MICHIGAN ASSOCIATION OF RAILROAD PASSENGERS
Monthly Membership Meeting
Macatawa Area Coordinating Council Office, Holland
August 22, 2009
Those Signing In: Steve T. Sobel, Clark Charnetski, Hugh Gurney, Kay Chase, Bob Tischbein, Ron Leatz, Jim Wallington, Archie Lhamon, Don Monteith, Rich Vavra-Musser, Larry Sobczak, June Troost, Dianne Patterson, Robert Patterson, Jim Hinkins, J. R. Valderas, John D. Langdon, John DeLora, David Williams, Dave Randall
Also Present: Steve Bulthuis, Ed Hekman
Call to Order: Secretary Gurney called the meeting to order at 10:48 a.m.
Treasurer’s Report: Randall reported that, as of July 31, 2009, there was a total of $4,651.77 in the checking account and the Pratt Fund was valued at $11,882.20. Two more issues of the newsletter must be paid for before the end of the year. A membership renewal reminder will be mailed shortly to those who have not yet renewed for 2009.
Langdon moved acceptance of the Treasurer’s Report. This was seconded by Vavra-Musser and approved by the membership present.
Randall passed out an article titled Maine’s Marvelous Trains. He emphasized that this is what we want in Michigan – WiFi, on time operation, friendly service.
Guest Speaker: Following introductions by all present, Chairman DeLora took the gavel and introduced Steve Bulthuis, Director of the Macatawa Area Coordinating Council. Bulthuis passed out a briefing paper discussing what a metropolitan planning organization does. The Macatawa Area Coordinating Council is the metropolitan planning organization for the Holland area and attempts to coordinate surface transportation planning in order that the various governments in the area can be eligible for federal funds. Membership includes nine local units of government, two counties and their road commissions, the transit authority and MDOT. The group develops and keeps current a 4-5 year transportation improvement plan and a long range transportation plan which looks ahead 35 years.
One of the strengths of the Macatawa Area Coordinating Council is its five member executive committee representing local non governmental organizations. This group has been extremely influential in supporting Amtrak’s Pere Marquette over the years and in helping to create Westrain, a collaboration of private, institutional and governmental
entities functioning as an advocacy group for the train. Westrain was organized in 1994-95 to restore daily service to the Pere Marquette after state budget cuts. It was successful in getting daily service restored in 1995. In its early years, Westrain worked to develop awareness of the existence of the train. It is now focusing on building ridership. To accomplish its goal, Westrain uses a variety of strategies including billboards and radio. In order to penetrate the Chicago market effectively and build more Chicago-West Michigan ridership, the organization has resorted to the internet as the most cost effective media. The www.mitrain website highlights the train and the stations that it serves. The website is still in its infancy and could include much more data. Bulthuis urged anyone with information to channel it through John Langdon. As Westrain is not a legal entity, state promotional funding for the Pere Marquette is managed by the Macatawa Area Coordinating Council.
In response to questions about links, Bulthuis stated that one the most effective has been the Chicago Current Affairs link, a geographically driven face book. Key words like “Michigan trains” will also direct one to the www.mitrain website. Michigan.org has also been very supportive. While the group has worked to promote Holland State Park and local and county parks, Westrain has not yet developed a close working relationship with DNR and its multitude of resources.
So far, the push for a second daily Pere Marquette has fallen on deaf ears in the legislature. The effort right now is to preserve current service. Bulthuis stressed that current efforts must be made by individual groups and entities as these members have differing positions. His organization, the Macatawa Area Coordinating Council, believes that passenger rail may have to take a hit in the current state budget crisis and that less than daily service would be acceptable.
Vavra-Musser informed Bulthuis that MARP wants to see seven day service for as long as the funding lasts, rather than settle for 3-4 days a week service.
Minutes of the July 25, 2009 meeting in Owosso were reviewed. Charnetski moved acceptance with corrections. The motion was seconded by Vavra-Musser and approved by the membership present.
Save Our Trains: DeLora reported that about twenty people turned out for the Save Our Trains rally that morning in East Lansing. He made signboards which were very effective. Both Channels 10/47 and 6 covered the event. DeLora talked to Matt, the director of Save Our Trains about additional rallies, and Matt was very supportive of working together. After considerable discussion, it was decided to attempt two rallies, one in Flint and one in Grand Rapids, on the morning of Saturday, September 12. Members were urged to participate in one of these rallies prior to attending the Annual Meeting in Kalamazoo.
