MICHIGAN ASSOCIATION OF RAILROAD PASSENGERS
36TH ANNUAL MEETING
KALAMAZOO PUBLIC LIBRARY, KALAMAZOO, MICHIGAN
September 12, 2009
Those Signing In: Hugh Gurney, John DeLora, Jim Hinkins, Dave Randall, John Langdon, Jesse Auerbach, Christopher A. Quail, Lawrence Krieg, Tim Fischer, Bob Tischbein, Don Monteith, David L. Redmond, Timothy J. Hook, Joe Moran, Jim Hastings, Thomas Post, Barney Whittier, Clark Charnetski, Steve T. Sobel, Rich Vavra-Musser, Burt Ten Brink, Cheryl Ten Brink, Dick Pekarek, Ron Leatz, Philip Chamberlain, Michael Frezell, Andrew Kent, Robert Patterson, Jan C. Gromoda, David Common, J. P. DesCamp
Also Present: Tim Hoeffner, Phillip Mange, Victor F. Borz, Jon Start, Lisa Dedden Cooper, Mark Tomlonson
Call to Order: Vice Chair Don Monteith called the meeting to order at 11:10 a.m.
Guest Speaker: Mark Tomlonson, a professor at Western Michigan University, spoke on “The Roots of Railroading in Michigan”. It all began in March, 1837, when the state legislature passed a massive internal improvements program designed to end the isolation of many Michigan communities. Three cross state railroads were to be built, a southern route from Monroe to New Buffalo, a central route from Detroit to St. Joseph and a northern route from Port Huron to Muskegon. These were water to water routes, with no thought of a railroad network. By the summer of 1837, recession had hit the country and money for these projects dried up. The southern route got as far west as Hillsdale, the central route reached Marshall and the northern route was never started. By 1843, the central route was in the hands of New York financiers, had been renamed the Michigan Central and had reached Kalamazoo. Instead of continuing west to St. Joseph, the owners decided it would be more lucrative to head for Chicago, so construction turned south to Niles, west to New Buffalo and on to Chicago, where it could capture traffic to and from the Mississippi basin. The southern route, renamed the Michigan Southern, was forced to dip into Indiana, but eventually reached Chicago. The northern route, named the Detroit and Milwaukee, fell under the control of the Grand Trunk Western of Canada. Federal land grants in the 1850’s stimulated further growth, including a line from Negaunee to Marquette.
The Civil War demonstrated the value of railroads for carrying large amounts of material and rail networks began to emerge. After the Civil War, railroad construction boomed. Around the turn of the 20th Century, the Michigan Central was straightened and double tracked, with updated stations in many communities.
Welcome: Chairman John DeLora assumed the gavel at 11:55 a.m., thanked Professor Tomlonson for his presentation, and welcomed the group to Kalamazoo.
A New Vision for Passenger Trains: Lisa Dedden Cooper, from Representative Mark Schauer’s office, spoke on behalf of the Congressman. Schauer believes that passenger rail can be an effective tool for economic development, creating a much more mobile work force. In support of the I-94 high speed rail corridor, Schauer has urged support from Obama, Biden and Emanuel and has prompted the governor to be more aggressive. Fortunately, the Midwest governors have developed a coordinated plan and got their requests for support in to the Federal Rail Administration by the deadline. On the down side, Minnesota Representative Oberstar, chair of the committee handling rail development, has warned that Michigan must maintain its commitment to Amtrak if the state expects federal funding. Cooper urged MARP members to push for full funding of Amtrak for the 2010 fiscal year. A very little money appropriated by the legislature could result in much, much more in the way of federal support.
Cooper noted that Oberstar’s committee is well along on a transportation reauthorization bill which would put support of rail in a stronger position. This bill may be approved by the House of Representatives this year, but probably not the Senate.
Schauer hopes to set up a rail advisory commission for the Chicago-Detroit high speed rail vision, with representatives from all the I-94 communities, the railroad companies, MARP and other interests. He wants to feed information to the members of this commission and get their reaction to each proposal.
