Meeting Minutes – November 12, 2011 – St. Joseph

NOVEMBER 12, 2011

Those Signing In:  Hugh Gurney, Barney Whittier, Kathleen W. Newell, Dave Randall, Steve T. Sobel, Jim Wallington, Don Monteith, John Langdon, Jim Hinkins, John DeLora, Rich Vavra-Musser, Kay Chase, Doug Wilson, Ron Leatz, Alan Bond, Dan Platz

Also Present: State Senator John Proos, State Representative Al Pscholka, Mayor Bob Judd, Bob Meyers, Court House Museum

Call to Order:  Vice Chairman Whittier called the meeting to order at 11:50 a.m.

Speaker:  Whittier introduced the day’s speaker, Robert Meyers, Curator at the Court House Museum in Berrien Springs.  Discussing the development of early railroads in Southwest Michigan, Meyers noted that the Michigan Central was the first, reaching Niles in 1848 and New Buffalo in 1849.  Until the line was extended to Chicago, passengers took boats across Lake Michigan to the windy city.  Interested communities then issued bonds for the construction of the present CSX line through St. Joseph and Benton Harbor.  While other heavy rail and interurban lines followed, they were not successful over the long run.  Amtrak and CSX, the first two railroads, are the ones that remain to this day.

Regional Chapter Reports;

            Northern: Rail is drawing a lot of attention in Northern Michigan, Monteith reported.  He recently met again with students and faculty in the railroad program at Michigan Tech.  A graduate of that program will be leading the Alaska-Canada rail project.

The Yellow Dog Mine near the Wisconsin line is scheduled to be opened in 2012 and will be served by an existing rail line.  One of two proposed mines in Marquette County could be served by a rail line presently slated for abandonment.  Monteith is working to preserve existing rail lines in Northern Michigan so that passenger service can be reintroduced in the future.

            Metro Detroit:  Realignment of the junction at West Detroit is scheduled to begin in early 2012, Hinkins announced.  This will cut travel time by 12-15 minutes and eliminate a lot of freight conflict.  Amtrak now plans to provide a part time caretaker for the Pontiac station.  That person will be on hand in the early morning and in the late evening.

In response to a question by Platz, DeLora stated that the current rehabilitation work on the Michigan Central Station in Detroit is largely a public relations ploy.  The building has been totally stripped.  Matty Maroun owns the building, but CP owns the station platform.

Monteith has been informed by Mike Bagwell of the Great Lakes Central Railroad that WALLY service between Howell and Ann Arbor will not happen until after Ann Arbor-Detroit service becomes a reality.

Leatz bemoaned the lack of a rail connection between communities in West Michigan and the Detroit Metropolitan Airport.

             Western:  Langdon welcomed the group to West Michigan.  A schedule has been developed to check and supply all Amtrak stations in West Michigan with timetables and other pertinent information.  Horizon equipment is back on the Pere Marquette temporarily. 

St. Joseph will be hosting a major PGA golf tournament over Memorial Day weekend and a push is on for morning trains from Chicago to bring spectators to the event.  A temporary platform could be build adjacent to the platform.  Both the PGA and Amtrak seem interested.  This could prove the value of a morning Pere Marquette out of Chicago every day.

As a way of ironing out any kinks, DeLora suggested operating a morning Pere Marquette to Holland earlier in May during Tulip Time. 

Leatz reported that the Christmas lights on the Dowagiac Depot were lit earlier in the week.  Amtrak’s Dave Kuhn, MDOT’s Therese Cody and numerous state and local officials including State Senator Proos were on hand to view the 1300 lights come ablaze.

The station will be lighted throughout the winter.

             East Central:  Indian Trails has postponed a scheduled meeting because their staff is working on a possible contract with the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority.  When that meeting is rescheduled, Wallington will urge Indian Trails to operate four of their Michigan Flyer buses via I-96 and U.S. 23 between East Lansing and Ann Arbor.

The Williamston Depot Museum has Christmas cards for sale.  See Wallington for details.

U.S.-Canadian Border: Wilson talked recently with mayors in Port Huron and Sarnia, the Port Huron City Manager, the Blue Water CVB, Ontario regional transportation officials and the local Member in Parliament at Ottawa about restoring cross border passenger rail service.  He feels that this issue is now on the agenda of many officials, with support coming from the governments of Michigan, Ontario and Canada.  The Eastern Border Transportation Coalition is working at the federal level in both the United States and Canada to ease border restrictions.  The Coalition has representatives from Michigan, New York, Ontario and Quebec.  MDOT’s Tim Hoeffner is active in the group and speaks on our behalf.  Legislators on both sides of the border need to hear from their constituents that they want cross border passenger rail transportation.

Mayor Bradley of Sarnia is pushing hard to maintain passenger service in Southwest Ontario.  There is a real possibility that VIA service to Sarnia will be dropped and service to Halifax cut to three days a week.

Route Enhancement Committee:  Gurney reported that the committee met over lunch in Jackson and will meet again at the close of this meeting to finalize recommendations for 2012.  These recommendations will be presented to the Executive Committee at the January meeting for review and approval.


Adjournment:  The meeting adjourned at 12:55 p.m.


Respectfully submitted:                                  Approved:

 Hugh D. Gurney                                             Robert Tischbein

Secretary                                                         Chair