chase urged members to write letters to Governor Snyder and MDOT Director Steudle asking that they come up with the matching funds for the Kalamazoo-Dearborn high speed line. Let them know that it should be a priority.
Hoeffner is pushing to see speeds increased on the Kalamazoo-Porter segment during the spring of 2011. It would be a feather in Snyder’s cap.
Turning to the proposed commuter lines, Hoeffner noted that six cars have now been refurbished, but issues still exist as to how to meet the AFTA standards concerning seats. With unlimited funds, MDOT could purchase acceptable seats. But Hoeffner prefers to see if the existing seats can be reutilized. At the moment, the seat manufacturer and Great Lakes Central are working on a plan. Great Lakes Central has been authorized to refurbish sixteen of the total of twenty four cars needed. All cars will be handicap accessible.
A new station is under construction in Pontiac. Funded through a Federal Interstate Bus grant, it will serve both Amtrak and Greyhound. It will not be as large as the proposed station in Dearborn.
In Birmingham, litigation with the property owner is holding up construction. The $8.2 million available is adequate for the project.
As to how Section 209 of PRIAA will affect Michigan, the outcome is still unclear. No significant changes are anticipated on the Pere Marquette and Blue Water service, but what happens with the Wolverine is still unclear, particularly capital costs. Amtrak realizes it owns part of the route and that is being taken into the equation.
Responding to Robert Patterson on when any of the pending projects will be finalized, Hoeffner responded that MDOT is required by law to provide a report on rail service between Ann Arbor and Northwest Michigan by March 31, 2011. The West Detroit Junction project is moving forward.
Addressing capacity problems, Hoeffner stated that there are no capacity problems on either the Wolverine or Blue Water lines during the week. Michigan has handled a 25% ridership increase on the Wolverine and a 33% increase on the Blue Water. There have been problems on the Pere Marquette because of the smaller consist of trains on that route. Charnetski noted that additional cars refurbished by TIGER had been added to the Wolverine. Langdon has observed more Pere Marquette trains running with four cars rather than the usual three. There are no plans for additional frequencies at this time.
DeLora urged MDOT to start looking for additional cars to add when gasoline prices spike.
Hoeffner responded that MDOT is monitoring fuel costs because the do affect funding. The bottom line is that the trains are doing very well at this point.
As to additional funding, Hoeffner reminded the group that the Transportation Task Force made a number of recommendations back in 2009 and that their study was still valid. It is up to the legislature and the governor to act.
Confidentiality issues make it hard to assess how intercity bus is doing in Michigan. The general feeling is that Greyhound, Michigan Flyer and Megabus are all doing well. A new transportation center is planned for Detroit.
Minutes: The minutes of the November 13 meeting in Durand were reviewed and several corrections noted. Wallington moved approval with these corrections. The motion was seconded by DeLora and approved by the members present.
Public/Governmental Affairs: Langdon distributed information about the new legislative leaders in Lansing, new committees and subcommittees.
Fischer reported that sixteen Michigan By Rail forums had been staged between June and December. Results are being tabulated and will be given to MDOT to assist in the development of a State Rail Plan. Most people attending the forums asked for more frequencies on current routes, rail service between both Grand Rapids and Detroit to Northern Michigan, rail service Detroit-Grand Rapids and rail service to Toledo from Detroit and Ann Arbor.
Hoeffner noted that MDOT had conducted one meeting so far on the State Rail Plan and findings were similar. According to Fischer, most attending the forums he conducted were sympathetic to rail. There were a few naysayers, but their comments were not inappropriate. Some people were mainly looking for information. DeLora noted the presence of many from planning agencies and chambers of commerce. He praised Fischer and DeLora for the effectiveness of the forums.
Fischer then described the newly formed Trans4M or Transportation For Michigan coalition, of which MARP is a member along with many other statewide organizations. Three large Michigan Foundations, the Ford Foundation, the Kresge Foundation and the
C. S. Mott Foundation are funding this effort. MARP will be receiving a sub-grant of $5,000 to further the efforts of the larger group. Responding to Gurney, Fischer explained that our task will be to provide our information and expertise on intercity rail and motor coach. Better passenger rail and motor coach service are among objectives of the coalition, and MARP is able to explain what intermodal transportation is all about. Monteith suggested that Michigan Technological University be added to the list of universities involved. Robert Patterson suggested we use the term “statewide” in lieu of “intercity” so that smaller communities understand that they are included.
Fischer urged MARP members to attend the Michigan Environmental Council Legislative Breakfast on February 9.
Communications: The Michigan Environmental Council Breakfast is scheduled for February 9 at 124 N. Capitol Avenue in Lansing. It will be an excellent opportunity to meet legislators. MARP plans to have a display for all the view. Chase would like to see a good turnout from MARP members.
Chase is working on stationary and business cards that will convey as clear MARP brand.
Chase will be meeting with Valderas to find out how others can be most helpful in getting the newsletter out on a timely basis.
Wallington noted that Sobczak could also use some backup on maintaining the MARP website.
Tischbein distributed copies of the outreach schedule and asked for review. The Ann Arbor Model Train show on February 20 was added to the schedule.
Meetings: Wallington reviewed the meeting schedule as it currently stands:
February 12 Durand
March 19 Bangor
April 15 Millett
May No Meeting – National Train Day Activities
June 11 South Lyon
July 30 Dowagiac
August No Meeting
October Northwest Michigan
November To Be Determined
December No Meeting
Indian Trails: Wallington hopes to set up a meeting with Indian Trails sometime between February 17 and 24. Tischbein appointed Wallington as the liaison between MARP and Indian Trails.
