Meeting Minutes – March 17, 2012 – Pontiac

MARCH 17, 2012

 Those Signing In: Don Monteith, Hugh Gurney, Kay Chase, Leonard D. Barry, Dick Pekarek, David Roberts, Sam A. Crowl, Roger Webster, Mike Washenko, Julien R. Wolfe, Doug Wilson, Jeff Godshall, Bob Tischbein, Peter Hollingshead, Dan Platz, Thomas Breeding, Eric Newberg, Kathleen W. Newell, Dave Randall, Jim Hinkins, John Langdon, Mike Whims, John DeLora, Karen Kendrick-Hands, Richard King

Also Present: Joe M. Koger II, Jim Fetzer, SMART

Call to Order:  Chairman Tischbein called the meeting to order at 10:50 a.m.

Speaker:  Hinkins introduced the speaker, Jim Fetzer, Deputy Manager of Operations for SMART, which provides the local transit service for Oakland, Wayne and Macomb counties.  Fetzer welcomed the group to the Detroit Metro area and invited all to inspect one of SMART’s new energy efficient expanded buses sitting just outside.  Fetzer spoke of his part in bringing Amtrak into the Grand Rapides Transportation Center while working for RAPID.  He is looking for ways to better connect SMART with Amtrak in Pontiac, Birmingham-Troy, Royal Oak and Dearborn.  The planned Rapid Bus will also connect with Amtrak at several stations.

Fetzer expressed pleasure that the Troy Transportation Center will go forward, but noted that many in the Detroit Metropolitan area were not enthusiastic about public transportation and that millages are generally small.  In both Wayne and Oakland counties, local communities can opt out of supporting SMART, meaning buses must pass through these communities with their doors closed, hurting both the fare box and potential passengers, many who are low income.

Fetzer pointed to the new Pontiac Transportation Center as a success story and is looking forward to the new Dearborn Transportation Center.  Despite a 23% cut in service in December, ridership on SMART is up in January and February of this year.  SMART looks to acquire better, more fuel efficient buses as one way to improve service.

Fetzer complimented MARP for its support of public transportation, noting that thriving communities have good public transportation.  He expressed hope that the proposed Regional Transportation Authority, now under consideration in Lansing, would help public transportation providers in Wayne, Washtenaw, Oakland and Macomb counties coordinate their services better. The legislation faces an uphill battle.

Secretary’s Report:  Minutes of the February 11 Executive Committee and Monthly Membership meetings were reviewed.  Langdon moved acceptance of the Executive Committee minutes.  Newell seconded and these were approved by the members present.

Chase moved acceptance of the Monthly Membership meeting minutes.  These were seconded by Hinkins and approved by the members present.

Treasurer’s Report:  The Treasurer’s Report was reviewed.  As of February 29, 2012, MARP had $11,141.43 in its checking account.  The Pratt Fund was valued at $16,414.91.  Langdon moved acceptance of the Treasurer’s Report.  This was seconded by King and approved by the members present.

Coordinator Reports: 

            Government Affairs:  Langdon has been closely tracking the Regional Transportation Authority legislation.  A recent Senate hearing in Lansing was adjourned before critical decisions were made.  Chase noted that TRANS4M would be staging a Transportation Odyssey beginning March 21 to build support for the Regional Transportation Authority.  Participants will use local public transportation, Amtrak and Indian Trails to move from Detroit Metro Airport to downtown Detroit, then to Birmingham, Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids and Traverse City.  The Odyssey will showcase the challenges of getting around Michigan using public transportation.  Events are scheduled in Birmingham, Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids.

Current Regional Transportation Authority legislation requires a unanimous vote of those representing the four counties and the city of Detroit for any rail project to move forward.  TRANS4M is trying to get that changed to a majority vote or 2/3 vote.

Both MDOT and Amtrak are supporting New Buffalo’s application for a TIGER grant to build a ten mile passing track on the Amtrak line between Dowagiac and Niles and to fund an engineering study on linking CSX tracks with Amtrak just north of New Buffalo, permitting the Pere Marquette to serve that station and gain access to the 110 mph Amtrak route to Porter, Indiana.   The Michigan Senate with bipartisan support has approved a resolution supporting the grant application.

Communications:  Other than information provided above, Chase had nothing further to share with the group.

Membership:  Membership renewals have been coming in steadily in February and March, Newell reported.  Many renewing members are upping their membership level to individual, family or advocate and making additional contributions.  Gurney suggested a follow up in April.  Chase added that an appeal to NARP members who do not belong to MARP is in the works.

Future Meetings Update:  Gurney announced that the next meeting will be at the 1880’s Chelsea Depot on Saturday, April 21.  The Executive Committee will meet at 10:00 a.m. and the Monthly Membership meeting will be at 11:00 a.m.  DeLora noted that refurbishing of the Chelsea Depot was MARP’s very first project.

Regional Chapter Reports:

            Northern: Monteith continues to push for newly opening mines along the Michigan/Wisconsin border to use rail rather than put more pressure on the road system.  Michigan Technical University in Houghton is now considered the best school in the nation for Rail Communication.  Employees from CN, NS, CSX, BNSF and other railroads are taking classes there.