Funding Status: Langdon reported no new information since the last meeting, with transportation funding for 2010 still to be determined by a conference committee at the state level. The $400,000 Amtrak supplemental for 2009 has passed both the house and the senate.
Amtrak Caucus: Langdon noted that Tim Fischer of MARP and the Michigan Environmental Council now supports the idea of an Amtrak Caucus in the legislature, proposed recently by Senator Jason Allen. In order to broaden its scope, an alternate title for such a group could be the “Intercity Passenger Caucus”.
Charnetski pointed out that the Wisconsin State Highway map lists intercity bus stations and urged MARP to pursue similar information on the Michigan state map. Robert Patterson declared that such information could easily be added in the area where Lake Michigan is shown.
FRA Stimulus Funding Proposals – Michigan and Indiana: Langdon passed around sheets describing the seven Pre-Applications that MDOT has submitted. While covering the entire Pontiac-New Buffalo Wolverine route, they are very vague. The deadline for final applications in October 7. Indiana has submitted pre-applications for Chicago-Indianapolis-Cincinnati, Chicago-Cleveland, and one titled “Indiana Gateway”, which proposes to uncork the freight bottlenecks between Porter and Chicago. It appears that every state is submitting every possible proposal, so it is hard to determine what will be approved. In response to a question from Charnetski, DeLora said that the proposals in their present form are too vague to determine whether they would cover an additional siding at Ann Arbor or not.
High Speed Rail: Langdon pointed out that the Midwest Regional High Speed Rail Plan still shows the Pere Marquette line rerouted to run Holland-Grand Rapids-Kalamazoo-Chicago. DeLora stated that we must oppose an either-or situation, as he believes there will be sufficient ridership to support both the existing and the proposed routes. The present Kalamazoo-Grand Rapids rail line is in bad shape and would have to be rebuilt to support high speed rail..
Turning to the hydrogen high speed rail proposal, Charnetski stated he believed it was more about distributing hydrogen to fuel automobiles and trucks, with the railroad an incidental. The technology is still unproven. Charnetski urged that we remain neutral.
After considerable discussion, DeLora moved that MARP send a letter of inquiry to State Representative Bill Rogers requesting detailed information about the Interstate Traveler Proposal. The motion was seconded by Robert Patterson. After assigning Charnetski as liaison and agreeing that the draft be distributed to the Executive Committee for review, the motion was passed.
Petition Drive: Langdon informed the group that Fischer was in the process of setting up appointments with key legislators to deliver the petitions against cuts in Amtrak funding that we have gathered to date.
Annual Meeting: Chase noted that the MARP Annual Meeting will be held on Saturday, September 12, following the rallies in Grand Rapids and Flint. She passed out registration forms and urged all the complete them and return them to her by the close of the meeting. Congressman Fred Upton from St. Joseph will be given the Citizen of the Year Award for his continuing support of passenger rail and transit. Unfortunately, he cannot be present. DeLora will arrange for a presentation ceremony in Washington, DC.
Newly elected Congressman Mark Schauer has been invited, but we have not yet heard if he will be present. Schauer is on the House Transportation Committee and has already proven to be very effective. A railroad historian from Kalamazoo will be making a presentation. Representatives from Indian Trails and MDOT have been invited.
Chase will be alerting the media to this event. A card will be mailed to all members urging attendance. Chase asked that each person present attend and bring two guests.
Future Meetings: MARP will be meeting in Ann Arbor on October 10 and Bangor on November 14. DeLora asked that December be held open for a possible meeting if necessary.
Public/Government Affairs: Langdon and Chase attended the Michigan Environmental Council’s regional meeting. MEC has developed a list of key legislation dealing with environmental issues and is scoring individual legislators on their votes on each of these bills. Results will be published in the next newsletter.
Membership: Randall will be sending a renewal reminder to those who have yet to renew in 2009. Charnetski expressed hope that the commuter services coming on line will help MARP build membership.
Communications: As agreed at the last meeting, Chase sent out a news release announcing MARP’s position on proposed state cuts in Amtrak service. She is aware that the Flint Journal picked up the story. She asked members to alert her of other coverage. The news release was posted on the MARP website.