Schauer is doing what he can to persuade the Michigan legislature to support Amtrak. However, Republican members of the state Senate need to hear from citizens. Schauer and Cooper are working with a bipartisan support group in Jackson to extend commuter service to that city. Schauer has a good working relationship with Congressman Fred Upton, who represents the western sector of the I-94 corridor.
Another of Schauer’s concerns is freight rail and he is working with counterparts in Indiana on freight interests.
High Speed Rail Coming to a Station Near You? After a break for lunch, MDOT Director of High Speed Rail Tim Hoeffner was introduced. This is a new position for Hoeffner, who now oversees a group charged with working with Amtrak and implementing the high speed rail plan. Like Cooper, Hoeffner emphasized the need to get the message to state legislators that the $3.7 million Amtrak subsidy proposed by the state Senate will negatively impact federal support for high speed rail in Michigan. The governor now understands this and is working with members of the legislature. But MARP support is needed.
It is a real coup for ARRA funding that the Midwest governors signed a memorandum of understanding and are collaborating closely. Hoeffner is Michigan’s
representative on the leadership group including all Midwest DOT’s. Next week, the group is scheduled to meet with Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood. Congressman Schauer has been extremely helpful in getting direction from Chairman Oberstar.
Hoeffner’s office worked long and hard to assure that applications totaling $830 million were submitted by the August 24 deadline. On that date, the governor participated in several press conferences. The station in Jackson was packed when the governor’s train arrived from Dearborn. Hoeffner was very pleased that later in the day, the governor came to the MDOT office and personally thanked the staff that had worked on the applications.
The applications ask for improving of the long discussed junction at West Detroit, numerous sidings for passenger trains to pass freights, and extensive track stabilization work to bring speeds up to 79 m.p.h. throughout. Frequencies would be doubled on all routes. A number of stations would be upgraded.
What projects will need full blown Environmental Impact Statements remains a question. The Porter-Chicago segment will definitely need an EIS. For most Michigan projects, MDOT is saying that they are not needed, though FRA has some questions. FRA has very little experience with multi- billion projects and when EIS’s are needed. MDOT will continue to discuss this issue with federal legislators and the Secretary’s office.
The recommendations of last year’s Transportation Task Force are still in play. If enacted, additional moneys from those recommendations would fund additional frequencies.
Implementation of South of the Lake proposals would utilize a phased approach. A variety of rights of way would be used and several new bridges would be required. The concept is to handle additional frequencies.
In response to a question from Robert Patterson, Hoeffner explained the freight issue with Indiana is in the Hillsdale area, where a Michigan owned rail line connects with an Indiana owned line that needs upgrading. As to the Kalamazoo-Ypsilanti line, Norfolk Southern, Amtrak and MDOT continue to discuss future ownership that doesn’t burden Norfolk Southern but meets passenger rail needs.
Hoeffner does not favor a reroute of the Pere Marquette via Kalamazoo at this time. This was the route originally favored by Westrain which is why it was put in the Midwest Regional Rail Plan.
The original South of the Lake proposal done by Amtrak some fifteen years ago is problematic. After the flak over CN’s acquisition of the EJ&E, use of abandoned rights of way as that concept proposed is highly unlikely.
In response to a question from Chase, Hoeffner explained why MDOT now calls the Chicago-Detroit high speed line the I-94 corridor. MDOT has now designated eleven twenty mile wide transportation corridors throughout the state. All transportation projects, not just highways, within that corridor, are considered as a whole. If additional capacity is needed in a corridor, highway, freight rail or passenger rail will be considered. Referring to the Detroit-Chicago route as the I-94 corridor is more descriptive to more people than trying to explain Amtrak’s Wolverine route.
Judging from the fact that MDOT projects are still coming in under estimate indicates that the stimulus has not taken hold yet. Contractors are still very hungry.