Metro Detroit:  Hinkins thanked all who were supporting the RTA and urged continued diligence and support.  The M-1 light rail line on Woodward Avenue is still under consideration as is the Rapid Bus system which would serve Detroit and key locations in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties.  Renovations to the Detroit Michigan Central stations continue.  MDOT has been ordered by the court to complete the Gateway project linking the Ambassador Bridge to I-75 after Matty Maroun’s failure to keep his end of the bargain.  Hinkins has seen no work at the West Detroit junction.  That work must be completed before the Ann Arbor-Detroit commuter line can be initiated.  Under the current legislation being considered, all rail projects require unanimous support by the proposed RTA Board.

Gurney confirmed that the University of Michigan has withdrawn from the Ann Arbor Transportation Center project.  Plans will have to be altered substantially.

Beginning on April 1, Michigan Flyer service will be rerouted via I-96 and U.S. 23 between East Lansing and Ann Arbor, permitting Ann Arbor passengers to board at the downtown Blake Transportation Center as well as the existing stop near I-94.  Between Ann Arbor and Detroit Metro Airport, frequency of service will be increased from eight to twelve daily runs.    The additional four runs will originate at the University of Michigan Central Campus Transportation Center, before proceeding to the Blake Transportation Center and the stop on I-94.  An agreement between Michigan Flyer and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority permits these changes.  Jackson will lose Michigan Flyer service.

Amtrak Petition Against CN:  Whims continues to track the status of Amtrak’s petition to the Surface Transportation Board protesting Canadian National’s delays of  passenger trains.  This is Amtrak’s first suit before the STB.  CN has now responded stating that:

  1. The American Association of Railroads has a suit in federal court contending that PRIAA is unconstitutional because it permits Amtrak, a private company, to establish and enforce legal regulations.  CN asks that the STB delay making a decision until that suit is resolved.
  2. Amtrak metrics are incomplete.
  3. Congress never intended to give Amtrak preference as if it owned the railroad.  This may be the key issue.

DeLora noted that there is no opportunity for public comment on Amtrak’s suit.  If CN wins, they may be sorry, as Congress could enact more restrictive legislation.  The AAR suit is expected to be settled shortly.  DeLora observed that delays be CN dropped precipitously the day after Amtrak petitioned the STB for relief.  Kendrick-Hands suggested that MARP consider support for Amtrak’s petition as a Friend of the Court.

Western:  MDOT has approved a station stop in Fennville on the Pere Marquette line.  Amtrak must now review the proposal, then CSX.   Langdon speculated that MDOT’s support of both the Fennville stop and the CSX/Amtrak connection in New Buffalo indicate a change of position on the future of the Pere Marquette.  Langdon plans to meet in the coming week with Westrain to gage their support of a second Pere Marquette frequency.  Langdon does not see support for the Pere Marquette as being opposed to the Grand Rapids-Kalamazoo route.

Revenue on the Wolverine route continues to drop, which may mean MDOT will have to pay more for service on that line when PRIIA kicks in.

East/Central:  Ridership on the Blue Water continues to grow, with over 200 boarding at Port Huron on a recent morning.  Since 2004, ridership has increased by 200%.  According to Wilson, approximately 50% of cars in the Port Huron parking lot are Canadian.  DeLora thinks Canadian ridership is even higher, with many Canadians parking at shopping centers throughout the community.  Pekarek suggested that the running time be shortened between Port Huron and Battle Creek, as the westbound train is often into Battle Creek half an hour early.  Citing recent schedule changes on the Sunset Limited, Langdon speculated that such a change could be considered by Amtrak.

Slow orders are now in effect on the Wolverine line between Chelsea and Kalamazoo until tracks are repaired.  Whether the westbound Blue Water is held outside Battle Creek when Wolverine #351 is late depend on whether or not the Blue Water has enough capacity to handle those boarding at Kalamazoo.

Committee Reports:

            Toledo Train Day Report:  Langdon confirmed that the National Train Day celebration in Toledo will be on Saturday, October 5.  This is the biggest Train Day event in the Midwest.  It is always one week earlier than most places observe National Train Day, which will be May 12.  MARP will have a table in Toledo.

Outreach: Tischbein reported that the current schedule is available on the MARP website.

New Business: 

            Progressive National Train Day:  Hinkins discussed Robert Patterson’s suggestion that, in addition to having as many members as possible participating in station activities on National Train Day  that other members actually ride the trains and talk with passengers.

Operation Lifesaver:  Crowl announced that the next Operation Lifesaver  meeting will be at Durand Union Station on May 11.  All are urged to attend.  In response to a question from Kendrick-Hands, Crowl explained that every crossing sign has a number a person can call if the signal is malfunctioning.  Kendrick-Hands suggested that those numbers be on the MARP website.  Langdon suggested these numbers also be on the Operation Lifesaver website.

Lake Michigan Car Ferry: Tischbein asked members to review the status of the Lake Michigan Car Ferry, which operates in the summer between Ludington and Manitowoc, Wisconsin.  This last operating railroad car ferry, powered by coal, may be put out of business by the Environmental Protection Agency.  What should MARP’s position be?

Adjournment:  The meeting adjourned at 12:40 p.m.


Respectfully submitted:                                              Accepted:




Hugh D. Gurney                                                         Robert Tischbein

Secretary                                                                     Chair