Newsletter: Valderas was pleased that The Michigan Passenger was well received by those participating in the Pere Marquette 25th Anniversary celebration. The newspaper remains an effective marketing tool as evidenced by people in Alma being told to use the coupon to join MARP. The Steam Railroading Institute’s ad in the most recent issue is being treated as a donation to SRI.
Langdon complimented Valderas on his work. He also announced that Ron Leatz is the new distributor for Niles and Dowagiac. In response to Leatz’s question about the need
for a Quick Trak machine in Dowagiac, DeLora affirmed that Amtrak and MDOT truly appreciative of that community’s cooperation on closing grade crossings and would probably comply with such a request. Leatz noted the absence of Amtrak signing at the station.
Website: Sobczak suggested that MARP use Twitter to involve more young people in MARP. Chase and Vavra-Musser thought this would be helpful. Sobczak was asked to investigate the matter further and report at the next meeting.
In response to a question about why MARP’s vision statement was not posted on the website, Sobczak responded that the membership had voted not to post it after it was developed two years ago. Wallington moved to post MARP’s Vision Statement on the MARP website after revision. Langdon seconded the motion and it was approved by the members present.
Outreach: Langdon reported that 36,000 people had attended the Steam Festival in Owosso in late July. Unfortunately, Randall has noted no new members from this four day event. Excess literature has been distributed to Amtrak stations throughout Michigan. Langdon passed around a list of upcoming events and asked those wishing to volunteer to sign up.
Regional Chair Reports:
East/Central: No report.
Northern: Wallington reminded the group that Indian Trails is approaching MDOT on a proposal to serve Sault Ste. Marie. If approved, the new service will be posted on the MARP website.
Western: Langdon handed out statistics indicating that Amtrak ridership was down in June in Michigan, probably due to the drop in gas prices and the declining economy. The Pere Marquette 25th anniversary celebration created much interest and was covered in all the West Michigan papers. MDOT participated in a big way with the MDOT director riding the train from Grand Rapids to Holland. Mayors of all the cities served were present when the train pulled in to their respective communities. According to Vavra-Musser, the mayor, a representative from Congressman Upton’s office and the local state representative were present at St. Joseph. Valderas noted at least a dozen on the platform at New Buffalo although no observance was planned there. Langdon added that many expressed support for a morning trains from Chicago on both the Pere Marquette and Blue Water routes.
Metro: According to Hinkins, the M-1 light rail proposal has been put on hold. DDOT wants to use the private funding garnished for M-1 as a match for its proposed light rail system extending out Woodward Avenue to the State Fair Grounds. TRU has found that curb operation will interfere with motor vehicles making right turns.
Hinkins is still trying to get in touch with Preservation Wayne about the Michigan Central Depot in Detroit. If Cobo Hall is renovated, the abandoned depot could serve as a stop a rail connection. According to Charnetski, Amtrak still owns the platform, but not the building.
Indian Trails may begin serving Detroit, thus avoiding layovers in Flint.
The Ann Arbor-Detroit commuter rail proposal is still a go, with service scheduled to start in October, 2010. However, a lot of work remains to be done, including the West Detroit crossover and layover sidings in Ann Arbor and Detroit. The airport connector station will be in Wayne. Ypsilanti is still debating on the location of the platform there.
In a recent discussion with a representative from Great Lakes Central, Valderas learned that G-35 freight locomotives with added generators will power the commuter trains.
Charnetski reported that SEMCOG would host public meetings on their long range transportation plan on September 10 at Washtenaw Community College in Ann Arbor and on September at its headquarters in Detroit.
In response to a question from Vavra-Musser, Charnetski confirmed that there would be two commuter rail stations in Ann Arbor, one for the WALLY and one for the Ann Arbor-Detroit line. Langdon suggested a field trip to the locations of the two stations when we meet in Ann Arbor in October.
National Train Day: Valderas is still hoping to develop an eight month planning schedule for 2010 which would allow us to approach Amtrak about having equipment on display. He hopes to announce that schedule at the Annual Meeting.
Route Guides: Valderas reported that Amtrak was preparing route guides for all trains, including those serving Michigan.
Winter Operations: Langdon received an e-mail from Derrick James of Amtrak informing him that Amtrak would continue operating Superliner equipment on the Pere Marquette and begin operating Superliner equipment on the Blue Water during the winter months.
Adjournment: The meeting adjourned at 1:00 p.m.
Respectfully submitted: Accepted:
Hugh D. Gurney, Secretary John DeLora, Chair