Membership: Newell reported that she has received eight new memberships and eight renewals in the last two months. The pros and cons of issuing membership cards was discussed. MARP’s thank you letter needs revision. Renewal notices should be sent out soon. Monteith asked for a list of members in the Northern Michigan region. At DeLora’s suggestion, it was agreed that we would send invitations to the NARP membership list annually.
Regional Chapter Reports:
Metro Detroit/Southeast Michigan: Hinkins recently spoke to Palombo of SEMCOG about the status of the Ann Arbor-Detroit commuter line. The required equipment, station platforms and track improvements at West Detroit remain to be done. Having been burned in the past, Palombo declined to discuss a date when service would be inaugurated.
Planning for the Troy-Birmingham Transportation Center is about 75% complete. Funding has yet to be released.
Hinkins and Tischbein attended a briefing on the Environmental Review for the M-1 Woodward Avenue light rail project. The review should be completed within a year.
Hoeffner added that the notice of the draft Environmental Impact Statement is scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on January 19. A public meeting is will take place in February. Langdon has discussed the possibility of meetings similar to the Michigan By Rail Forums for the M-1 project with several Detroit Department of Transportation officials.
SMART has purchased two one hundred seat articulated buses. One is now running regularly on Gratiot Avenue in the Detroit area and the other is rotating between various lines. Hinkins has ridden on the Gratiot Avenue bus and reports that it provides “one sweet ride”, as smooth as a train without the rails. Three bio-diesel buses are to be delivered in the spring and SMART would like to convert their whole fleet to bio-diesel. Monteith suggested that natural gas would be a better alternative.
Gurney and Charnetski reported on the December WALLY briefing. Substantial work has been done on the right of way between Howell and Ann Arbor including new ballast, reconstruction of all but two public crossings and extensive clearing of brush. The line is ready for passenger trains running at 59 m.p.h. A storage siding is under construction at Osmer, where commuter trains would dwell during the day. Service into downtown Ann Arbor and Michigan Stadium would require lease or purchase of several miles of Ann Arbor Railroad owned tracks.
DeLora attended a session on train design recently and was amazed that 800 people showed up for the presentation.
Charnetski reported that the University of Michigan Art School was staging a show entitled “Trains of Thought” at the Wirtz Galleries in Ann Arbor and Detroit.
East/Central Region: Fujita announced that MSU has agreed that rail and bus passengers can now use all parking in the vicinity of the East Lansing station as long as they don’t block any doors or gates. This doubles the amount of parking available. New people with the franchise for selling bus tickets are keeping the station much cleaner. Because the Blue Water consist has grown and dwell times are longer, the train now needs to move forward to let all people on and off. More taxis are meeting the evening train and security does not seem to be an issue.
Because dwell times seem to be growing, Pekarek speculated that the schedule for westbound train #365 could be tightened. Fujita countered that the train is often ten minutes late out of Battle Creek and twenty minutes late into Chicago, so a tightening of the schedule may be premature. The tendency of Amtrak to hold #365 at Kalamazoo until the late arriving Wolverine had passed is a real problem. Fujita did agree that eastbound #364 often stands in East Lansing for twenty minutes. He suggested that the stops in Durand and further east be marked on the timetable with an “L”, indicating that the train may leave before the time indicated on the schedule.
Langdon recently met with Doug Wilson concerning his offer to help with promotion of the Blue Water. One project would be to have Amtrak publicize the fact that it has a Quik Trak machine at the Blue Water Convention and Visitors Bureau office under the Blue Water bridge. Many people use the Quik Trak in Holland at non train times. Marci Fogel at the Blue Water CVB is very supportive of the Blue Water service and the Blue Water Shore to Shore Connection. Perhaps T. J. Gaffney of Port Huron could be helpful.
Western Michigan: Langdon passed out a sheet with recent ridership statistics. The Pere Marquette is rebounding after the loss of the New Buffalo stop. Much of the credit goes to Amtrak’s Moe Savoy in Chicago who is adding more cars to all Michigan trains. Westrain is in the process of regrouping.
Langdon has done a spreadsheet listing all federal and state elected officials connected with each station stop including Thruway bus stops. Vavra-Musser announced that St. Joseph is pushing for a real passenger station and not ust a cubbyhole. New Buffalo has asked Amtrak for an enclosed structure on the platform to shield waiting passengers from the brisk Lake Michigan wind.
Northern Michigan: Monteith urged a single, coordinated vision for public transportation in Northern Michigan that would help the Northern Michigan passenger move easily to points out of the state, particularly to the East. He suggested that a team work on the problem. Hoeffner offered to bring the issue up with the new Rural Economic Development Director. Langdon felt that MARP should be concerned and involved. Wallington supported the idea of allowing Indian Trails’ passengers from Northern Michigan to connect with the East Lansing-Toledo Amtrak Thruway bus for better connections to eastern destinations. He suggested a meeting involving Amtrak, Indian Trails and MDOT.
Maglev: Tischbein suggested inviting proponents to make a ten minute presentation at a future meeting.
Railmark: Randall has received a $100 check for membership. He suggested inviting a representative to a future meeting.
Adjournment: The meeting adjourned at 1:20 p.m.
Respectfully Submitted: Accepted:
Hugh D. Gurney Robert Tischbein