In response to a question from Langdon about the status of the Transportation Task Force, Hoeffner admitted that neither the proposed registration fee increase or taxing fuel as a percentage of the wholesale price rather than per gallon have been introduced in the state legislature at this time. The tax on aviation fuel is still three cents a gallon.
As to the Interstate Traveler proposal, Hoeffner stated that we do need dreamers to push the envelope. However, he works in the real world.
Operation Lifesaver is a very significant player in the high speed rail scenario and we need to work with them as much as possible.
As to manufacturing rail equipment in Michigan, Hoeffner indicated that Michigan is focusing on obtaining major overhaul facilities with the idea that overhaul of equipment is ongoing forever. He is working with the Michigan Economic Growth Commission on this idea.
In the late 1990’s, MDOT explored a variety of rolling stock options and determined that the Talgo platform would be best. Michigan railroads have a lot of curves and require tilt equipment.
Also in the 1990’s, Amtrak explored the concept of a Midwest-Florida auto train. This is a very complicated procedure. Niles could be the northern terminus.
In response to a question from Randall, Hoeffner indicated that Amtrak would probably be the operator of the high speed rail trains. Considering all the options, they would be best equipped.
In response to a question from Robert Patterson, Hoeffner confirmed that MDOT pays to the full cost for state funded trains all the way into Chicago. There is no assistance from Indiana or Illinois. As to increasing train speeds in the near future, Hoeffner affirmed that the system is now in place from Kalamazoo to Niles. However, it must be 99.9% safe, which is what they are working on now. Amtrak will extend the upgraded system, Niles-Porter under ARRA funds it has received.
Hoeffner explained that dispatchers employed by a freight railroad must follow the dictates of their supervisor, which is why they often give preference to a freight train.
The October, 2010 timeline for the Ann Arbor-Detroit commuter rail line looks good. It is being funded under the New Starts program, though some work will be funded by ARRA. MDOT is reviewing and amending equipment contracts at this time.
A Strategy for Implementing a Comprehensive Intercity Passenger Rail Vision Tim Fischer, Deputy Policy Director for the Michigan Environmental Council discussed why MARP and the environmental community must work together. Thirty percent of greenhouse gases are generated by transportation, mostly by private automobiles. MEC has launched an educational campaign to help environmentalists understand how critical transportation issues are. We need to come up with a way that bringing about a desirable drop in VMT does not negatively impact transportation revenue.
The type of transportation selected drives land use. Auto transportation leads to strip malls, McDonald’s and that type of development. Public transportation leads to a more concentrated type of development.
We need options for getting around other than the private automobile so we can better deal with spikes in gasoline prices.
Fischer indicated that he believed that the MARP Vision developed two years ago can serve as a vision to take to the environmental community. It is a vision that calls for development along existing rail lines.
A very positive step in expanding this vision was taken in April in New Buffalo, when MARP was able to persuade the Indiana groups to support MARP’s efforts to better connect Michigan with Chicago and Chicago with Michigan. State Senator Jason Allen,
A Republican from Traverse City, wrote a very persuasive memo to the Republican governor of Indiana asking him to apply for ARRA funding for improvements in northwest Indiana. Indiana has made the necessary applications.
MARP, MEC and other groups must now support Michigan’s applications for high speed rail. We must drum up support among business groups to also advocate high speed rail.
Press releases should highlight benefits, indicate who is involved and draw more people into the fold. We must also reach out to the anti-Amtrak people, demonstrating the benefits of intercity rail and explaining that all forms of transportation including the airlines and highways are subsidized by the public.
A discussion followed concerning the level of service at New Buffalo. Under the current proposal, only two trains each way will stop there. It would be ideal if the Pere Marquette could switch to the Amtrak line north of New Buffalo and also serve that community.
Chase reminded those present that we must continue to contact legislators for support. She stressed that we should be talking about funding intercity rail. Amtrak is just the contractor.
In response to a question concerning rural rail crossings, DeLora explained that MDOT is working on new types of barriers.
Robert Patterson urged that we focus on Michigan as a tourist destination and push to strengthen passenger rail links from the south and west into West Michigan and between Southeast Michigan and West Michigan.
Fischer agreed and stated that we need to use the MARP Vision more vigorously. It does advocate passenger rail as far north as Traverse City and Petoskey. The state Senate’s action on intercity rail is a result of senators not really understanding the issue and simply following party leadership. Senator Jason Allen of Traverse City has proposed an intercity rail caucus similar to that in Illinois to help legislators understand intercity passenger rail. MEC is willing to help. If legislators are better informed, it would lessen the angst about annual appropriations so that all can focus on the bigger picture.
Jesse Auerbach passed out a list of high speed projects applied for to date. He stressed how helpful the April New Buffalo meeting had been. At a subsequent meeting in Fort Wayne, the Indiana Environmental Council was involved.
Chairman’s Annual Report: DeLora stressed how important a FRA workshop in Chicago had been in letting all know what the FRA was looking for in the way of rail projects. They definitely want to see a strong state commitment. That is why it is so important to get Republicans in the state legislature on board. If Michigan reduces its support for passenger rail, it could cost the state 10,000 jobs and as much as $830 million in rail projects.
All Michigan trains kept running throughout FY 2009 despite an earlier cut in funding. A supplemental made up the difference.
MARP now has an excellent working relation with Indian Trails and this is helping in countless ways.
During the past year, DeLora has had five one on one meetings with the governor to discuss passenger rail.
In 2009, National Train Day events were held in many Michigan communities. For 2010, we would like to have celebrations at every Amtrak station.
In 2010, the National Association of Railroad Passengers fall meeting will be held at the Amway Grand Plaza in Grand Rapids. MARP is planning a large reception with business leaders, students and other constituencies invited.
Yesterday, DeLora attended the unveiling a life size bronze sculpture of three cheetas east of the train station in Dowagiac adjacent to the tracks where they can be seen by passengers as the train passes. There is strong support for Amtrak in that community.
Dietrich Bergmann has been tracking the Detroit River International Crossing proposal. His findings indicate that crossings have been declining and that, even in a 35 year projection, the current structures are adequate. Congestion is caused by inadequate staffing at Customs and Immigration. Bergmann has asked that Environmental Impact Statements be required and completed for the project.
Once again, DeLora emphasized the need to engage the GOP in support of passenger rail. We must work with chambers of commerce and similar groups to help them realize that rail is good for business.
MARP Business Meeting: Convening the business meeting, DeLora proposed more cooperation between MARP and NARP in soliciting members. Charnetski moved that MARP share its membership list with NARP on an ongoing basis in exchange for NARP sharing its Michigan membership list with MARP. Robert Patterson seconded the motion and it was approved by the members present.
Charnetski reported that the next meeting will take place in Ann Arbor, convening at 10:00 a.m. at the Amtrak station and moving across the street to Casey’s Tavern at 11:00 a.m. The speaker will be Michael Benham , Commuter Rail Coordinator for the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority.
For National Train Day 2010, Charnetski is working on a display of WALLY and Ann Arbor-Detroit commuter rail equipment at the former Art Train siding near the depot in Ann Arbor.
Frezell mentioned a recent Lansing Economic Council survey which reported that a MSU student from the Northeast reported she would like to be in a community where she could get around without a car. He suggested we work more closely with economic development groups and begin targeting younger constituencies.
DeLora presented J. R. Valderas with a Distinguished Achievement Award for his outstanding achievement in writing and photography. Valderas thanked the group for this show of support. He urged that we try to make our meetings more interesting to a wider group of people. We seem to get too bogged down in politics. Valderas also urged that MARP members refrain from advising Amtrak employees on how they should do their jobs. We need to show more respect to the railroad employees and not interfere with their work. This is particularly galling to minority employees.
Adjournment: The meeting adjourned at 3:00 p.m.
Respectfully submitted: Accepted:
Hugh D. Gurney John DeLora